The Twentieth Sunday of the Year (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Have you ever uttered similar words to these: “God, our protector, keep us in mind; always give strength to your people. For if we can be with you even one day, it is better than a thousand without you” (Introit)? Perhaps this is what Lord Tennyson had in mind when he wrote those famous lines, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” (Tennyson, In Memoriam 27).
Those who have known the Lord’s presence and have experienced his love know what it means to pray, “may we reach the joy your prepared for us beyond all our imagining” (Collect).
Those who long for this joy, for happiness without end, know that it is only attainable by becoming more like Christ here on earth. And the more they become like Christ, the more they long to be in his presence and the more they feel like a stranger in a foreign land. Perhaps this is why it seems so few truly try to become like Christ: they already feel something like a foreigner and they do not want this feeling to increase.
But, my friends, it is most important that we feel like sojourners in this world for the Lord himself says, “The foreigners who join themselves to me…, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:6-7). If, then, we long for this joy we must live like pilgrims, like those on a journey. Indeed, this is the very meaning of the word parish; it comes from the Greek word meaning something like a stranger, a foreigner, a sojourner or a pilgrim. The great longing each of us has within the depths of our souls tells us that our true home is not in this world but is with God, on his holy mountain, where our joy will be filled and unending.
In the great gift of Baptism, Christ Jesus has already joined himself to us and has given us a share in his divine life and made us a part of his Body, the Church. We, then, must join ourselves to him by loving his name, by serving him, by keeping the Sabbath day holy, and by keeping his covenant (cf. Isaiah 56:6).
Living in this way is not always easy for us; it means setting aside our own will and ego and living for God alone. But while such a life is not easy, neither is it impossible; to live in this way we must be motivated above all else by the destination of our journey, by our true home. Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “If we were touched within by the flame of desire for our heavenly home, we would easily endure that exterior cold” (in St. Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis 5.2). Have you been touched by this flame of desire? If you have not, beg the Lord to help you know the beauty of the words, “if we can be with you even one day, it is better than a thousand without you” (Collect).
To “observe what is right” and to “do what is just” is one way of describing life in and for Christ. The goal of every parish must be to help the parishioners – the foreigners – live in this way, to recognize their true home and to find the joy for which they long.
We cannot bring ourselves up to the mountain of the Lord, there to be joyful in his house, on our own. We need the aid of the Church and her ministers. We need her teachings and guidance to observe what is just and to do what is right, to point out the path for us. The strength of our desire for lasting joy is seen in our commitment to the Church’s teachings; if we are not brought to the mountain of the Lord we cannot be joyful in his house.
We also need the Church to feed us, to give us the Body and Blood of Christ through which we will come to share his glory in heaven. But receiving the precious gift of the Eucharist presupposes that we are seeking to live a life worthy of him, and that if we have failed to do so we go to confession to be reconciled with him. To this end we need priests, and holy priests at that.
When young Raymond Kolbe saw a vision of Our Lady in 1906, he asked her what was to become of him, what he was to do with his life. She presented to him two crowns. One was white, which she said symbolized a life of purity; the other was red, which symbolized martyrdom. When Mary asked him which crown he wanted, he said, “I’ll take both.” Such boldness of faith!
It is the same faith of the Canaanite woman who kept calling out to the Lord who did not answer her. Finally, begging for just a crumb from the Lord’s table she was given what was not hers. In the same way, young Raymond boldly asked for both crowns.
As a young boy of twelve years, perhaps he realized that Christ Jesus wore both crowns himself; feeling a desire to become like Christ, Raymond asked for both crowns. He later entered the Franciscan Order and was given the name Maximilian.
As Hitler’s power grew he was taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz when in July of 1941 three prisoners escaped from the camp. Ten prisoners were then selected at random for execution to teach a lesson to the remaining prisoners. One of the men chosen cried out, “My wife! My children!”
Hearing his cry, Father Maximilian volunteered to take the man’s place. The guard asked who he was and he responded simply: “A Catholic priest.” The guard consented and Father Maximilian was led away. Seventy years ago today he was executed by an injection of carbolic acid, his body was cremated.
How is it that he could volunteer his life to save the life of the husband and father? It is only because he knew that his true home was not in the world but with God. He knew that by fully imitating Christ he would be brought to the joy prepared for him beyond all imagining. Now Father Maximilian wears two crowns, the crown of purity and the crown of martyrdom.
We need more priests like this; pray the Lord will give them to us! Pray that your son or grandson, your neighbor or classmate, may be such a priest. Pray that those whom the Lord calls will have the love, the generosity and the courage to respond. With such holy priests, how can we fail to reach the joy the Lord has prepared for us?!
On his way to his new assignment in Ars, Saint John Vianney asked a shepherd boy to point out the way to Ars for him. The boy complied and Vianney said to him, “You have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven!”
This is the task of every priest: to lead his people to heaven, but he cannot do so if his people will not follow; if they will not confess their sins; if they will not do what is just and right, regardless of the cost.
Let us pray, then, for our priests that the holiness of their lives will inspire us to follow them to heaven. Through their ministry may the Lord bring us to his holy mountain, there to enjoy the fullness of joy. Let us pray that we will be motivated in all things by nothing less than the love of Christ and our true home! Amen.