Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Homily I Wish Everyone Could Hear

I think every priest, once or twice a year, gives a homily that they wish the world could hear...not because the priest thinks he's awesome but because he thinks it would help a lot of people.  This weekend's homily falls into that category for me personally





The text:

I mentioned one surprising thing about the priesthood a few weeks ago – how often people want particular questions answered that the Church says are actually left up to them using the gift of prudence to analyze the circumstances

Another shocking thing, perhaps the saddest surprise of the priesthood thus far – I’ve done a number of funerals at LOTS of parishes.  A lot of times it is for a big Catholic family, and in a lot of these situations, the vast majority of the kids, if not all of them, have stopped practicing their Catholic Faith.  And here’s what happens
    
At the funeral home or in conversation with the children or listening to them at the funeral meal I hear most of the kids say something like “Mom always sacrificed everything for us…or Dad gave everything he had of himself and worked two jobs so we could eat…and they laid down their lives for us…

And in these situations a part of me wants to say something but I don’t, and what I’d like to say to them, in a gentle way, is “do you know why they did this for you?  it’s because of their catholic faith.  because they believed that jesus christ was/is real, that he was/is present in the eucharist, and that he said we should lay down our lives for our friends.”

For many of the children in these situations, there is a complete failure to connect the dots of the love they received from their parents, and the Faith that nurtured their parents.  I get the sense that a lot of the kids in these situations see these heroic sacrifices from their parents, but then they think of their parents’ Catholic Faith as some sort of superstitious thing that mom and/or dad did on the side, but which didn’t really lead to the beautiful results that the kids speak so highly of.

I want to say – “What if your mom was an amazing mom BECAUSE she went to Mass EVERY Sunday and prayed a rosary and read Scripture daily, went to confession regularly, etc.?”

Some will offer objections at this point.

1)      There are bad Catholic parents.  Correct.  But perhaps the Catholic Faith kept a person from worse.

2)     There are good parents who aren’t Catholic.  Of course.  We’re talking specifically about YOUR family.  Did the Faith of your parents help them become the saints that you are mentioning as you talk about them?

3)     Sacrificing for one’s children is simply biological.  FALSE.  I can walk out my door at the rectory and within 30 seconds I can be at the door of people who buy heroine for themselves instead of food for their children.  I assure you, laying down your life for your children is NOT simply biological


Let’s take it out another level beyond the home.  A lot of times people praise their Catholic schooling.  “Those nuns gave everything to teach me.  Father worked really hard, year round, to keep the lights on at our Catholic school.”  And yet, how many people, after receiving that Catholic education, put it to use, become highly successful and leave the Catholic Faith behind?  I want to say to those people
            Do you think those priests, those nuns, those lay people who gave their lives to give you the best education in theworld, do you think they did that JUST so that you would make partner at the firm?  JUST so that you would become the CEO or a pharmacist or a well-paid engineer?
Do you think the nuns at Annunciation slept in closets their entire adult life, without air conditioning, giving up having a family of their own, a husband, wealth, vacations, etc. simply to teach you ALGEBRA?
            
NO!  They did all of that because they were motivated by the Eucharist, by the real presence of Christ in the Catholic Church, and if they can see what some have done with their sacrifice, they are surely rolling over in their graves. 

They didn’t do it to teach you algebra, they did it to teach you algebra AND that Jesus is real, that the Church is real, and that living your Catholic Faith and laying down your life are HARD but WORTH IT!!!

The same thing happens with regard to Blessed Mother Teresa, St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, etc.  “Oh wow, they’re so awesome, look what they did for the poor, look how they laid their lives down for others!”  THE reason these people did that is because of their Catholic Faith.  Mother Teresa did two holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament EVERY day, and went to Mass every day, and prayed a Rosary every day.  That’s WHY she became the person who did the things you are praising.   Her Catholic Faith was not some superstitious hocus pocus she happened to do before she went off to work each morning.

We can chalk all this up to them being “religious” but let’s look at the larger historical context here for a moment.  

What religious tradition gives more aid and charity than any other?  The Catholic Church.

What religious tradition married education and the Faith and invented the University system, and, particularly in our own country, the system of educating its young people in all things – the Catholic Church

What religious tradition invented the hospital and continues to provide health care to the poorest of the poor in our own country and indeed in countries throughout the world?  The Catholic Church.
This can’t all be coincidence.  The Catholic Faith must have something to do with all of this.


Why do I mention this?  We hear in the readings today:

“Behold, I will bring them back, I will gather them from the ends of the world, they shall return as an immense throng.  I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

We know that the numbers say ex-Catholics are the second largest denomination in the US.  And yet, although the numbers don’t show it yet because polling data is always a few years behind, I get the sense that, like in the reading this weekend, people are starting to awaken to God’s call and are returning home to the Church. 

They are recognizing their blindness and want to see again.

God always calls us home, every moment of every day, but it seems, anecdotally at the moment, that people are starting to awaken.  In my lifetime, I would say it began with John Paul II showing the world that we don’t have to be ashamed of our Faith and that it is instead quite beautiful and is a source of strength, beauty, and light for us if we let it be that in our hearts.

Certainly our Holy Father Pope Francis has continued this thawing of hearts as he continues to call us to go out, to call people home, to open the doors of our church, to invite people in, to walk with them, etc.

What do we need to do? 

Do your children, even the ones who have fallen away, know that the reason you sacrificed for them and raised them the way you did was because of your Catholic Faith?  Perhaps consider writing them a letter informing them of that in your own words. Sometimes we take the approach of nagging “Are you going to Church?”  “You need to go to Church!”  “Why aren’t you going to Church?”  Maybe instead just write and say, in your own words, “Hey, David, I know I wasn’t a perfect parent, but I wanted to just let you know that whatever strength I did have as a parent, it was because of my Catholic Faith and I wanted you to know that.”

Do the people we help, the people we teach, the poor we reach out to, the people that visit our hospitals, do they know WHY we are helping them?  

We often choose to NOT talk about ourselves and our good works, as individuals, as parishes, and as a Church.  “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” but we do a disservice if we help someone but don’t say anything about why we’re doing it.  

This weekend I bring Communion to our sick and shutins.  I’ve realized that I don’t ever really share with them why I’m there.  I’m not saying I’m going to start walking in and shouting “I’M HERE BECAUSE OF JESUS AND I’M AWESOME!” but there might be an opportunity to work in my motivation for being there as we have a conversation. 

“Behold, I will bring them back, I will gather them from the ends of the world, they shall return as an immense throng.  I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

Give us the strength to help get the word out that God is calling the world home to the Catholic Church