[NB. The deacons are preaching at St Dominic's this weekend. I'm celebrating the vigil Mass today at Our Lady Star of the Sea. This parish, I'm told, is used to slightly longer homilies. So. . .]
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady Star of the Sea, NOLA
Brothers and sisters, it will come as no surprise to you to hear it said, though being reminded of the fact never hurts, that God has done great things for us. He has done great things to us. And—if only if we will—He will also do great things with us! This bit of Good News is not news to us b/c we have long lived in the light Christ. No, not always perfectly, for sure, but living in his light most of the time is always better than living in the darkness all the time. And if, on those occasions when we are all too ready to listen to the enemy whisper, and if, when we listen, we hear what we want to hear, and do what we want to do, Christ's light always shines through that darkness to show us a smooth and level path back to the righteousness that is ours as heirs as the Father's kingdom. But you know this already. None of this is surprising. None of this is news to those who walk the way of love, behind the Lord, carrying a cross, looking forward, looking upward, looking beyond, beyond this world to the peace that passes all understanding in the world to come. If we know all this already, why do we need to hear it announced again? Well, the Good News of Jesus Christ might not be news to you. But it might be news to somebody, and that somebody is waiting to hear from you that he or she is profoundly loved, sacrificially loved, redemptively loved by the same God Who spoke the Word of Love into nothingness, and established by His love everything that is, everyone who is; and that same God holds by His love everything that is, everyone who is in being. Do not say—b/c you cannot say—that the Creator and Sustainer of all that is does not love you. He abandoned His Son to death for you, so that you might have life and have it abundantly, eternally. God has done great things for us. He has done great things to us. And—if only if we will—He will also do great things with us! Paul reminds the Ephesians of one great deed accomplished in the flesh of Christ. Christ, Paul says, is our peace. He made Jew and Gentile one, breaking down the walls of hatred and hostility, and abolishing the law with its divisive commandments. Why? So “that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,” thus establishing peace, reconciling both Jew and Gentile with God, in his body and through the cross, putting that ancient enmity to death by his death. Is this a great deed we are prepared to imitate? To put an end to hatred and hostility through the faithful practice of sacrificial love?
Let me be frank with you. Maybe even a little blunt. If you found the courage once upon a time to lay claim to your inheritance as an adopted child of the Father, and you found the time and energy to reap the benefits of God's abundant graces and His mercy, and you found the strength to walk this far along the crucified way, then you have the courage, the time, the energy, and the strength to present to this fallen world a mind and body formed in the likeness of Christ; a ready voice to speak the Word of Mercy and Truth to sinners; and the hospitality necessary to welcome into this family every leper, every tax collector, every prostitute, every politician, every Pharisee and scribe that crosses your path. You have everything—b/c it has been given to you—everything you need to live and die in love for the sinner, announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone with ears to hear, and—most importantly—you possess the power to grant mercy to all those who have offended you, showing them and reminding yourself that you too are a sinner in desperate need of receiving God's forgiveness. Anyone here w/o sin throw a stone, a hymnal, a shoe. Who isn't in need of mercy? Someone out there falsely believes that their loving Father, their Creator, does not love them, and they are angry, hateful, hostile, driven by despair, and quite possibly armed to the teeth. Can this lost soul look to me, to you, to all of us and see the face of Christ shining back at him, shining out the love that saved us from a darkness that never ends? If not, you and I, the whole Church have failed, miserably failed to be who and what we were re-created to be. We are a den of liars and thieves, deceiving ourselves and stealing from God souls that rightfully belong to Him alone. We cannot fault the world for its hatred and violence if we harbor in our own hearts the despair that feeds hatred and violence. If there is room in the soul of the Church for nurturing despair, disobedience, dissent, then there can be no room for Christ. We must be empty so that Christ might fill us up. We must be empty so that God's love fits perfectly, fully, and overflows and overflows and overflows. We must ask ourselves as individuals and as a Church: what takes up space in our hearts and minds that deprives us of the room we need for Christ? Truly, honestly can we pray with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is NOTHING I shall want”? If we are busy wanting what has not been given, then we are too busy to love as we ought.
You have heard it said: God has done great things for us. He has done great things to us. And—if only if we will—He will also do great things with us! The apostle Mark tells us in his gospel account that Jesus and the disciples are overwhelmed by the crowds and decide to jump a boat and escape across the sea. When they arrive on the other side, they discover that the crowd has followed them. Jesus surveys the masses before him and, Mark tells us, “[Jesus'] heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Note well the connection Jesus himself makes btw “lost sheep” and the need for instruction. Note well that it is compassion that motivates our Lord to teach these lost sheep “many things.” Out of his loving-kindness for the lost souls who follow him around yearning to know his truth, Jesus teaches them all that they need to know to live righteous lives; he teaches them all that they need to know to live in peace with one another and to live with justice for the least among them. We might want to ask here: what exactly does he teach them? To answer that we would need to spend several hours reading all four gospels! Or, we could look again at Paul's letter to the Ephesians and recall that Christ creates in himself one new person to replace both Gentile and Jew, thus establishing peace, thus placing the divine order over the natural order, thus dissolving the hardened hearts of accidental neighbors, so that both Gentile and Jew are reconciled with God, in his body, through the cross, and finally putting to death an ancient enmity that benefits no one but the Enemy and his legions. All that Christ teaches the lost sheep that day on the beach is tightly packed into one tiny word: love. No, not romance. Not being sweet like your mama said to be. Not indifference or passion or overwrought emotion. Rather, agape. Charity. Caritas. That Love Who spoke His creating word over the void and yanked into being all existing things. That Love Who spoke to the patriarch Moses and inscribed His commandments in stone. That Love Who spoke to Abram and made an everlasting covenant with a people not yet born. That Love Who spoke to His covenant-nation through the prophets and called them back to fidelity. That Love—agape, caritas—Who sent His holy spirit to the virgin, Mary, and gave to His creation a savior, a Son, to fulfill the obligations of the old covenant and establish a new covenant with a universal nation, a universal people.
When Christ teaches the crowd on the beach, he says much and more but he exudes in his person and mission just one word: love. Packed tightly into that one little word is the salvation of man, the redemption of creation, and the whole promise of the Old Covenant: you are My people and I AM your God. When we do and say and think as we have vowed to do, say, and think, we too exude in our person and mission the healing power of Christ love. And nothing—not hatred, violence, anger, oppression, greed—nothing vile, nothing that abides in darkness or feeds on despair can withstand the creating and re-creating majesty of Holy Love! God will do great deeds with us. He will accomplish through us works mightier than the princes of this world will allow. When I fall, you continue on. When you fail, I will try all the harder. When both of us stumble—and we will—there will be brothers and sisters there to pick us up and move us along. We are one Body, reconciled in his flesh and blood, so that the Good News of God's love will always have the hands, the feet, the mouths, the hearts and minds of a holy people, a nation renewed to speak the Word of Truth and accomplish the righteous deed. Jesus tells the disciples to come away and rest for awhile. Well, break-time is over. There are lost souls out there and possibly in here that need to see and hear us acting and speaking in love. So, I will ask again: are you, are we prepared to submit ourselves in obedience to the law of love and put an end to hatred and hostility in our families, our parish, our ward, our city, our Church? Are we ready—through the faithful practice of sacrificial love—to forfeit the demands of pride and surrender the need for vengeance? If those of us sworn to love one another cannot/will not readily agree to reconciliation in the Body, how will those souls already swimming in hatred and violence ever see the light for rescue? The Church, the Body of Christ, demands nothing more from us than everything we are—the whole person, all that God has given us for his greater glory. We grow tired. But that's why we are here. We grow frustrated with our own failures. But that why we're here. We aggravate one another like siblings do. But that's why we are here. Take all that you receive here and go out there. Take Christ, the first Son of Love, take him out there and show the lost, the lonely, the hateful, the hostile, show them all that he has done for you and yours. Show them his light, show them a way home.___________________
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