Friday, December 25, 2009

Salt and Light - Christmas Homily - St Barnabas - Disappointment and Awe

This past week I was blessed to have had the opportunity to take a pilgrimage in celebration of my three years of priesthood. I was invited to go along with another priest friend and a couple of seminarians. Reluctant to go at first because of the expense, I finally decided it would be a wonderful way to commemorate this year.  

Friends that know me well enough, often laugh at me because I am kind of 'cheap'.  If it's not worth it, I don't like the feeling that I am wasting my money. So we decided that we could save some money if I took an air mattress.  I thought this was a great idea because I need a good bed and you never know what you’re going to get in Europe.  So I had an entire suitcase devoted to the bed.  I had everything I needed -an air mattress, an electric blanket, the pump, sheets, an extra blanket in case it was cold, and a travel pillow.  

I should also mention that I was on a separate 'cheaper' flight to save even more money.  So the morning of departure comes along and I get a call from the other guys who are already at the airport.  It turns out they cancelled my flight.  Frantic, I call the airline to rebook and was informed that unless I could make the last flight leaving in about 45 minutes, nothing was available until the next day. “I’ll make it!” I said assuredly, hung up the phone and finished packing - in a flash!  At that point, I hadn’t showered yet, and didn’t have time to put on my suit that I had laid out for the trip in case I got to meet the Pope, but I hurried out the door for the plane.  Well in the end I missed that flight, caught another one, got rerouted through Paris, finally made it to Rome, took a train to the city and walked who knows how many blocks dragging my checked bag, carrying my backpack and dragging my bed-in-a-suitcase.  I didn’t meet up with the guys until later that night.  As we got ready for bed I unrolled the air mattress, inflated it, and then discovered I didn’t have the plug.  I must have left it at home - what a disappointment!  As it turns out, that was the first disappointment among many. 

My first overnight train ride broke down and took 12 hours instead of 8 -we missed every train connection, which meant we'd have to stay another night in every city and pay to reroute to the next train.  I asked myself, “why do I travel?”  There was disappointment.  In our journey there will assuredly be disappointment...

But then came the awe… I got to pray at some of the holiest places on the Earth.  I prayed at the tomb of St. Ignatius with his words: “Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”  

I had the opportunity to enter the bath in Lourdes and pray for healing.  As I descended into the water the man invited me to pray for my family and for anyone who needs healing: I prayed for all of you, especially those of you who have shared your hurt with me.  The water was ice cold, Lourdes is up in the mountains so this time of year, the temperatures were sub-zero and there was snow.  It’s believed that very holy people will come out of the bath dry, and I was hoping for this miracle because I can't tolerate the cold…  when I came out I looked down to find that apparently I have a long way to go before becoming a saint.

Next, I visited Ars and made a holy hour in the church where St. John Vianney lived. I offered mass at his tomb for all the priests who have blessed me as well as those whom I feel God may be calling to the priesthood.  

On the fourth Sunday of Advent I celebrated mass at Sacre-Coure – the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. We celebrated mass in the crypt. It was completely dark, save for a candle lit altar. Through the darkness, I could hear our voices echo– “O come, O come Emmanuel”.  These were truly moments of awe amidst many disappointments.   

Imagine Mary and Joseph’s journey -the shepherds, the wise men-  none of it was probably what they expected or hoped for.  Imagine after a long journey, their disappointment of the inn being full and Joseph having to lay Mary down in a stable amidst the animals and mess to give birth to Jesus.  Our Lord comes to us in the mess.  Don’t let the disappointment make you miss the awe.   

Even though, being the Christmas season (aka: "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"), I imagine there is a mixture of disappointment and awe for many of you today.  Maybe this Christmas hasn’t turned out as you had hoped or expected.  Maybe someone is not here that you wished would be; a plane delayed, or a distance too far.  Perhaps it's your son or daughter who is away from the Church, or you're at odds with your spouse, or you’re painfully grieving the loss of your mother, father or child.  Even in that pain and disappointment there is wonder and awe because, “God is with us” in all of it and working out our redemption through all of it.

Being the Christmas season, I'd like to take the opportunity to make a special appeal to those, who may have stopped coming to church because you have been disappointed. I ask you to reconsider; please come back, journey with us, and make this pilgrimage of faith with us.  I can’t promise that there won’t be bumps in the road and I can’t assure you that you won’t be disillusioned or disappointed at times; because this is a church of saints and sinners, human and divine, awe and disappointment.  But God is faithful - He is the light in the darkness, and in the disappointment, in the mess, we will find Christ.  Jesus came to us born in a manger.  A child, innocent and vulnerable, maybe it disappointing to some that God would come as a child. But in this child, in this mess, is eternal life, radiant dawn, wonder and awe, promise and fulfillment.  In a few moments amidst all of us gathered here today, the laughter and the tears, the hopes and fears, the awe and disappointment, our God will come before us in His very flesh in the Eucharist.  He is here, Emmanuel, God with us.  I invite you to seek this child with us, travel through the disappointment and discover the awe by joining with us on this pilgrimage of faith.

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