Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kenosis: Let Go & Let God

Homily from the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

This weekend, twenty-five women from our parish and beyond are on a “Christ Renews His Parish” weekend.  This is the 50th women’s “Christ Renews” weekend at St. Vincent’s.  A couple of weeks ago, the 50th “Christ Renews” weekend for men was held.  It’s a kind of milestone.

Every team selects a theme and has a banner made depicting this theme and those banners are hung throughout the various rooms used during the weekend: in the cafeteria, the Spiritual Center and so on.  A couple of past “Christ Renews” teams selected the theme “Let Go and Let God.”  It’s a great theme and you could say it’s the theme St. Paul speaks so beautifully about in his letter to the Church in Phillipi – our second reading today.

Today, St. Paul tells us about the attitude of Jesus; the same attitude he wants us all to have.  Paul says, that though Jesus “was in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.”  It’s a beautiful description of Jesus’ attitude: “he emptied himself”  The Greeks have a word for this we heard all the time in the seminary: “kenosis” – the emptying of one’s self.   And the fullness of Jesus’ kenosis is the gift He makes of Himself for us on His Cross.

Although He is fully divine; He let’s go of His divinity.  The night before He died, He begged His Father that if it were possible, to let the cup of His passion and death to pass Him by.  But then He immediately submitted Himself to the Father’s will: “Not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus let’s go: He let’s go of His own will.  And Jesus let’s God: He defers to the Father’s will completely.  It’s ironic isn’t it? Jesus, who is God, is the epitome of letting go of Godliness.

One of my favorite depictions of Christ on the Cross is this one: this was the type Crucifix, Blessed Pope John Paul II carried as his crozier during his pontificate.  One of the unique and beautiful features of this Cross is Jesus’ hands.  You see, in this Cross, Jesus’ hands are not only pierced by the nails.  Jesus actually grabs the nails, he embraces them, he grasps them.

The Original Sin of Adam and Eve was that they regarded equality with God something to be grasped.  They weren’t satisfied with gratefully accepting all that God had to offer.  Instead, they grasped for themselves the gift of God when they grasped the fruit from the tree;  like children who won’t let you simply hand them a cookie. Even though you are going to give it to them, as soon as they see it, they lose sight of the fact that you are offering it to them and they reach for it saying “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”

Unlike Adam however, Jesus, the New Adam, grasps not the fruit from the wood of the tree.  Rather, he grasps the nails from the wood of the tree.  He grasps, and firmly holds onto, our salvation until His dying breath. 

This is the attitude of Jesus Christ.  This is the attitude St. Paul urges us to adopt for ourselves.  “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for his own interests, but also for those of others.

If we insist on continuing to grasp our own selfish interests, we will be unable to grasp God and our loved ones.  If we fail to undergo our own kenosis; if we fail to empty ourselves, we will have no room for God, for our spouse, for our family and friends.  We need to let go, and let God.

I’d like to close by sharing with you the words of another preacher, Dr. James Allen Francis – a Baptist preacher who, in 1926, spoke immortal words about Jesus Christ. The following is an adaptation of his sermon. And as you listen to his words, I invite you to look upon Him. Look at Jesus on this magnificent Cross in our sanctuary and listen to these words:

“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked as a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trail. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”

My friends, Christians throughout the world, regard Jesus Christ the way they do not because He elevated Himself, but rather because He allowed Himself to be elevated on the cross.

We love Him not because He climbed the corporate ladder or the political world or a popularity contest, but rather because He climbed the mountain of Calvary.

We worship Him as our God not because He grasped Godliness, but rather because He grasped God-forsakenness by grasping the nails which pierced His hands.

We give our lives to Him because in Him, and in Him alone, we find a place to live for all eternity.

We find it in Him, in His Sacred Heart because He emptied His Heart to give us a place to live.

We love Him because He let go and let God.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New Roman Missal

On November 27th 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, we at St. Vincent's and, in fact, all Roman Catholic parishes throughout the United States will begin to use a new translation of the Roman Missal.

The Roman Missal contains all the ritual text for the celebration of the Mass.  So, since we'll be using a new translation, that means that a number of the words both you and the priests have been saying in Mass will change.

You might ask, "Why this change?" and "What are the changes?"  Last week, the 7th and 8th graders at St. Vincent's and I watched the following video about the new translation.  It does a great job of explaining why the changes are coming.  The students enjoyed the video and they seem to be looking forward to the changes.  I invite you to watch the video as well.

If you would like to see the forthcoming changes, you can read the entire text of the new translation of the Mass here.  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has an entire website of information, including Frequently Asked Questions and more.

Here at St. Vincent's, Monsignor John and I will give a series of catechetical homilies on the new translation at all weekend Masses beginning late October.  These homilies will focus not only on the new translation but also give us the opportunity to examine the Mass anew!  The 7th and 8th graders will be studying the Mass on "Father Fridays" throughout the semester.  And I'll be giving what's called a "Dry Mass" at Catholicism Revealed in November.  "Dry Masses" were "practice Masses" we'd say in the seminary as we were getting ready for ordination.  They're not actual Masses but rather "practices."  During this Catholicism Revealed "Dry Mass" we will literally walk through the Mass, step by step, teaching as we go; not only the new words, but also the "what" and "why" of everything we do at Mass from what the priest wears when he says Mass to the meaning of the final dismissal.

The Mass is the most important prayer of the Catholic Church.  What a great opportunity to dive more deeply into the richness of this most sacred of our faith and our lives!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Bargain With God When He Will Give You More Than You Ask For?

Homily from the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Every true, red-blooded American knows that one of the greatest movie genres is baseball movies.  I love baseball movies.  I think because many of them are not really about baseball. They’re about humanity and use baseball merely as the backdrop.

One of my favorite baseball movies is “Field of Dreams.”  A handful of us in Life Teen got together this past summer and watched it.  It’s a real touching movie and I’m a huge sap.  So it gets to this one part when Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, asks his dad a question.  And it’s this awesome moment between a father and son.  Ray asks his dad, “Dad, you wanna have a catch?”  And Ray’s voice cracks.  And the waterworks start to flow.  And I’m sitting there in a chair and all the teens are there. And I’ve got my hand leaned up against my head so they don’t see me weeping like a six-year old girl with a skinned knee.

If you haven’t seen “Field of Dreams” go rent it tonight and watch it.  You shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the next election without seeing it.

Ray is a farmer and one day he hears a magical voice say, “Build it and he will come.”  Well, Ray is a huge baseball fan, so he concludes that if he rips up half of his corn crop and builds a baseball field there, that the long dead Chicago White Sox outfielder, Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball for throwing the World Series, will get to come back to life and play the game again.

So he builds the field and Shoeless Joe Jackson comes and plays baseball.  And Shoeless Joe brings other long gone players with him.  And at the close of each day, when the baseball game is over, the players leave the field by walking into the corn beyond the outfield, where they disappear into some mysterious world beyond our own which we do not see.

Then the voice tells Ray to do more crazy things like drive halfway across the country to bring his favorite childhood author to the park. And he does so. He is blindly obedient to the voice and does whatever it says.

Then, one day, as Shoeless Joe Jackson and other long gone baseball players are getting ready to leave and disappear into the world beyond the corn, Shoeless Joe asks the question, “Hey, do you want to come with us?”  Except Joe isn’t asking Ray. He’s asking Ray’s favorite author instead who had only arrived a few days ago.

Ray is outraged and blurts out, “Him? Wait a second, why Him? I have done everything I have been asked to do and not once have I asked what’s in it for me?”  Shoeless Joe asks Ray, “What are you saying Ray?”  Ray responds, “I’m saying, what’s in it for me?”  And Joe asks Ray, “Is that why you did this? For you?”

Today, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who goes out to hire laborers to work in his vineyard.  And as it turns out, everyone gets the same pay, regardless if they started at the beginning of the workday or at the end.  And those who worked all day long are outraged that they are being paid the same amount as those who show up at day’s end.  It doesn’t seem fair. Why are the latecomers being paid the same and furthermore why are the latecomers being paid first?

Well, consider what the various laborers agreed to and what they were promised by the landowner: to the laborers hired at dawn, the landowner promises, “the usual daily wage.” They will be paid the amount due for a full day of work.  And they agree and go work.

To the laborers hired in the middle of the day, the landowner promises to pay them “what is just.”  So, they anticipate a half-day’s wage for a half-day’s work. And they agree and go work.

Finally, to the laborers hired near day’s end, the landowner promises nothing. He simply tells them to go to the vineyard.  No payment terms have been negotiated. These laborers are merely given the opportunity to work in the vineyard with no promise of a payback. And with great trust and no concern for “what’s in it for them” they agree and go to work.

So, it’s the latecomers who are the most selfless and trusting and thus, they are paid first.  And they are paid the full amount not based on the work they have done.  But rather because they accepted the Master’s invitation – His will.

Have you ever prayed like this: “God, if you will just do “x” for me, I promise that I will do “y.”  I distinctly remember at least one occasion in which I prayed that way. It was at a baseball game: game six of the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the Marlins.  And I said, “God, if you will just let the Cubs go to the World Series, I promise I will become a priest.”

Then, on the very next play, a fan interfered with a routine pop fly that would have been an easy out to help the Cubs retire the side. Instead the inning was prolonged for the Marlins and they took the lead, won the game and went to the World Series instead of the Cubs.

We can’t get what we want by making a bargain with God.  Instead, if we place our trust in God, He will give us so much more than we could ever bargain for.  He will give you His Kingdom. He will give you His love. And love never counts the cost.

You are loved by God not because of the good things you do.  You are loved by God just because.

We cannot earn God’s love.  We cannot earn God’s love just because; just because He already loves us and always will and He’ll never stop loving us.

Now obviously, we can reject His love. He has given each of us a free will. And we can choose to accept His invitation to work in the vineyard or not.  And we agree or disagree to work in His vineyard, to enter or not enter into His Kingdom by the choices we make.

But He always keeps the door open.  And it doesn’t matter when we enter, be it at the beginning of the day or at the end; at our baptism or on our deathbed, so long as we accept His invitation.

And we don’t need to worry about “What’s in it for me?”  Because we have a Father who knows our needs more than we do and offers all of us more than we could ever ask for.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Homily from the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty
Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish priest who worked at the Vatican during the Second World War.  He made it his mission to hide thousands of refugees in the Vatican and throughout the city of Rome during the Nazi occupation of Italy.  The local Gestapo chief, Colonel Herbert Kappler, painted a white line on the pavement that marked the boundary between the Vatican and Rome and ordered that if Monsignor O’Flaherty ever crossed that line and was captured that he would be tortured and executed.  However, the priest frequently snuck out into Rome in disguise to find refugees and help them find safety. Throughout the war, he saved the lives of over 6,500 American soldiers and Jews.

Colonel Herbert Kappler
When the war came to an end, Colonel Kappler was captured and sentenced to life in prison.  During this time Colonel Kappler had a frequent visitor: Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. For many months, the priest was the only visitor the Nazi ever had.  Eventually, Colonel Kappler’s heart would be penetrated by the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And in 1959, Colonel Kappler was baptized and received into the Catholic Church by Monsignor O’Flaherty.

This famous and moving story is depicted in the movie “The Scarlet and the Black.”  Gregory Peck plays O’Flaherty and Christopher Plummer plays Kappler.

There was a man watching this movie once who, when he saw how it ended, how Kappler was forgiven and welcomed into the Church, hit the roof.  He was a veteran of the Second World War who saw the horrors and atrocities of the Nazi regime. He had decided long ago that under no circumstances would he ever forgive them. They were too evil, they had done too much harm. To forgive them would be wrong because it would not be fair.

He is right. Forgiveness is not fair.  Forgiveness is not something that can be earned or merited or deserved.  Forgiveness is a gift; a gift given by the one who is offended to the one who offends regardless if they deserve it or not.

God gives you and I the gift of forgiveness.  And thank God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve.  We offend Him constantly by our sins; so what do we deserve for that?  Walking into the confessional with the mentality that we deserve forgiveness is a truly bad idea.  We receive forgiveness not because we deserve it. We receive forgiveness because God is merciful and loving and He forgives.  It’s a pure gift He gives to you and I.

We struggle however to forgive others as we’ve been forgiven.  C.S. Lewis once said that “Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have someone to forgive.”  We don’t want to forgive because we’ve been terribly wounded, we’re angry, it doesn’t seem fair, we don’t think we should let the offender off the hook.  When we’re in pain, being told we need to forgive can even seem offensive.

However, forgiveness is, in fact, a necessity in the life of a Christian.  Not because it’s a lovely idea.  But because if we fail to forgive how our hearts have been wounded, we will allow a callous to grow around our heart that will close out peace, goodness and perhaps even God Himself.

We need to forgive for ourselves.  There’s an ancient Chinese proverb: “If you’re not willing to forgive, you’d better get ready to dig two graves.”  Ironically, in refusing to forgive others, we’re the ones who often wind up hurt.

Perhaps we’re reluctant to forgive because we have a false understanding of what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  You’ve all heard the phrase “forgive and forget.”  It’s not from the Bible.  It’s from the novel “Don Quixote.”  And it’s nonsense.  You can’t forget past wounds. Our brains are not hard drives that can be erased.  Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting, but it does require letting go. It’s about putting the past where it belongs: behind us.  It’s about not looking back in bitterness but instead looking forward in faith.

Forgiveness is not being a punching bag.  Sometimes people cause great harm.  That doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of our forgiveness, it means they’re not worthy of our trust at the moment.  If someone commits a crime they can be forgive and go to jail.  Do you remember when Blessed Pope John Paul II was shot? And how he visited his would be assassin in jail?   The Pope forgave him. Then he left and let him serve his time in jail.

Forgiveness is not kissing and making up.  Sometimes people are dangerous or unrepentant.  And sometimes we need to forgive from a distance those who need to be kept at a distance.

Forgiveness is possible and it is necessary.  And forgiveness is not offered only to those who ask for it.  Forgiveness is offered to those who need it.  And sometimes we need to forgive even those who are unwilling to ask for it.

This past Friday night, Dateline NBC did a story about the attacks of 9/11.  And in one segment they were telling the story about United Airlines 93. That was the flight where the passengers had learned about the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and decided to fight back. And because of their heroism, United flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania rather than the White House.

Todd Beamer
Todd Beamer was one of the heroes on that flight. Todd was the one who said “Let’s roll” as they ran to take back control of the airplane.  However, before Todd Beamer said “Let’s roll” he prayed with the only person he could get on the phone, a customer service representative from GTE.  Together, Todd and the operator, prayed the prayer you and I will pray in a few moments, the “Our Father.” And they prayed the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

On Friday night, Todd’s widow Lisa, said that “in some way he was forgiving those people for what they were doing; the most horrible thing you could do to someone.”

He did so not because they deserved it.  They didn’t. Forgiveness is never something deserved.

He did so, not because he wanted to be a punching bag or wanted to kiss and make up.  He was anything but.

He did so, not because it was fair.

He did so because in the midst the terrorism, in the midst of “those people… doing the most horrible thing you could do to someone,” as he was about to lose his life, Todd Beamer would make Jesus Christ present in that very plane by making Christ’s mercy present.  Todd Beamer knew he would be forgiven his trespasses only to the extent he was willing to forgive those who trespassed against him, even his worst enemies.

That is tremendous forgiveness. That is the same forgiveness Christ offered from His Cross. As He was about to lose His life He prayed to His Father to forgive us.

So who do we need to forgive? What do we need to let go of? What do we need to be freed from? And where do we need to make Christ present in the world today?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Watchmen for Israel

Homily from the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Last year I went to the Notre Dame/Michigan football game with a couple friends and we enjoyed the game for the most part.  I say “for the most part” not because Notre Dame lost.  But because of the bad behavior of the people sitting one row in front of us.

The young people sitting in front of us that day had clearly done their unfair share of tailgating beforehand.  To put it bluntly, they were highly intoxicated and their inebriation quickly turned into rudeness and foul language.

The pair were a brother and sister and they were having a “discussion” of some sort, about what exactly I don’t remember.  I do remember however, the brother beginning to drop a number of unpleasant curse words.  He began to use four-letter words like they were article adjectives.

So, one of my buddies immediately asked him to watch his language.  And this fellow immediately got defensive and belligerent.  “You want me to watch my language? Why?” he smugly asked.  “Because it’s offensive” my friend replied.  “Really?” the guy asked. “My language offends you?”  And he kept turning around after every single play and asking my friend, “My language offends you?”

He was upset that someone called him out on his bad behavior and got defensive and responded the only way he could which was to be a jerk.

This continued for several plays.  Then someone else sitting near us chimed in and told the guy to pipe down and watch his language.  The guy retorted with the same witty response: “My language offends you? What’s your problem dude?”

Finally, I had had enough.  I was dressed in what priests call “civvies.” That means civilian clothes. I didn’t have my collar on.  But I decided to do something I almost never do which is to pull the priest “trump card.”  I leaned in to him and said, “Look, I’m a priest and you’re drunk. And that usher down there at the end of the row is going to believe me and not you. So you can either turn around and be quiet and enjoy the rest of the game or we can ask him to remove you from the stadium.”

He just stared at me.  And it wasn’t an “Oh no, I’m in trouble stare.” It was more like an “If you weren’t a priest and all these people were around you, I’d punch your lights out” stare.

I just stared back.  There was no way I was going to break first.  It was kind of like when you get into a staring contest with your dog when you want to show it who’s boss.
Finally, someone broke the tension and told the guy, “Hey, he’s a priest, why don’t you go to confess your sins?”  I said, “Yeah sure, I’ll forgive you if you’re sorry.”

He tuned around and watched the game.  Then two plays later he turned around to my buddy and said, “My language offends you?”  That was the last straw.  My buddy got the usher and he was escorted out of the stadium.

We followed the four-step process of admonishing the sinner that Jesus prescribes in our Gospel today.
Step one: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”  That’s what my buddy did when he first asked him to watch his language.

Step two: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”  That’s what happened when someone else sitting next to him asked him to pipe down.

Step three: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.”  That’s what happened when I spoke up and nearly became a martyr.

Step four: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”  That’s what happened when the usher kicked him out. We treated him as we would a Gentile, or a tax collector, or a Michigan fan.

We have an obligation to correct one another when we fall into sin.  It’s one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; to admonish the sinner.

Sometimes however, we neglect this obligation thinking that we should just mind our own business.  But when we see a brother or sister falling into sin, it becomes our business.  It’s our business because we are all interconnected members of the one Body of Christ.  And when one of us sins, it affects the whole body.  There is no such thing as a private sin.

When we see someone sinning, we have to do what we can to pull them away from sin.  To say, “Well, that’s their affair. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place to stick my nose in.” is like watching your child go chasing after a ball that rolls into the street as a car is bearing down on them and saying, “Well, that’s their affair. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place to stick my nose in.”  No, we go running after that child because we love them and we don’t want to see them get killed. We don’t want that pain in the world.

Likewise, we tried to get this guy to curb his language because, in a sense, we loved him and we didn’t want to watch him continue to harm himself by degrading his human dignity with foul language, not to mention the harm he was inflicting on everyone else sitting around him through scandal.

Some like to correct others because they are nosey busybodies and tattletales.  Others like to correct others because they like to exalt themselves and put others down.  A disciple of Jesus Christ however, corrects others out of love: love for God, love for God’s children, but most especially, love for the sinner who causes the most harm to himself through his sin.

You might say, “Why bother? They won’t listen.”  We bother because God commands us to.  God tells the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading, “You… I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.”  It was his job to warn others when they were headed to destruction.  If he warned them and they did not listen, Ezekiel still fulfilled his responsibility.  But if he did not warn them, God would hold Ezekiel responsibility for their misdeeds.   And all of us have the same responsibility because we are all prophets. We were made so at our baptism when we were baptized priests, prophets and kings.

If we don’t intervene, and we say to ourselves, “Well, it’s not my business” then we’re no different than Adam, who when his wife took the fruit from the tree, just stood there and did nothing.  Adam’s “do nothing” attitude affected the whole Body of Christ.

Don’t do nothing.  Be a watchman for Israel. Be watchmen for one another.  You have been appointed so by God.

A Perfect Pilgrimage

Homily from the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Before going to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day, the pilgrims from our parish and diocese visited Lourdes, France where, in 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to a 14 year old girl named Bernadette Soubirous. 

Lourdes’ best known landmark is the stone grotto where Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette.  Another beautiful landmark however are a set of Stations of the Cross that go up a small mountain.  Each of the Stations feature life-size, bronze colored statues which truly give you the impression of being there as Christ carried his Cross.

As we walked in the footsteps of Christ up this small mountain we had the opportunity to follow the Lord's command in today's Gospel to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.  This was particularly true for the Franciscan brothers who accompanied us on the World Youth Day pilgrimage as they walked up the rocky path in their bare feet.

So moved by this were our teens that a number of them took of their shoes and socks as well to join in the brothers' suffering.

One of the teens who did so was Emma Gray.  This past Wednesday at our Ministry Hour, I asked Emma if she found any joy in her suffering.  With a very serious look on her face she emphatically responded, "No!"

The she added, "Well, I don’t mean to sound weird, but it was good to suffer like that, because we were all suffering together."

And I said, "That's it!  You get it!  You understand the meaning of suffering.  It's not weird at all.  It's beautiful.  Suffering is never meaningless when we suffer with one another.  And we never suffer alone. Jesus always shares in our suffering."

I once heard a priest at Notre Dame give a homily in which he said he thought the perfect season would consist of six wins and six losses.  And I thought, "That's stupid!"  A perfect season, of course, would be an undefeated one.

But I understood what he was trying to get at: that such a season would be emblematic of life which brings with it both joy and sorrow.  Life is not perfect.

So, from that perspective, our pilgrimage to World Youth Day was perfect.  It had equal amounts of joy and sorrow, excitement and disappointment, comfort and suffering.  And the fact that it was so made it all the more meaningful, rewarding and fruitful.  And Jesus, Mary, the Apostles and all the Saints were with us as we made this perfect pilgrimage and planted in our hearts lasting images that will remain with us always.

The next time our pilgrims hear the reading of the Passion of Jesus or make the Stations of the Cross perhaps they’ll remember walking barefoot over rocky paths up a small mountain in Lourdes.

The next time our pilgrims hear an Old Testament account of the Jews going up to Jerusalem for one of the great feasts perhaps they’ll remember marching in a river of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims entering Cuatro Vientros Airport the site of the Saturday Vigil prayer service and Sunday Mass with the Pope.

The next time our pilgrims hear the story from the Acts of the Apostles in which people were bringing their sick out into the streets where St. Peter was walking in hopes that merely coming into contact with the shadow of Peter perhaps they’ll remember how they strained to get close to the Pope’s presence, even if many of them never actually saw him.

The next time our pilgrims hear the story of the Apostles being tossed about in the boat in the storm on the sea and cried out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!” perhaps they’ll remember how we and two million other pilgrims at Cuatro Vientros airport huddled down on the ground praying a rosary as lightning streaked across the sky over our heads and we thought, “This could be it for us.”

The next time our pilgrims hear Jesus say “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man* has nowhere to rest his head” perhaps they’ll remember sleeping that night amongst those millions in the wide open air with nothing more than the dirt of the earth for a mattress and the stars above for a blanket.

Taking up our cross everyday involves suffering; but not suffering just for the sake of suffering... suffering for the sake of salvation.  The Cross is not just something that kills you.  The Cross is the key that opens the door to eternal life.

So there can be true joy in our suffering because of who we suffer with.  We suffered with one another and Jesus suffered with us.  He was there.

He was there in our prayer in the midst of the storm.  Shortly after we started to pray the Rosary, the lightning stopped.  And when Pope Benedict XVI brought out the monstrance with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for Eucharistic Adoration the rains stopped.

And two million young people from around the world simultaneously fell to their knees and worshipped Jesus Christ in total, perfect silence for fifteen minutes.

And sure enough, when the Holy Father reposed the Blessed Sacrament, it started to rain again.  We all thought to ourselves, "Bring Jesus back!"

When Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in Lourdes she told her, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”  There will be suffering.  Husbands and wives declare this fact to each other on their wedding day when they say, “I take you in good times and in bad.”  There are going to be bad times.  There will be suffering.

But husbands and wives also declare that they will not allow each other to suffer alone when they say, “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Jesus makes the same promise to us.  There are going to be bad times.  There will be suffering.  But from His Cross He perpetually declares to us that He will love and honor us all our days.  Yes, he asks us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him.  But only because He has taken up His Cross and gone before us.

That is the story of our salvation: that when we are lost, Christ makes Himself present to us.

And when our pilgrims hear the Gospel of the Nativity story when Mary and Joseph could find no room at the inn, perhaps they'll remember how we arrived at the vigil site on Saturday and despite having tickets could not be admitted inside. 

And how when we woke up the next morning for Mass and were told that the crowd had thinned out and could now go inside, after walking two miles to the main gate, our group was told that it had filled up and again there was no room.

We’ll recall that it was precisely at that moment, when Mary and Joseph could find no room at the inn, that Jesus showed up. That was the moment when He was born. That was the moment when He entered the world and came looking for us.

Because Jesus did the exact same thing for the pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.  For our pilgrims had decided to go back to Madrid to celebrate Mass.  And as they walked back into the city, it was announced at the site of the Papal Mass that the storms the night before had knocked over several of the temporary chapels where the hosts to be consecrated at Mass were being held.  And unfortunately, the Eucharist would not be distributed to the entire crowd, but only to a few thousand in and around the Sanctuary.

Two million people went to Cuatro Vientros airport that day for Mass with the Pope and did not receive what the 120 from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend did: Jesus in the Eucharist.  When we were lost and locked out of the inn, Jesus made Himself present to us.

It was a perfect pilgrimage.

Because Jesus asked us to deny ourselves and take up our cross.  And sure, in this there was suffering.  But he also asked us to follow Him.  And He showed us that He is always one step ahead of us.  And in this, there is great joy.