FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 29, 2020:
My Dad always worked as a truck driver; and when I was a young boy, he was a long-haul trucker. This means that he would be away on long trips that would take him to all parts of the country for weeks at a time. This meant, of course, that time with Dad was precious, especially during those years because it was rare. In the 1970s, when I was just a kid, our country found itself in the midst of an oil crisis when OPEC declared an oil embargo. These were difficult times in our nation. I remember, maybe you do too, cars lined up for a quarter of a mile beyond every gas station. I remember the signs in front of stations that just said, “No gas today.” And I remember the rationing of gasoline when you could only go to buy gas on certain days based on your license plate number.
As you can imagine, this crisis struck anyone who worked in any travel related industry very hard, and this was true for my Dad, a truck driver. In fact, during this time, he was let go from his job, and was looking for work for quite some time. This was a very difficult time for our family even trying to survive financially.
But here’s the thing; the reason why I’m telling you this story. Of course, as a very young boy, my parents shielded us from these harsh realities that were swirling around us. At the time, we were not conscious of how bad things were around us, or even for our family. I always think back on these years as some of the most wonderful in my childhood. Why? Because all my brother and I knew at the time was this – Dad was home! And that was wonderful. Dad was home when we went off to school. He made us breakfast, sent us off with our lunches; and Dad was there when we got home. We got such a big dose of that precious time with Dad and this was the gift and the grace of what were otherwise difficult years for my family and the country.
I was thinking of this moment in my childhood because, of course, we are all living through a difficult and anxious time in our world today. If we have the news on, our thoughts are being filled with numbers of cases, numbers of fatalities, situations going from bad to worse around our country and around our world. We can be tempted to give into this anxiety and fear and see only the tragedy around us. But, I also know, that even in the midst of our current challenge, there are multiple gifts and graces surrounding us, if only we open our eyes to them.
We heard from Ezekiel today, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.” God’s words to us, His people, today, through the prophet are a reminder that in our Paschal story of life, death, and resurrection, death is never the end of the story. Our story always ends in renewal, in life more abundant than we could possibly imagine.
We hear the same message clearly from Jesus in our Gospel. We know this story of the raising of Lazarus well, but notice what Jesus says to His disciples before He goes to His friend who has died. He said, “This illness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And glorified He is. When Jesus arrives on the scene, Martha is certain that this story ends in death. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” is her accusation to Jesus. It is the kind of accusation that we have perhaps felt in this midst of our crisis. Maybe in our minds we have though, “Lord, why are you allowing this to happen?”
But, let me be clear, as Jesus was clear to Martha. God does not create the illness in our world; God does not cause the death and destruction in our world. He is not responsible for the pain and suffering in our world. God does not create these terrible things just to teach us a lesson. That would be capricious and cruel. Each of these horrible things are the very opposite of who and what God is. God is love, God is mercy, God is our salvation – always and in every situation. But, it doesn’t mean that we can’t find His grace, His glory, His gift in the midst of this crisis.
A dear friend of mine, a Poor Clare nun named Claire, was always fond of reminding me, “Tom, life is messy. Invite God into the mess.” God did not cause this mess, but God is in the midst of it – because that’s where God always is – in our midst, trying to be close to us, helping us to carry the burden, trying to lift the anxiety, desiring nothing more than to fill us with His peace, His love, His holiness. It’s up to us to invite God in so that even in the midst of crisis, we can find a renewed faith, a renewed experience of our living God who is close to us.
On Friday, Pope Francis spoke to the whole world when he held an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing. This blessing, “to the city and to the world” typically only takes place twice a year – at Christmas and Easter. The Holy Father knew that in this extraordinary global moment, we could all benefit from this blessing. In his reflection, he spoke about the Gospel passage where Jesus and the Apostles are on a boat at sea, and the waters become dangerous.
He said, “Like the disciples, we find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. But, we have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. Just like the disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘We are dying’, so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this. The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. You, Lord, are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
My friends, God has not caused this moment – but He is very present in the midst of it. Can you feel that Divine presence? As with every moment, there is an opportunity to discover the gift and the grace that is hidden here. Use your time of isolation as a time of prayer. Use your time together as a family as a time to renew, rebuild, or even create a strong family build on faith and love. Think about how you will act differently when this moment passes – do not simply go back to the crazy, busy, unnecessarily hectic lives we have allowed ourselves to create; and instead remember that it is good to slow down; it is good to be together; it is good to gather around the table for a meal; it is good to pray as a family; it is good to have the chance to connect with one another in ways that are deeper than we are used to.
The Holy Father said, “By ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning everything that happens to us to the good, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
My friends, life is messy – especially in this moment – but invite God into the mess. Let him fill this moment with His love, mercy, grace, and hope. Let this be the gift we discover today.
May the Lord give you peace.