Homilies by  Fr. Joseph Mills
                            
                    Priest of the Owensboro, KY Diocese
                           
Passionist Oblate          

 Homily: (Click to read)

               Homily 1st Profession Sr. Mary Andrea, C.P.
               Reflections on St. Paul of the Cross
               60th Anniversary of Foundation in Owensboro
               Assumption of Mary
               17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
               16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
              
Silver Jubilee Homily

               Feast of St. Paul of the Cross
            
        St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
               
 


                                                                  

Fr. Joseph Mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


 

Homily at the First Profession Mass of Sister Mary Andrea, C.P. - By Fr. Joseph Mills

    There are so many beautiful things going on here this afternoon. It's like holding up the proverbial diamond and letting the light rays reflect off each of the many facets. Where shall we begin? Let's look at the first reading Jeremiah: " Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you." There you have it. We could stop here; of course you know we won't.

    Sr. Mary Andrea, you've pondered and prayed these inspired words of the prophet Jeremiah over and over again. You're saying "It really is the Lord's idea before it was mine." Jeremiah has some misgivings, but the Lord eventually wins out. Our presence here today is proof aplenty that the Lord has won out with you too.

    Someone said "The Lord doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies those he calls." We believe you are both called, and qualified. We thank you for inviting us to be part of this celebration.

     I suspect many a young girl, or young woman dreams of standing at the altar beside her beloved , eager to pronounce those two little words "I do." With these words a man and woman commits him/herself to the spouse in the sacrament of matrimony. Today, Sr Mary Andrea, in the presence of this Passionist community, in the presence of our Bishop, the family and friends here assembled, is ready to pronounce these first vows. She is ready to vow to promote devotion to and a grateful remembrance of the Passion of Christ, and the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and enclosure.

    Does it make any sense to the world, that a beautiful young woman world commit herself to this contemplative Passionist way of lfe? Probably not, for the most part. St Paul the Apostle says that in the eyes of the world this whole ceremony borders on the absurd. Why would anyone do what Sr Mary Andrea is about to do here in our presence? St Paul answers that he and Sr Mary Andrea will preach Christ crucified. Despite what the world might say, as a matter of fact, and as a matter of faith, what we are about today bespeaks the power of God and the wisdom of God himself. Our weakness plays into the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    With Jeremiah, we have already admitted that this day has its roots in the very mystery of the everlasting and ever-loving God. This eternal perspective, of course, is beyond our comprehension. But we can, as it were, eves-drop on another celebration- the day that Sister Mary Andrea's parents stood before a priest and uttered their own words: " I do."

    Dave, you and Carol Jean, on the day of your wedding, your priest shared an exhortation with them. (You may or may not have heard him!) It's one of the most beautiful reflections in the old liturgy, what is now being called the Extraordinary form of the Mass. Among other things, Father spoke over you these words:

    Sacrifice is usually difficulty and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.

 Carol Jean and Dave, today this entire community expresses its thanks to the two of you, for the gift of your love, your sacrifices, your joys over these many years as you have brought these children to life, each one of them being a blessing to you and to so many. Today we focus on Andrea. But it is your sacrifrice, love and joy that provides a solid foundation for this occasion. Without the expression of that "I do" on the part of the two of you, there would never be this celebration of first vows uttered by your daughter Andrea. Over the years, you've known sacrifice, love, joy. You've shared these virtues with your family. Today we gather around this Passionist Community and your daughter, Andrea, to highlight again the place of sacrifice, love and joy in all our vocations.

    In a homily at a wedding, the Lutheran minister, Dietrick Bonnhoefer, who was killed by the Nazi in 1942, once gave this advice to a young couple: 'Today, you are young, and very much in love and you think that your love can sustain your marriage. It cannot. Let you marriage sustain your love." Sr Mary Andrea, let your religious profession sustain your love.

    A religious calling, love and prayer all work the same way. They cannot be sustained by mere feelings and good intentions. The recent stories coming out about Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta remind all of us that consolations can come and go. Good feelings, - I call them warm fuzzies - can come and go. It is the profound commitment that you will make today, along with God's sustaining grace and the support of a strong community like you find here at this monastery....These will continue to support you all your days. Sister, there may be days when you don't FEEL God's presence. Believe us, he will be there with you. He'll never leave you. He says "You can trust me."

    I like what one writer said of Mother Theresa: She continued to "serve a God who stopped returning her calls."

    Of course, the greatest support of all is the Lord Jesus himself in the Eucharist, the Source and the Summit of the Chrisitian life. Pope John Paul, in that letter he wrote on the Eucharist shortly before his death, said, in the opening words: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." Sr Mary Andrea, you, and all of us here present, are drawing our life from the Eucharist.

    In the Eucharist, Jesus says "This is my body." In each of our stories, in our own vocations, we can pray these words along with Jesus, with the priest, and the whole Church: This is my body given up for you. It is Christ who sustains us, day in and day out. He gives himself up for us in his Sacred Passion and death. We commit ourselves to uniting ourselves in that moment of his death and rising. These Passionist Nuns keep reminding all of us how we are to be forever linked to our Lord in his finest hour.

   Today is very special for the obvious reason, the celebration of Sister Mary Andrea's first profession. There's more. Today we are celebrating the feast of St Paul of the Cross, our holy founder. Believing as we do in the communion of saints, we acknowledge the presence here around this altar the countless women and men who have gone before us and are gathered around the heavenly throne of God. Today, we can imagine that St Paul of the Cross together with the other women and men of the Passionist Congregation are crowded around the front of the heavenly assembly for this special celebration. In a moment of silence in this Eucharist, we can almost hear them singing "May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sorrows of Mary be forever in our hearts." From their place heaven, they see the Passion and death of the Lord Jesus from a different perspective. Today, they are singing for you, for all of us.

    Many who come to a wedding would probably admit that one of the highlights of the event is seeing what the bride is wearing. There are no surprises here this afternoon. We know and can see how Sr Mary Andrea is garbed. Her outer appearance simply reflects what's going on inside of her. She says "I want to die to the world so as to be completely alive for Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, especially in that mystery of his sacred passion."

    The Passionist habit, the insignia, the ring, the veil, and today - the cross and the crown of thorns - all these tangible effects speak volumes to us and to the world that seems not to understand the mystery of this particular calling. The inner reality and significance of vows is hidden from view, but the outer appearances point to the beauty, the depth, the mystery of this event. We are struck with a kind of awe and reverence.

    Your parents and family have played such a prominent place in your vocation story. As I just said, Sister Mary Andrea, we join you in thanking all your family for all they've done to encourage, love and support you. This entire Passionist Community here at Whitesville has been among your greatest cheerleaders. Mother Catherine Marie and all the others were pulling for you to make this day possible. But there's one particular sister in the community who had a unique influence on you. She is a friend of one of your sisters. - Sr John Mary, who was baptized Theresa, has a bigger smile than she usually has this afternoon. Sr Mary Andrea, you've written about the inspiration and guidance she has been given you.

    I'm reminded of that account in the Book of Zechariah in the Old Testament. The prophet spoke how ten Gentiles from every tribe and nation would take hold of the sleeve of him that is a Jew and say 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.' You took hold of Sr John Mary's sleeve and said as much when she was so eager for you to come with her to this community. Sr John Mary, you played an important role. But it was the joy, Sr Mary Andrea tells us , that she saw in the whole community that drew her on. Actually, it was Christ Jesus, who was doing the inviting.

    I'm thinking too of those many, many young people that you, Sr Mary Andrea, associated with and worked with on those TEC teams, and on those experiences with Youth 2000. Of course you can't keep up with them all, but you can keep them in prayer. Perhaps your own personhood and example then and now might become a grace for one or the other of the young women, or men, to consider a religious vocation. They'll remember you as an adventuresome young woman. Perhaps others will follow you. Of course, how could I leave out your nieces, nephews and many cousins?

    What we're about here this afternoon will affect unknown numbers of people, here in our local community, but far beyond, indeed to the whole world. There are no boundaries to God's love and God's grace.

    On this feast of St Paul of the Cross, we conclude with his words spoken may years ago, but spoken afresh to all of us at this celebration. He exhorts us:

    Proclaim the message of the Cross in the Sacred Wounds of our most lovable Redeemer opened more by his infinite love than by the hard nails, so that we may drink the saving waters of grace in these springs of eternal life.

    These are words of blessing from the lips of St Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists. We thank God for him, and for all who have been and are every day inspired by his love and devotion.

    We suggested at the beginning that this occasion is so beautiful, so resplendent like a diamond.

    It's been said that a diamond is forever. Not really! But Jesus Christ IS forever. Really!


 

Homily at the Mass celebrating 60 Years of the Passionist Nuns presence in the Owensboro Diocese - October 15, 2006


     
In 1946, a loaf of bread cost ten cents.  In 1946, five Passionist Nuns moved to Owensboro from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  In 1996, the Passionists in Owensboro moved from Benita Avenue to the outskirts of Whitesville.  There was no time in 1996 to celebrate the fifty years of this community's presence in our diocese.  Today we gather to celebrate sixty years in the life of this community. Needless to say, this is an important milestone in the life of this Passionist Community, and indeed, of the Diocese of Owensboro.

      My own connection with the nuns starts with a lawnmower, or rather, with Bishop Cotton, our founding bishop,  who told us seminarians to contact the Nuns and ask which night would be best for the seminarians to come and take care of their lawn at Benita Avenue.  We would borrow a couple of pick-up trucks, load them with lawnmowers, brooms and such and gather there on Thursday evenings during the summer months. We kept the grounds manicured, and it helped to build community among us seminarians.  Afterwards, we load up our truck, stop by and pick up a watermelon, and perhaps go to some pond or lake where we could enjoy a swim.

     We never saw the nuns. Well, one night Father Calhoun recalls working with a mower that had broken down.  As if by magic, the gate opened and one of the Sisters pushed a mower out to him. She immediately retreated behind the walls. Another time, one of the seminarians announced that he had spotted one of the nuns peeping out from behind one of the curtains, just for a second. It could have been Sister Mary Bernadette, the only member of the five surviving to this day. We began cutting the grass probably the year after their arrival in 1946.  In 1953, God called my own sister, Ann, to join this community, another reason for my being here this afternoon in this spot.  I thank God every day for her many years of dedication to this Passionist vocation.  Her fidelity, prayers and love have inspired and supported me and many others  over the years. Thank you, Sister Ann Miriam!

     The Passionist Nuns were founded by St Paul of the Cross in 1771 in Italy.  The nuns first came to this country in 1910.   In the forties, the  Passionist community at Scranton, PA had grown rather large and they felt called to help found another convent.  Seeking some direction and guidance, Mother Mary Agnes Roche wrote to twenty-one dioceses across the country. Bishop Cotton quickly responded to her letter and invited them to come to Owensboro.  In the letter he wrote back to Sister Mary Agnes, he asked "How did you know there even was a place like Owensboro?" I'd say that in these past years, you Sisters have helped put us on the map.

     As background, Mother Mary Agnes Roche, the superior of the Scranton Convent,   tells how she had pondered over and prayed about a future location, about a diocese that would invite them to come.  The archives preserves the prayer she  wrote to St Joseph.  She records 'I spoke to him 'What am I to do?' They want me to make a new foundation and I don't know where to go or what to do. But, dear St Joseph, if you take over, I'll follow the counsel of those who have  right to advise me."  We here today thank God for the faith that Mother Mary Agnes had in St Joseph.  St Joseph continues to provide for and protect this local Whitesville community.

     In the late 1980's, the Benita Avenue home was becoming more and more crowded, and ever more surrounded by the noise and busyness of the city, making peace and quiet almost impossible. It was also part of the dream the sisters had to begin having retreats for women, but they had no more room.  The Sisters met in council as a community and after much prayer and deliberation put to the vote the question of whether they should consider moving to a new location.  When the final tally came in, all eighteen of them voted to support a move.  Many on the outside would say "It's got to be the work of the Holy Spirit (and St Joseph) -  that eighteen women could  agree on it."  When the word began to leak out, that the sisters were going to move the monastery,  people then began to say "What on earth do these cloistered  nuns know about property, new construction, and especially finances?"

     Well, the Holy Spirit and St Joseph were also committed .to the move.   Divine providence would also touch many other hearts, lots of them,  Catholics, and people from other Christian communities came forward  with their time, their talents, and their financial commitments. Notice the many plaques, and the thick book of donors out in the lobby. These and many others besides pitched in and supported their move to this beautiful place in the country.  The Sisters here speak of these "St Joseph's Helpers."  They call this an on-going miracle of divine providence, as well as the faithful care of good St Joseph for whom this monastery is named.  The deep faith of these sisters and the support of many friends along the way continues to sustain them.

      Mother Catherine Marie says that this celebration is to thank the countless people - our bishops, priests,  families, relatives, Oblates, benefactors and friends- who have made these 6o years possible for us and who continue to do so through their prayers, spiritual assistance and encouragement, as well as financial help and volunteer service. Gratitude to benefactors was always an important part of the life and mission of St Paul of the Cross, our founder, and we have inherited this commitment to love and pray for those who express their faith in the value of Passionist contemplative lie by helping us to continue it.

      Sisters, all of us, on this side of the water channel, want to thank YOU for your life of dedication, love, and yes, your commitment to the Passion of Jesus Christ.  We are so grateful that you have reached out to all of us. We feel privileged to be among your friends and supporters. We all need one another, don't we? This water channel represents the sacrament of baptism which does not separate us, but unites us.

      As Passionists, you  Sisters have vowed to God to make the  Passion of Jesus Christ the center of  your lives.   You commit yourselves to celebrating the Passion and death of Jesus, not  just as an historical event, something that happened in the past, but as a reality that is being  lived out in the lives of all of us day after day, and yes, in the lives of men and women around the world  who are today being "crucified" by the many injustices, abuses of all kinds, by the warring faction between nations, by hunger and starvation,  by the exploitation of poor nations by the rich, by their deep-seated hunger for life, for hope, and truth and love. 

      Being cloistered means that you choose to live a life apart from the outside world, cut off from the hurly-burley of the secular, allowing yourself quality time to be alone with your God, with the Suffering Jesus and the Sorrowful Mother, Mary.  This is critical to the living of this particular vocation.  However, by your baptismal commitment, you are members of the whole Church, the Body of Christ. Whatever concerns the body of Christ concerns you.

      One of my favorite quotations from the Second Vatican Council comes from the document "The Church in the World Today."  It begins:  

     "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, those too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of  Christ."
 

      Years ago I would have hesitated to utter these words in a cloistered community, but I'm convinced that they fit in perfectly with this community and this occasion.


      The Holy Father Pope John Paul II  in his  Letter on the Eucharist says that  every Mass is offered on the altar of the world.  When you Sisters gather at this altar, it is in the confines of this beautiful chapel, but the influence and the grace radiates out to all the world.


      Father Barnabas Ahern, the Passionist Scripture scholar once said that "the cross of Christ looms large on every page of Christian history.   It bathes the whole world with life and light and warmth. Every believer in the Crucified Son of God is aglow with the radiance of His glory on Calvary, and so St Paul gives us the assurances that "we all, with faces unveiled, are reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." (2Cor 3:18)


      Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta prayed  'Lord, crack open my heart and let the whole world fall in."  


     From the office of Readings, on the feast of St Paul of the Cross, we hear him saying  "Conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified, and hope for nothing except that all men be thoroughly converted to his will." You have been lured into these holy grounds. You have a mission to peer ever more deeply into heart of Jesus, yes, and of our Sorrowful Mother, Mary.  You have a cloister to enclose you. But in some way,  in the mind of Christ and the Church, your cloister is as wide as the world itself, the world that God's Son came to redeem and return to the Father.  You are playing a vital role in God's plan.


     The Passion of Jesus  is something that is ongoing.  The Gospel writers help us draw closer to the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, in Jerusalem and on Calvary. But the Gospels are theological reflections on what happened in the life and ministry of Jesus and what is continuing to happen in the life of the Church, way back in the first century and today in our twenty-first century.  The Passion of Jesus is a NOW event, as well as THEN account.  You Passionist Nuns keep us mindful of this fact in our faith lives.  You help us to see a deeper meaning to our own lives, and in the lives of all neighbors  in all the world, in the lives of all God's people, all 6.5 billion of them.   Sisters, you've come to this place apart, "to conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified." You've entered ever so deeply into the heart of our Suffering Jesus.  He suffers for all the human family. 


      Fr Don Senior, reminds that  through a study of the Passion of Jesus, we have the opportunity to probe the heart of his entire Gospel message.   The first things the evangelists wrote were the account of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.    The gospels do not so much explain the death and resurrection as do the death and resurrection explain the gospels. The accounts of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are a kind of window into all the scriptures, and yes, into the whole of our lives too.


      The death and resurrection of Jesus explain the Gospels, why they were written, why they have been preserved and made available to us who live two thousand years after Jesus' time on earth.  You Sisters keep before yourselves and all of us the profound meaning of suffering we all experience from time to time and you say to us 'Nothing of our own sufferings need ever be wasted, ever be lost."   We here in Whitesville, KY today need this message. The entire world needs to know and be taught the deepest meaning of suffering as it is experienced any where in the world. No one wants to actively pursue suffering. Even Jesus asked the Father if this cup could be taken away from him.  Sisters, part of your vocation is to continue to probe this mystery of human suffering,  to share with all of us some of the lessons you've learned from your time at the foot of the Cross.


      St Paul of the Cross was very familiar with the words of Hosea in our First Reading:  "I will lure her into the desert and speak to her heart."


      In our Gospel today, Jesus says "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies it produces much fruit..."


      In giving this teaching about the grain of wheat,  Jesus was really talking about himself.  One spiritual writer says that in "God's mighty agriculture," the death of Jesus will feed whole nations with the bread of life." Like a single grain of wheat that dies, and then brings froth new life, Jesus will burst forth from the ground with enough power to feed all the hungry souls on earth.   But before that grain of wheat can become fruitful, it must first die.   It must, as it were, deny itself.


      But who wants to die?  There's something deep inside each of us which says " I don't want to die; I don't want to be buried in a dark earth, all alone, so cut off from the world. Is there any way I can get out of dying like this?   In the vocation of all of us there are periods when we find ourselves buried, as it were, in the dark earth, alone and isolated.   Jesus says "If you want to be my disciple, you must follow me.  If I am that grain of wheat buried in the dark earth, so must you be prepared to be buried, to die, and then you will produce much fruit.  You and I are in this together, Jesus says. In fact, my dying, your dying are intermingled. We die together, in order to produce much fruit."


     These words of Jesus to us from this Gospel are not just for Passionists These words are spoken for all of us, each one in our particular vocation: vowed religious, married, single, ordained, young and older, all of us.


     When Pope John Paul II  helped celebrate the 44th General Chapter of the Congregation of the Passion,  in August of 2000, he wrote the following:  

   "Considering the good that you (Passionists)  have done, how can I not ask you to continue being teachers of prayer and special witnesses to Christ crucified, drawing from the mystery of the Cross the strength to cultivate a passion for life, especially through dialogue and sharing in your communities? How can I not remind you that such a mission demands courage and joy facing the problems of  religious life in every particular historical moment?" 


      Ten days ago, Mother Catherine Marie received an email from retired Passionist Bishop Paul M Boyle, who is participating in the General Chapter of the Passionists around the world, going on right now in Rome, in these October days. He notes that Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging  the Passionist Nuns to take a realistic look at present-day needs and to make necessary modifications in their lifestyle and structures. Bishop Boyle concluded "Since your community has done this so well, I thought these words would be a comfort to all of you."


      I can imagine St Paul of the Cross, in the communion of Saints, is standing nearby and winking at you Sisters "I'm  proud of you, Sisters."


     Again, back in 2000, Pope John Paul spoke in an affirming way about the efforts of the Passionists to share their charism with the laity.  He notes that this "represents a sign of growing ecclesial vitality which should be welcomed and developed."  A year before this, much to your credit,  you Sisters initiated the Passionist Oblate program, which Tom and Debbie Carter had proposed to Mother Catherine Marie. Today the Oblates number  40 members. Thank you, Sisters, for sharing your charism with us in this way, for helping us also to keep the Passion of Jesus always in our hearts.


     On Tuesday of this week, we will be celebrating the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch. Recall that St Ignatius, in the year 107 was being transported to Rome where he was facing execution in the teeth of the lions. He wrote to his people:  Please, don't try to interfere.  "I am God's wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread."


     In whatever way the Lord Jesus might touch us individually and as a community,  we  are now celebrating  this incredible mystery of faith, the dying and the rising of Jesus Christ.  We compress all the years that have gone before and all the years that lie ahead  as we utter these words of Jesus "This is my body which is broken for you. This is the cup of my blood which is poured out for you."


     I told you that a loaf of bread cost ten cents in 1946.  What I meant to say: Becoming God's bread costs us lots more than ten cents." 
 


 

Assumption of Mary – Passionist Monastery – August 15


Let me begin by telling you a lie.  The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI could not be here this morning,, so he asked me to fill in for him.   That’s the lie. From now on I’ll only speak the truth.

 

The truth is that on Christmas of last year, Benedict released his first encyclical “God is Love,”  and he concludes his inspiring reflections with a beautiful meditation on our Lady.  I want to quote some excerpts  from his encyclical and reflect with you a bit as we go along.

 

“In the  Gospel of Luke, we find Mary engaged in a service of charity to her cousin Elizabeth with whom she remained for about three months so as to assist her in the final phase of her pregnancy. ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’  … In these words she expresses her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center but leaving space for God  who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbor – only then does goodness enter the world.

 

“Her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center. . . God  first, and then her neighbor.   Fr Lucian Hayden used to say, holding up his thumb and two fingers:  Jesus, others, you – which spells joy.  This is true for women religious, married, single, widowed, priests, young and old. This feast highlights this recipe for real joy, for real holiness. Mary is a beautiful model for us all!

 

Our holy father Benedict continues:

 

“Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself.  She is lowly:  her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord. She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives.

 

What a commentary on the vow of obedience!  Many spiritual writers believe that obedience is the most difficult of the vows to live.  (Original sin of course is responsible for this.) What progress we could make if we made a habit of focusing on this willingness to submit our wills to God’s will!  Of course God’s will is often manifested to us through some very ordinary means, through some very ordinary people, but people assigned to leadership roles, persons graced with that special call from God.

 

The encyclical continues:

 

Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God’s promises and awaits the salvation of Israel can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises.

 

We’re told that suicide among our youth is such a scourge today.  Many of our youth have tried all the “escapes” that the world offers – drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, whatever.  They have found no reason to continue living. They have lost all hope.  They see no worthwhile future. They do not believe that any of their dreams can be fulfilled.

 Of course we know that hope, along with faith and love are the theological virtues that are poured into our souls at the time of our  baptism.   The goal of the spiritual life is to allow these virtues to come to full bloom. 

 Pope Benedict says:  

 Mary is a woman of faith: “Blessed are you who believed,’ Elizabeth says to her.  The Magnificat is a portrait of her soul.  It is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God.  Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God.  She speaks and thinks from the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God.  Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.

 

So, we’d like to see into the depths of Mary’s soul.  Study, ponder, pray the Magnificat, and marvel at what the Lord and the Spirit will show us!  Remember Bishop Sheen’s quoting “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, teach me how to pray?”

 

The Holy Father continues:  

 

Finally, Mary is a woman who loves.    How could it be otherwise?   As a believer who in faith thinks with God’s thoughts and wills with God’s will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves.  We sense this in her quiet gestures as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel.   We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need  of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus.  We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross which will be Jesus’ true hour.  When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross; later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they waits for the Holy Spirit.    

 

My dear friends, if we are not people who love, whatever our calling,  we will have failed our life’s purpose, miserably.  When Pope Benedict wrote his initial encyclical on love, he was highlighting for us what is absolutely essential in our lives. When you follow the dictates of your Passionist vocation, or your Dominican calling,  when I live out my life as a priest, whether  you  are married, single, widowed, divorced, young,  old…. All of us will be asked or an account of how loving we are, how loving we have been with our faith lives.   When I taught at Brescia College,  in preparation for a big exam, the students would ask “Father, are we responsible for all we’ve covered this year, or just since the last test.  At times, my answer was:  “You’re responsible for all we’ve covered this semester. “  So, with us… Of course, we’ll be tested on our hope, our faith, but especially on our loving.

 

The Holy Father says:

  

The words addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciples – to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus:  ‘Behold your mother!’ –These words are fulfilled anew in every generation.

 

I’d like to add: AND, in every Eucharist.  What we read about this feast, from the Liturgy, and from the Encyclical GOD IS LOVE  is being accomplished in our lives and in this community here this morning.  The words of Scripture, read at the ambo, are actualized as we move to the Liturgy of the Eucharist a few feet from here.  And I love what :Pope John Paul II reminded us of in his Letter on  the Eucharist, written just two years before he died:  ‘Mary is present at every Mass.”   She’s here with us this morning.  Recently someone who ought to know better challenged me when I quoted John Paul that “Mary is present at every Mass.”  She is indeed.

 

Pope Benedict concludes:

 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world. 

 

I  started off saying that Benedict would be Guest homilist today. I was lying. But the rest of what I’ve shared is the absolute truth of the Scriptures.
 


 

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

       Frequently in the Sunday readings, the first reading and the gospel are linked together.
                 This happens today.

Elisha feeds 100 people with a few barley loaves. Jesus feeds 5000 men with a few loaves and a couple of fish. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament passages are pointing to the Holy Eucharist when Jesus will feed us not with loaves and fishes but with his own Body and Blood.

In the first reading, the loaves are barley loaves, the kind that poor people usually ate. God takes even the most insignificant gifts and uses them to care for his people.

One interesting note in the Gospel has to do with John's mentioning that there was much grass in the place, probably an indication that it was near Passover, and therefore near a springtime feast and therefore a time when the grass would be lush and plentiful, again a veiled reference to the time when Jesus would give us the Eucharist.

One additional item in this Gospel story is John's mentioning some 5000 men. What about the women and children?  Does John shows an a gender bias, or is it simply the way numbers were calculated?

For many years, what has attracted my special attention is the boy in the story. After Jesus had said "Give them something to eat, the apostles wondered how in the world they could feed this crowd. Andrew introduces to Jesus a little Boy who had a few loaves and a couple of fish, but "What good is that for so many?"

Some years ago, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II was speaking to the youth in Edinburgh, Scotland. I think it was the feast of St Andrew the Apostle. He said to them:

"Now the point I wish to make is this: The boy gave all that was available, and Jesus miraculously fed those thousands of people and still had enough left over.   It is exactly the same with your lives. Left alone to face the difficult challenges of life today, you feel conscious of your own inadequacy and afraid of what the future may hold for you. But what I say to you is this: 'Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you and bless you, and he will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation."

These words of the Holy Father are words that people of all ages can take to heart. I've seen this played out many times over the years in my own life.

When I assumed my first pastorate at Holy Spirit in Bowling Green, the Gospel for my first Sunday was this one. I stood there looking at all those people and said "I feel like the little guy in this Gospel." As to whether the Lord could and did multiply the loaves and fish that I offered is not for me to say. I just recall how I felt then, and how I have felt often over the years.

What is the Lord saying to us? I think he is saying "I need your talent, I need your generosity. I need you. I need your feet, I need your hands, I need your tongue. Share with me what you have. He's saying to us:

"For today, I have only your feet to carry me into all the places You'll be visiting this week. I have only your hands to reach out to the helpless, the homeless, the hopeless. I have only your tongue to tell my brothers and sisters why I cam to live on earth, and why I suffered for them."

Jesus is saying 'If you faith is weak, bring it to me and I will make it strong. If your love for a neighbor, for a member of the community, for a spouse, a family member is growing weaker by the day, bring it to me and I will make it strong, I will renew it."

Just take the world situation today, wars, and civil disturbances all over the globe, especially in the Middle East. What can I, one person, do to effect a change? I can pray those words of St Francis: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

I met a man recently who is really disturbed about the present-day crisis in the Church. He meant the sex abuse scandal with the priests. He said " Father, I've got to do some serious thinking about all this." I took this to mean he was considering whether he should stay with the church." I just listened to him, then said "Just take it to the Lord in prayer." Jesus is saying "If your faith is weak, come and bring it to me and I will strengthen it for you."

Each one of us has heard the words of the Gospel, at least with our ears. Will we listen with our hearts? Will we trust Jesus to multiply whatever it is that we're willing to share with him? Jesus wants to feed and care for the many in our world who are hungry, who are lonely, who are weak, who feel frightened and weak of faith. Jesus says "You and I together can help. Let me know what you are willing to share with me, and I'll provide for their needs.

For you Sisters today: Of course we're wondering what God's plans are for religious communities, for communities like the Passionists. What is the future to be? We do not know. What we do know is that we should be bringing to God our deepest concerns, our questions, our most sincere prayers. We believe in you Sisters, in your wonderful dedication and devotion to the Lord's Sacred Passion. The Lord is saying: "Speak to me; tell me where it hurts. If you are fearful and anxious, tell me about it. Offer me whatever is closest to your hearts.

Read over again St Paul's words in the Second Reading this morning. There's enough there to concentrate upon and engage your spirits for hears to come. How do you think St Paul would apply the Gospel message to you today?



Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

((Pope Benedict has asked that today be a special World Day of Prayer for Middle East Crisis))

 

In last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus was sending the apostles out to proclaim the kingdom. This week, they've returned to Jesus and they are excited and eager to report on their mission. Of course we don't know what they reported to Jesus, "all they had done and taught." But we can imagine, can we not?

Jesus, you should have been there. So and so was filled with unclean spirits and with our simple command, we were able to drive them. The demons came out of this guy. Everybody was excited about it. Wow! That was some power you gave us.Another pops up and says "Well, Jesus, that was nothing, compared to the guy we met who was on his deathbed! We anointed him and now he's the picture of health." Another one said "Jesus, I tried, but so and so wasn't interested in hearing your message; like you said, I quickly shook the dust from my sandals and left the house at once. Maybe later, can go back to him. But it made me sad to have to leave him." Perhaps they went on and on, breathlessly interrupting one another with their own personal stories of their ministries.

Nor do we know what Jesus might have said: Well, done, men. I'm proud of you. But I notice that some of you look tired, a couple look exhausted. I tell you what, let's go off by ourselves a while and rest. You need some R and R."

Well, the rest of the story? They were no sooner at their place of relaxation than the crowds began to show up. They were looking for more help - perhaps some healings, some miracles, some comfort, and some reassurance from Jesus.

One thing this says to me is that we all need some balance in our spiritual lives. As disciples of Jesus, we need to be doing what Jesus was doing, reaching out and helping people in whatever way we can. Yes, this can be taxing at times. I've watched young mothers with little children in tow, hanging on to her skirts, sometimes crying, sometimes fighting one another. I can only imagine her doing this 24/7. But everyone seems to be so busy, with so much to do. I'm as busy as a retired priest as I ever was.

On the other hand, we need to spend time, quality time, with Jesus, on a regular basis. The Sisters here come to chapel seven times during the day to pray. We in our own vocations need some regular or surely frequent moments with our Lord. He is the Center of our lives. We pray that we may become more like Jesus in every way. Work hard; never cease to serve those around us, those in the whole world, but to recognize too our need to return to Jesus and sit at his feet, to absorb more and more of his love and compassion, to listen to the directives our Lord gives each one of us in our particular vocation.

The spiritual life for all of us involves these two dimensions: the horizontal - reaching out to those we encounter along the way - be those family members, people with whom we work, people who directly appeal to us, or whom we notice along the way.... To be involved with our neighbors, near or far. Mother Theresa's nuns spent time living in the midst of the direst poverty in Calcutta, London, Detroit, wherever. But in order to do so, Mother Theresa said her nuns were to spend three hours a day in prayer....When asked why the sisters didn't spend those extra three hours with the poor, she replied, "Unless they spent that time with the Lord, they'd never go out into the streets at all."

We need this horizontal dimension to our lives. On Judgment Day, we will be reminded of the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, that we did or did not care for. We're been shown this picture time and time again in our lives. It is one we must never forget.

My favorite quotation from the Sixteen Documents of Vatican Two is from the Church in the Modern World, in the opening words:

"The joys, and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."

I don't hesitate to share this quotation here in the sanctuary of this cloistered Passionist community. If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, or indeed, apostles of Jesus - those who are sent out - then this expression of the Vatican Council Fathers is appropriate for all of us.

The other dimension in our lives is the Vertical Dimension, the line that goes from our heart to the very heart of our God. Passionists would say that that vertical line to the Father passes directly through the pierced hearts of Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross, and of Jesus hanging on the Cross. Passionists find their own special place on the Hill of Calvary, but their hearts know of the sufferings, the needs, the cries of God's people everywhere.

There's need for balance in the lives of all of us, including Cloistered nuns... You Sisters have been given a very special call from our blessed Lord - to spend your lives pondering the mystery of God's love manifested by his willingness to die on the cross... You spend your lives in the shadow of the cross, but you don't neglect God's people "out in the world." Mary and the other women were at the foot of the cross, along with John the Beloved Disciple of the Lord; At least John's Gospel paints this picture. Jesus looks down from the Cross, moments before he dies, and says to Mary," Behold your Son," and then to John "Behold your mother." He could have said "Keep your eyes only on me all the time. In fact, he said, "take care of one another."

Somehow, with the guidance and grace of the Holy spirit, we'll keep both dimensions in mind: to work, to proclaim the kingdom, to spend ourselves; but then to rest, to relax in the presence of the Lord Jesus. To work, to be with Jesus. This is the rhythm in our lives; this is how the symphony of our lives is written and played out. This is the music of our union with our God, with Jesus, and with the many who need what Jesus has already shared with us.

In the first Reading, the Lord is displeased with the Shepherds. In those days the kings, those in leadership, were looked upon as shepherds. Because they were often remiss in their responsibilities to guide, protect and care for their people, the Lord God was not happy with them. The Lord then promises to give his people other shepherds to care for them. Eventually, Jeremiah tells us, God would call David to be shepherd for his people. In time, Jesus will himself take over the role of Shepherd: "I am the Good Shepherd."

The Liturgy wants to remind us that by reason of our baptism, we share in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. We share in his role as priest, prophet, and shepherd-king. We too are called to be shepherds. This is both comforting and challenging.

We pray that like Jesus, we too will have hearts full of compassion for those who are in need: many today hunger for truth, for instruction in the faith; many are looking for direction. Some parents may be grieving over the direction of some of their children. A man out there is being stripped of his dignity because he can't find decent work. A woman is facing pregnancy alone. Some elderly are feeling diminishing strength in their aging bodies. Some have lost confidence in leadership, whether political or religious. There are all kinds of people out there looking for answers. They are like sheep without a a shepherd. To whom should they turn? How do we figure into this? This is not my question. This is Jesus asking each one of us.

Oh, did I forget to mention: Live this Gospel and we'll all find that incredible peace that St Paul tells us about in the second Reading.

Some here are perhaps on the verge of making a life-changing decision. All of us need help in knowing how to carry this message back to our homes, our families, to our businesses, our recreation. It is Jesus who shares his dreams with us all.


 

Silver Jubilee Mass Homily Jubilee Celebration for Sr. Joseph Marie, C.P.  &
                                                                       Sr. Mary Agnes, C.P. - May 7, 2006


         [Hosea 2:16, 21-22;  I Cor 1:22-31; John 12:24-26)]

St Paul the Apostle sets the theme for our celebration this afternoon.  In his  First Letter to the Corinthians, he writes:  "Let him who would boast, boast in the Lord."


Of course we gather her to thank God for the gift of our two Silver Jubilarians, Sr Mary Agnes, and Sister Joseph Marie.  We are happy to have been invited to join you on this wonderful day, with the rest of your Sisters, with the family members, with the Passionist Oblates, with all who have come to this special occasion.  It is a day of Christian joy, not just for us here, but for all the Passionists  around the world, for the whole Church universal. But St Paul says we are to boast first of all on the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is him whom we honor, applaud, thank and celebrate.

 

St Paul says that God chose the world's "lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing,  to reduce to nothing those who were something." Sr Joseph Marie, and Sr Mary Agnes, you chose these readings.  We are not calling you "the world's lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing.' I think we get St Paul's idea: He's setting the tone for us today.  If there's any boasting to be done, put the Lord Jesus first.  This we do in this Eucharistic celebration.

 

Still, the Lord is pleased that we are observing this milestone in the lives of both of you jubilarians.  Again, what a privilege that we have all been called together in this chapel, for this blessed, happy and joyful moment.

 

St Paul is saying that no one can take credit for his/her accomplishment in accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior.  No one can say or think "Sure, I know salvation comes from God and is given freely to everyone, but so many have rejected his invitation. WE - unlike so many others - have  accepted this gift from our God."  No one, St Paul says, can take credit for his/her faith.   It all comes from our God. We must continually give thanks to our God.

 

My dear friends, we are here to congratulate these two Passionist nuns who have spent their lives as contemplative nuns  "preaching the crucified Jesus."

 

Both of you  -  Sr Mary Agnes and Sr Joseph Marie  - were very  successful in the world before you realized that God was calling you to more. Your dreams were not yet completed. The Lord had designs on you both.  We can't put words in the mouth of our God, but the Holy Spirit can and does.  So, in the inspired words of the Prophet Hosea, the Lord God says "I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart."   That desert had a name: Benita Avenue. (I've wondered who Benita might have been???)   As the two of you young women climbed those long steps up to that old mansion-then-a-monastery,  on a particular day for each of you,  you had little idea of what religious life would entail.  You could not know what your God-inspired invitation would ask of you. 

 

It must be something like a young woman deciding to say yes to her fiance's proposal for marriage. There is no way she could grasp what she was being asked to accept in the marriage vocation. It's likely that after her first case of jitters, her first impression would be positive.  Probably she would tell herself  "Of course, our life together could be full of trials, difficulties, and challenges.  But I really love this man, and I'm sure that love can conquer all. What thoughts of possible trials and tribulations were put on the back burner, to be sure.  Love would conquer all else.

 

The young bride -  a metaphor here for an aspiring nun - could not possibly appreciate what the future would hold for her.  Staying with this image of a young woman contemplating marriage, allow me to share with you this afternoon some wise words from the mouth of Mother Church.  These words were part of the Marriage Ritual that unfortunately was not included in the Revised Rite of Marriage. But I think these words  are so significant and meaningful. Listen to what the pastor would say over the young couple about to exchange their marriage vows. Let me paraphrase just a few words from this exhortation:

 

"Dear Friends in Christ: As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious. . .. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted  faith in each other that recognizing their full import, you are  nevertheless  so willing and ready to pronounce them.  These  words involve such solemn obligations. ... It is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice.... Sacrifice is usually difficulty and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can  make it a joy.  ...We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when  love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. The rest  is in the hands of God.  Nor will God be wanting to your needs; he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces."

 

Perhaps you're thinking "Too many words about marriage at a jubilee celebration for vowed women religious? " Perhaps, but it seems to me that vocations need to feed off one another.  In a personal aside, I believe that I, as a celibate priest, need the love, support and prayers of all of you who are married.   I think that you need me and my brother priests.  We all need the witness, the example and the inspiration of our Passionist companions.  We all need each other. The gospels tell of the women and men who accompanied Jesus in his earthly mission.   Each was there in his/her unique capacity, with  her/his  own gifts and talents, but all were contributing towards the mission of Jesus. The gospels give us a picture of how it was then. Today is a photograph of how the Church looks today.

 

The common denominator in all our vocations is that of love.  Love is the "stuff" of our human existence. Love is the "stuff" of our spiritual lives. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI's encyclical  "God is Love," tells us love is often used loosely.  He challenges us to go deeper into the meaning and significance of genuine love.   He says we must not forget what real love is. Jesus says "No greater love can one have than to lay down his life for his friends."   This is Jesus sharing the vision he has of himself. He is the one who will lay down his life for the salvation of all of us.  He is the Model, he is the Pattern we should  follow. He is the Witness to perfect love.  It makes sense. Jesus comes from a God who is Love.

 

Our Holy Father says that our entire lives are all about love.  His letter serves as a kind of corrective for society's misspoken image of love.  He wants to reshape a distorted picture of love.  Real love, he tells us, is found not in getting, as the world says, but in giving, in sharing with others.

 

St Paul of the Cross, the Founder of the Passionsts, knew the central place that love plays.  He himself felt a call to lay down his life for his friends.  In our Passionist Oblate program, we've been studying and contemplating the letters that St Paul of the Cross wrote to those he was directing in the spiritual life.  It is incredible how he spent himself, how he gave of  himself in ministering to members of community and to those who were his directees.  He loved them each one; they loved him. But always he knew and he wanted to make sure that each of them knew that Jesus was always the bond between himself and those to whom he ministered.  He was forever sharing from his own charism the gift that Jesus was making of himself in his sacred Passion and Dying.   He felt called to share  with everyone that it was the love in the heart of Jesus that motivated him in all his endeavors.  St Paul of the Cross knew the depths of human suffering, but he knew not to waste a single particle of this pain, suffering and  hurt. St Paul's love for his  people was really and truly the love of Jesus himself.  His love was beyond measure because it was the love of Jesus

 

Sister Marie Joseph, and Sr Mary Agnes,  God has called you to this Passionist vocation.  God has called you to give of yourselves, in love.  The special love that God calls you to is the love for and devotion to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Yes, you have been called to walk closely beside Jesus on his path to Calvary, indeed, close enough to put your arms around his cross and lend a hand to his way of the cross. Yours is definitely a hands-on vocation.  His cross is your cross. Your cross is his cross.  You can't get any closer to Jesus.  It's a daily dying to self, isn't it? 

 

Today is also the 43rd annual Day of Prayer for Vocations. Our Holy Father Benedict XVI notes, in observing this day, that the consecrated life holds a place of honor in the Church.   And I would add, among all  the communities of women religious, I would place the Passionists near the top. (But as I said earlier, I need to be careful. I could be quoted here.)  There is a certain intensity to this calling, this willingness to high light the sufferings of our Blessed Lord.

 

Perhaps on occasion one or the other of you might surmise that the vocation to the Passionists is simply asking too much of you. Perhaps on any given day this thought might have  crossed your mind.  I like what Fr Bennet Kelley says in his book on Spiritual Direction.  He says that  God never sends too many crosses or too heavy a cross. St Paul of the Cross quotes St Francis de Sales in saying that "God measured every cross to the tiniest millimeter, weighed it to the tiniest milligram, looked at the strength of the one to whom he was sending it, and then sent with it the grace to bear it."  Sometmes we might look at a neighbor's life and say to ourselves "If only I had what she/he has to bear; it would be easier than mine."  The truth is that God knows exactly what we can handle. He asks no more. He never wants to crush us. He always promises to help us.

 

The nature of this dying is described for us by Jesus himself in the Gospel.  When Jesus begins a teaching with the words "I solemnly assure you,"  we know he is serious.  To all of us here today, and especially to you two jubliarians,  Jesus says: " I solemnly assure you,  unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit." He goes on to say "The man who loves his life, loses it, while the man who hates his life in this world preserves it to life eternal."   

 

A grain of wheat, of course, can't talk, but if it could, I imagine it might say something like this: "I didn't want to be buried like this, away from everything.  I didn't envision all the pressures like I'm experiencing here in this dark place, this dark earth. I didn't know that it would be like this. Do all other grains have to experience such isolation, such forces pushing against them all the time like this? "

 

Perhaps I've got it all wrong. Perhaps that little grain would be saying  "I'm so happy to be where I am, to know this phase of my existence.  It hurts so much to be here but I can hardly wait to see how things develop in the days to come."

 

 Which description might be closer to reality?  I don't know. I just know that Jesus himself didn't want to go through with the sacred passion. In the garden, it was weighing on him. But in wanting to do the Father's will, he could get up off his knees and meet his accusers, and of course carry his cross all the way to the hill of Calvary.  There, wonderful, incredible things happened.  This Easter Season is the Church's effort to share with us some of the Easter Glory that follows our yes, the yes of your response to God's invitation and mine as well. 

 

That little individual grain of wheat, once it dies, begins to produce many many more grains of wheat which in time will be harvested, pounded and  ground and then baked into bread for hungry people. St Ignatius of Antioch, you recall, when being transported to Rome to face execution, wrote to his Christian people and begged them "not to interfere so that he could be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the pure bread of Christ." I'd  agree that this would call for some superhuman grace which I don't have. But God knows what each one of us can bear.

 

This grain of wheat, locked away for time in the dark earth, must first die to itself. When it dies, it will produce much fruit.  Each grain is planted all by itself, and at times one can feel so alone, so isolated. Once it dies, it can produce many more grains of wheat, wheat enough to be harvested and to be turned into bread to feed so many hungry people.  Pope Benedict said recently  "When I'm willing to die to self, like this grain of wheat I find myself united not only with Jesus, but with all who travel the same road."   These individual grains of wheat, buried separately and apart from one another, can bring forth new life.  Jesus himself, the Divine-Human grain, died and brought forth for all peoples of all times a new life, the very life of God himself whose will Jesus is forever ready to accomplish.   You and I have this new life of Jesus within us.

 

Sister Jubliarians,  the rest of this Passionist Community and all of us "out here"  thank you for the example of your lives. Thank you for being willing to die to self, over and over again, throughout these first twenty-five years of Passionist spirituality. 

 

Sister Mary Agnes, Sister Marie, do you remember the day you received your habit?  Can you recall what was going through your mind at that moment? I'm sure you have reviewed those initial responses many times over, sharing them with your community and family, and in a more intimate fashion, sharing them with your God again and again in prayer and contemplation.  Twenty-five later, as you  put on your habit this morning and came to participate in this Eucharist, perhaps you had an even deeper realization of precisely what your habit means to you, what it signifies. 

 

A few weeks ago, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, created  some new cardinals in the Church. The consistery, which you might have watched on EWTN, had its moments of inspiring solemnity, but also some moments of good humor. The best one-liner came from Cardinal O'Malley of Boston. Like all the new cardinals, he received the bright red cassock, proper to their office.  Taking off a favorite late night joke the next day or so, Cardinal O'Malley quipped, "these robes will come in handy if I ever  go hunting with Vice-President Cheney."  On a more serious note, our Holy Father urged the new cardinals "May the scarlet that you now wear always express the "caritas Christi" (the love of Christ) inspiring you  to a passionate love for Christ, for his Church and for  all humanity. The color red represents the suffering demanded by great love."

 

I was struck by these words and thought  to myself,  thinking of this celebration today,  Your Passionate habit says something similar about your Passionist calling, doesn't it?  It's black, not red but it signifies your death to the world, and perhaps also signifying that grain of wheat buried in the dark earth, ready to  burst forth into new life, into an abundant new life. It reminds you daily of your passionate love for Christ, and your eagerness to share this love with the members of your community, indeed with the whole world. 

 

At a recent meeting of the Passionist Oblates, when studying the Letters of St Paul of the Cross, I was struck by some advice he was giving to one of his spiritual directees. He said to her:  'Never omit carrying a corsage of the Holy Sufferings of Christ on the altar of your heart."   This corsage adorns your Passionit habit, he would say.

 

Momentarily,  we'll  be moving from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This Christ Jesus who speaks to us through the words of Sacred Scripture is ready to put into action the words of the Lectionary.   What the Scriptures say to us is accomplished at the Altar.   Soon, the Bishop  will hold  this wafer of bread in his hands and utter, with Christ himself these words: "This is my Body."  All of us here present make the same declaration in our hearts.   The two of you jubilarians might say in a very special way,  "After these first twenty-five years, I am ready to say, once again "This is my body."  You are the same person who years ago took that momentous step as a new Passionist.  Now, as a seasoned and maturing contemplative, these words carry even more weight than before. You can pray, with the Bishop and all the rest of  us here: "This is my body. I offer myself to my God all over again, for God's glory, for the welfare of the Church, for the salvation of all of humankind." 
 

On this beautiful Sunday in May, we can all follow the example of our Blessed Lady, our Mother of Sorrows, who said "Let it be done to me according to your word."  God's will, God's way always.


Now after all is said and done, "we make our boast in the Lord Jesus."

 



Feast of St Paul of the Cross  - October 20

 

When Paul was nineteen, his family had hopes that he would follow in the footsteps of the father, and become a merchant.   His priest-uncle suggested to him that he become a priest. A young woman friend hoped that he would become her husband.

 

But Paul had other ideas about his life, or rather the Lord had other ideas. As a young man, he felt drawn to the Cross of Christ.   At age 21, Paul joined a crusade against the Turks, believing that this is what God asking of him.   But having seen something of the horrors and violence of battle, he  left this arena of conflict and  prayed for guidance, for more direction in his life.   His local bishop allowed him to live  as a kind of hermit in one of the local Churches. It wasn't long before he became a minister of sorts to the local Church community, catechizing the children, helping around the altar. On occasion, he was given permission to preach.

 

Paul knew that God had other plans for him. He discerned the need to keep a diary and to write a Rule by which  he would live his life. Prayer, fasting, spiritual discipline and exercises, penances, charity and such would be the pattern of his life  When he brought the Rule in 1721 to the Vatican for the Pope's approval,  he was turned away. They thought he was a beggar. With great disappointment, he rededicated himself to the vision he believed God had given him.  He returned to the North of Rome and invited others to join him.  He didn't receive Rome's approval until 1769.  He and his followers  became known as Passionists.  Paul was ordained to the priesthood in 1734. By this time he was busy preaching throughout Central Italy.  Paul realized that many of the people in 18th century Italy had lost their way, spiritually. The rich were growing richer, and the poor were growing poorer.  The Cross of Christ was not the driving force in their lives, to say the least. Paul wrote: "The world  lives unmindful of the sufferings of Jesus which are the miracle of miracles of the love of God.  We must arouse the world from its slumber."    To this end, Paul wrote thousands of letters and preached many sermons to awaken the fervor and faith of the people.   Paul taught people how to pray and meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus.  The sick and the abandoned were the special objects of his love and concern.  He encouraged the clergy  to greater fidelity and holiness in their  priestly ministry.

 

Paul died after many years of serving God's people, especially the Passionist Community.  He was eighty-one when he died, in 1775.  By this time, he was known as Paul of the Cross. 
       (Up to this point, I've been preaching to the choir. But it helps me to situate this feast here at St Joseph)

 

When Jesus began his public ministry at the Synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the passage of Isaiah, the Prophet.  "The Spirit of the Lord God has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners....."  When Jesus read this passage from Isaiah, he meant it to be both an introduction to and a table of contents for his ministry.   Jesus said: "This describes what I'm going to do in my public ministry." What really disturbed and inflamed the people that Sabbath Day in the synagogue in Nazareth  was the proclamation of Jesus that "this prophecy is being fulfilled in your hearing."  

 

St Paul of the Cross must have heard something  similar when the Lord called him:  Paul might well  have said:  This is the outline of my ministry too, just as it was the introduction to and the table of contents of his life and ministry.

 

And isn't this quotation from Isaiah, this passage that Jesus read, this passage that describes, in fact, what Paul of the Cross did with his life, isn't this our commission as well?   This should describe both our call to ministry and the map we are to be following, in the footsteps of St Paul of the Cross.  In taking a trip, especially in unfamiliar territories, we frequently check the map to see where we are going.  We look back to our beginning,  to our stating point,  we calculate where we are at the present time, and we look ahead to see what's before us.   It's good for us to dip into the life of Paul of the Cross time and again to check on our own fidelity to this particular expression of the Christian life known as the Passionists of today.

 

St Paul the Apostle, in our Second Reading,  reminds us that our life and ministry as Passionists doesn't always make much sense to some observers along the way.  St Paul,  says that "the message of the cross is complete absurdity  to those who are headed for ruin, but to us,"  he says, "it is the power of  God."   This life doesn't make a lot of sense to many in our world today... Spending one's life devoted to the Suffering and Death of Jesus Christ on a cross, "what a waste!" some would say.  It is God who is truly wise, but what God proclaims appears at times to be absurd.  The fact that this instrument of torture, the cross, is the very instrument of our salvation - only God can effect this transformation. 

 

St Paul, the Apostle, finds two kinds of people in the world: those who can accept the cross and those who cannot. To the first group belong people whose love of God has led them to embrace an entirely new set of values, spiritual values that go beyond anything the world has to offer.  To the second group belong people whose love  of the world does not allow them to see any value in living the spiritual life Paul outlines.  Paul knew that he was just one of a number of traveling preachers coming to talk to the Corinthians.  Paul  reminds the Corinthians that the  true Gospel needs to  be preached and not the particular preacher who might be passing through town. Buzz words, like  worldly wisdom,  razzle-dazzle, and gimmicks can interfere with a serious commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Once a fiery, attractive or suave evangelizer has departed town, Paul says, the decision that confronts each person remains the Cross of Christ.  It's what happens between the crucified Lord and ourselves that can affect the rest of our lives.  The Church knows how a feast day celebration can sustain us in those days when the "celebration" is past. St Paul the Apostle and St Paul of the Cross, the "twins" can feed our souls for all our days.

 

St Matthew tells us that Jesus continued his tour of all the towns and villages, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.   On that Sabbath Day in the Synagogue at Nazareth, he told those in attendance that he was going to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, to bring good news to the poor, the afflicted, the imprisoned.   Matthew says that Jesus was doing exactly this.   St Paul of the Cross knew that our Lord wanted him to continue this mission.  St Paul of the Cross reminds us on this his feast day that this is what we are to be about.  We must preach Jesus.  All those who are the disciples of Jesus commit themselves to this effort.   Passionists commit themselves  in  a special way to the ministry and mission of Jesus, of St Paul the Apostle, of St Paul of the Cross.

 

The thrust of this Passionist vision of spirituality is so critical for our world today.  Of course every religious community believes its charism is the best, that the world is in greatest need of its own particular gift, its special endowment to the Church.  The Franciscans, the Benedictines, the Dominicans - we could go down the line.  If we gathered all the religious communities of the world,  we'd be surprised if each one didn't claim primacy, the Number One community of them all.

 

But how can you improve on a community that extols in a special way the Suffering and Dying of Jesus Christ himself?   A death, of course, that leads to the Resurrection in which we all are to share?   We are so grateful to St Paul of the Cross for his listening to and his living out the mystery of the Sacred Passion of Jesus. 

 

One final note: As every Mass comes to an end, there should be focus on mission, on being sent.

 

Listen to this quotation from the Working Document, or the INSTRUMENUM LABORIS for the World Synod of Bishops now meeting in Rome, on the theme of the Eucharist.  These words are on the notion of ITE MISSA EST, being sent:

 

"The words at the end of the celebration of the Eucharist, ITE, MISSA EST, bring to mind the missionary mandate of the Risen Lord to his disciples. . . "Go therefore and make disciples of al nations."  In fact,  the conclusion of every Mass is immediately linked to being sent forth in mission, a task involving all the baptized, each according to his proper vocation in the People of God: bishops, priests, deacons, those in consecrated life, members of the ecclesial movements, and the laity.  Bearing witness is essential in fulfilling this mission; it is the first duty of every Christian sent forth into the world." (No. 88)

 

We celebrate this feast of St Paul of the Cross here in this place, at this time, at this Mass. In some ways, this is OUR internal celebration, as Passionists, Sisters and Oblates. But what happens here must not STAY HERE.  This IS a cloistered community, and rightly so, but in some way, the walls of the cloister are pushed way back.... What goes on here must not stay here.  I'm not sure how this is done, but it's something to reflect upon, to pray about.

 

We end, together:   We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.   Amen.

 

 



                   

St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows  - February 27


       (Readings: I John 2:12, 14-17; John I:35-39)
 

In the Gospel, the evangelist John tells how John the Baptist was with a couple of his disciples and suddenly he sees Jesus coming. He says to them: "Look, there is the Lamb of God." His two disciples immediately began to follow after Jesus who soon noticed that he was being followed. Jesus turns around and asks them "What are you looking for?" He didn't ask 'Who" but "what" are you looking for. (Oftentimes in our lives we think it's a what, a something, when indeed we're looking for the only one who can satisfy our longings as St Augustine reminds us. Jesus might ask us this same question from time to time. He may say to us "You have substituted a What for me: the what of your own will, your own plans, your own designs. That's when I ask you What are you looking for?" The truth is, we can lose our focus. Without realizing we can allow the eyes of our hearts to be searching for a What when only a who can truly satisfy us, one particular WHO. We can let our eyes drift away from Jesus .

In response to their question "Where do you live, he said to them "Come and see. It's up to you to choose to search for yourself," Jesus tells them. We must take the initiative with our Lord Jesus. The Benedictines tell us we must "Seek God." And of course throughout the days of our lives, we must continue to take the initiative . Scripture says: "If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me." There are days when we simply feel drawn into the loving heart of our Master. On such days we can hardly wait to return to our prayers. We're drawn like to a magnet. And then there are days when we must "decide" to follow Jesus, as the hymn says, when we don't FEEL like living our vocation all that keenly, or we don'ts FEEL like praying. We must make the decision, over and above what we may be feeling.

On a special day like this feast of St Gabriel Possenti, we might well think back over the years and recall that particular moment when we heard our Lord saying to us "Come and see." Perhaps we don't even recall hearing him say "What are you looking for?" But deep inside of each one of us there was a search going on. We might have hesitated at first sharing this yearning deep inside of us, but we heard the Lord continue to invite us and in time we did share this dream. We shared this tugging-at-our-heart aspiration. And so we find ourselves here this morning celebrating this feast of St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Staying with St John for a moment - this time from his First Letter - we read that John calls his readers "Little Ones," ant then again "Children." Do you find that interesting, as I do?

The truth is that we are all "Little Ones. . . children" in the eyes of our God, in the eyes of our Lord. No matter what our chronological age may be - we are all still like little children, in terms of whence we have come, and the possibilities of future growth that God opens up for us.

In his letter, St John says these two disciples stayed till about four o'clock in the afternoon. We don't know their names but St John notes that they stayed till four in the afternoon. They left him for a while, and we surmise that they returned to become his disciples, probably leaving the side of John the Baptist and becoming disciples of Jesus. It reminds me of one who might be seeking admission into this community. They come for a visit, but then they are encouraged to return to their homes or previous environment to give them another opportunity to assess their lives and see if they still want to join the community. There's such wisdom in this practice! It's almost as if Jesus suggested the policy himself.

St Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows stands tall in this Passionist story. Since we believe in the Communion of Saints, we believe that St Gabriel is present with us this morning, at this Eucharist. We can let him share his own reflections with us this morning from the Office of Readings:

"I recommend to you a strong, constant devotion to Mary, our most holy and sorrowful virgin. Think often of her and sympathize with her in her sufferings. Then, this loving mother, who is never outdone in kindness, will in turn comfort you....Pour out your heart to her. Speak to her of your trials and your needs... she will never forget you..."

What I especially liked in this reading:

"If Mary is for me, who can be against me? Not God,... not Christ,... not sins,...not hell, not men.... If we have Mary with us, we have everything; if she is not with us, we lack everything. If Mary protects us, we shall be saved; if she should abandon us, we would perish."

When our recently deceased Holy Father, John Paul II, chose as his Motto, on his coat of arms, the words TOTUS TUUS, some in the Church raised their ecclesiastical eyebrows.

But John Paul's utter devotion and complete dependence on Mary spoke volumes in the course of his long papacy. He never hesitated to share his love for Mary, and his trust in hers, that she would , together with her Son, guide and protect and comfort him in his role as Chief Shepherd of the Church.

St Gabriel continues:

"How much more soundly we would sleep, how much more cheerful we would be, in fact, how much more like heaven our life would be, if we left ourselves totally in her hands and said to her 'Into your hands, O Lady, I place my cause."

Little was known of Gabriel's extraordinary spiritual gifts during his life. He was not singular, he conformed himself to the community life; he was only a fervent and exemplary Passionist novice and student hidden from the world in the cloister. After death, at age 24, this young religious in a few years was declared venerable by the Church, thereby testifying that he had practised all the virtues in a heroic degree; and he was beatified and raised to the honors of the altar. Both Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X expressly wished that Gabriel be regarded as the chief patron of youth, and especially as the patron of young religious, both novices and professed.

We can ask St Gabriel to bring more vocations to the sisterhood, brotherhood and priesthood, and especially to this Passionist Community.

 



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