Homily from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
“We should go on a pilgrimage,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “Where would you like to go?”
“We should go on pilgrimage right here in our diocese,” he said.
I was confused. “A pilgrimage to our own diocese? Can't we go to Rome instead? They have spaghetti in Rome! Spaghetti is good."
“Well,” he said. “People go on pilgrimages all the time to holy sites. Our diocese is a holy site.” Plus, that year was the 150th anniversary of our diocese.
I was still confused. “How do you propose we go on pilgrimage to the place we already are?” I asked.
Then Fr. Drew dropped the bomb: “We should walk from St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.”
And that’s what we did. About 20 seminarians and other men from the diocese walked from South Bend to Fort Wayne. We left in shorts, t-shirts, our best walking shoes, a hat to protect us from the summer heat and canteens to quench our thirst.
Some nights we slept in church basements. Other nights, parishoners from the churches we visited that day would take us in and let us use their shower, fix us dinner and give us a bed to sleep in. We started each day with Mass, we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and a Rosary along the way, and we set aside an hour each day for sacred silence.
We even had a minibus travel along with us that carried a few provisions as well as a trailer that carried the most important necessity of our trip: the Port-a-Potty.
And as we walked for nine days from South Bend to Fort Wayne, we all took turns carrying a processional cross and a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was Jesus who lead us on our journey and we, along with Mary our Mother, followed.
Something interesting happened on that first day.
We were walking through Mishawaka, making our way to the day’s destination: the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration where we would have dinner with the sisters and stay for the night. And as we were walking down a street in Mishawaka, a car drove past us coming from the opposite direction. And when the driver caught sight of us, he slowed down and stared. Then, after he had passed us, he made a U-turn and pulled up alongside us.
He asked me, “What are you guys doing?”
I answered, “We’re seminarians for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and we’re on a pilgrimage to our Cathedral in Fort Wayne.”
“Why are you doing that?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “It’s the 150th anniversary of our diocese and we’re praying for all the people of our diocese and for vocations too.”
He stared for a moment. Then he said, “Well, that’s a lot of hatred you’re spreading around.”
I was stunned. I certainly didn’t see this coming.
Then he said, “Don’t you know the Catholic Church is responsible for pretty much all the evil in the world?”
It was at that point that I realized this was going to be a quick conversation that wasn’t going to go very far.
“Well sir,” I said. “I disagree with you. You’re wrong. God bless you and I have to go.” Then I continued with the group.
Now, my walking away wasn’t exactly the most impressive defense of the Catholic Church.
As I thought about it as the day went on, I thought maybe I should have engaged the guy in a little debate and stood up for the Church. But to be quite honest, I was a little concerned for my safety. This guy was clearly angry and looked a little disturbed. I doubt there was much I could have said to change his mind.
Then it occurred to me... this guy stopped to confront us for one reason and one reason only: because we were following Jesus. Had we not had the crucifix leading us, we would have looked like any other group of guys walking down the street.
But we were following Jesus. And this guy hated us because we were witnesses to our Catholic faith.
There are people in this world who hate you because you are Catholic. And sadly, there are people in this world who hate Jesus and his Church.
We shouldn’t be the least bit surprised because Jesus warned us that this would be the case. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, that before the end times come, we will be hated. “They will seize you and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. You will even be handed over,” Jesus says, “by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
The persecution of Christians isn’t something that went out of style with the closing of the Coliseum. Recently, a group linked to al-Qaida stormed the Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq and gunned down 58 Catholics including 2 priests This happened just 2 weeks ago.
Here in America, the persecution of Catholics may not be as dramatic as in Iraq, but it still happens. It's much more sublte and sneakier. We are persecuted in the political arena for our beliefs. We are mocked on late-night television shows. And, unfortunately, we sometimes attack ourselves through indifference to our faith and its teachings
But persecution is fertile ground for courageous witness Do you remember how patriotic the country was after 9/11? Every house on the block was flying the American flag
As disciples of Christ, when the Body of Christ comes under attack, we must respond with courageous witness. And the end result of persecution is not destruction and death. It is, as Jesus tells us, an opportunity for witness. "It will lead us to giving witness... but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
Something interesting happened on the last day of our pilgrimage too.
As we were taking our final steps towards Fort Wayne, a car drove past us coming from the opposite direction. And when the driver caught sight of us, she slowed down and stared. Then, after she had passed us, she made a U-turn and pulled up alongside us. Without saying a word, the driver handed us grocery bags filled with Gatorade, fruit and sandwiches.
And as this kind woman drove away, it occurred to me, in the same way it had occurred to me on that first day of the pilgrimage: this woman showed charity to us for one reason and one reason only...because we were following Jesus.
Had we not had the crucifix leading us, we would have looked like any other group of guys walking down the street.
But we were following Jesus.
And this woman loved us because we were witnesses to our Catholic faith.