Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Path of Life (3.A)

Pope Francis tells the story of a great Spanish preacher who gave a powerful and well-prepared sermon. Afterwards, the priest was approached by a man—a great public sinner—who asked, with tears flowing down his face, to go to confession.

He confessed a long list of serious sins. The confessor knew about the man, so he was amazed that his sermon had been so effective.

“Tell me,” he asked the penitent man, “when did you feel God touch your heart? At what point in the sermon?”

The man replied “When you said, ‘let’s move on to another subject.’”

I’m not sure about the moral of the story, other than the fact that it’s good for a homilist to be humble! The Pope pointed out that sometimes it’s the simplest words that help us, while at other times it
s the most complicated: “the Lord gives the right word to each of us.”

Today’s Gospel speaks to all of us—but the message will be simple for some, complicated for others.

The words are St. Peter’s: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” You can’t find a simpler prayer than this. Peter couldn’t begin to express his awe and wonder—and perhaps confusion—so he affirms the goodness of the moment.

It’s a prayer any of us could make every time we recognize that Jesus is with us. It’s good to be around the dinner table saying grace. It’s good to look out at the top of a ski lift and to know God holds such beauty in His hands. It’s good to be here at Mass.

Of course, not all of us here at Mass are ready to pray “Lord it is good to be here.” Some of us would rather be somewhere else. We’re here because our parents dragged us, or because we know God expects to see us. Still, I think most of us in church today are willing to pray those words with Peter.

But what do we say next? “Lord, it is good to be here… and… uh…” There we run out of steam. What are the deepest reasons why it good to be at Mass today?

Put on the spot, we might say what we think God wants to hear, just like Peter did. It is good to be here because we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. It is good to be here with friends or family, with a community of faith.

For some of us, these answers come from the heart. But for others they come from the head.

In our amazing parish mission yesterday, Jake Khym asked us the question Jesus asked Martha after the death of Lazarus: Do you believe this? Only those who make the effort to answer this question will fully share the awe and the wonder and the joy that Peter felt on the mountain of transfiguration. Because the Mass is our celebration of the whole story of Jesus—the story of His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, the story we call the Paschal Mystery.

What a simple but complex question: do you believe this?

Jake asked us an easier question, though I didn’t know the answer. What were the two top songs of all time? Anyone guess one of them? The answer is the Beatle’s “Yesterday” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

Both songs resonate in people’s hearts because they are about longing for better times, longing for something that’s beyond our reach. That longing, of course, is for heaven.

Most fairy tales and most of our favourite movies end “and they lived happily ever after.” Why is this? Because, as St. Augustine wrote, God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

Do we bring that restlessness to Mass? Does our time in church allow space for our longing for heaven? Can we pray, “Lord it is good to be here—because it’s bringing me closer to the deepest desire of my heart?

I wish every parishioner could have shared the amazing experience we had at the mission yesterday. Many times I prayed “Lord, it is so good to be here.” But God is generous, and anyone who will take the time to join the disciples at the feet of Jesus will also be richly blessed.

The practical directions to receive the grace we need next are given right in today’s Gospel. First, acknowledge Jesus as the beloved Son of the Father, and “listen to Him.”

Second, “do not be afraid.” Do not draw back from the Paschal Mystery and all that it means and promises and demands of you.

We heard was so much powerful preaching and teaching and testimony yesterday, but the Path of Life might well be summarized in those seven simple words: listen to Him, and do not be afraid.

As Pope Francis said, the Lord will give the right word to each of us.