Sunday, September 4, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for putting our pilgrimage into perfect perspective for us Fr. Andrew!