Sunday, September 20, 2015

Family Day at SJS

 Today was Family Day at the Seminary and the house is abuzz with mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and friends. Here is how I greeted those packed into the Chapel and the homily I offered on this joyous day.

Welcome. Welcome to the home of your brother or son. Welcome to this Chapel, where he spends so much of every day: praying for you and for the whole world, but most of all asking God to enter his heart and conform him to the image of the one who hangs on that Cross.

These men work hard. They go through a lot. But your love and support of them make all the difference. And that’s why it is so good that you are here with then now in this holy house.


Picture the scene. Jesus is alone with his disciples, those who love him the most. Those who have left everything to follow him. And he tells them a secret about what is about to happen: Soon I will be ‘handed over to men who will kill me, and three days later I will rise from the dead.’

So what do they do when he tells them this awful secret? Do they console him? Do they cry? Do they promise to die with him?

No. These “faithful” disciples appear to say nothing to him. But on the way home, they begin to fight with each other like a bunch of kids at recess, each arguing which of them is the greatest.

I have long suspected that this was the most painful moment for Jesus. More painful than the nails in his wrist, the lance in his side and the thorns digging into his flesh. More painful than the taunts of the soldiers or the mobs demanding to “crucify him!” For the soldiers, the mobs and the Roman officials ‘did not know what they were doing.’ But here were his disciples, including the Apostles, who knew and loved him. And when they hear he is going to the Cross, all they can think about is getting the biggest throne in the Kingdom of heaven.

So what does Jesus do? Does he call down thunderbolts on these ungrateful wretches? (that would have been at the top of my list!). No.
Jesus, the Son of the Living God, the one through whom all things were made, kneels down in the dirt in front of his hot-shot followers, puts his arms around a little child and says: ‘Whoever receives a child like this receives me and the one who sent me.’

Be little, freed of all the grasping ambitions: be like the baby Jesus asleep, no crib for his bed; be like the crucified Jesus, arms opened on a cross; be like him who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but took the form of a slave being born in the likeness of man. Be self-emptying love.

But its so hard for us to learn Lord. So hard for us who start in a fetal position, all wrapped up in ourselves, to learn how to love.

When John and Mary had their first child they were shocked at how selfish a baby can be. It doesn’t matter if you got up four times last night and have to go to work in two hours…if that baby wants something, he screams bloody murder! It doesn’t matter if that wooden block is hard as a rock, if you try to take a toddler’s toy he’ll bop you on the head for all he’s worth. It doesn’t matter if that hill has sharp rocks at the bottom, if that kid at recess gets mad enough at you, down you go.

For, as with his disciples, it takes Jesus a long time to teach us how to love. He does it through our parents, our families, our friends and through the Church. But slowly…ever so slowly, he changes us, transforms us into his own image and likeness…so that my first thought is not me…but you and my first love not us, but them…and my first instinct when I'm nailed to a cross is ‘Forgive them…for they don’t know what they’re doing.’

And that’s the whole purpose of life, what it means to go down into the waters of Baptism and die to the old man and be reborn in Christ, so that it’s no longer me, but Christ Jesus in me; no longer my will, but thy will be done; no longer my selfish, grasping narcisssim, but love…perfect love.

Oh, I know, there are times when we can get discouraged and stray from the path, just like the disciples. Discouraged by my own sinfulness and the jealousy and ambition, the foul wars and chaos of the world. But then I hear Saint James telling me how simple it is: Be ‘pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. Ask, and you shall receive.’

And then I see Jesus kneeling down in our midst, with his arms around that kid, looking right at me and saying: ‘Unless you become him a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’