One small step
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 18, 2021:
Finish this sentence with me, “One small step for man…” Right, “…one giant leap for mankind.” I was reminded of that famous line as I was reading an article about the first moon landing this week. Tuesday marks the 52nd anniversary of that historic moon landing, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon. Maybe you do recall that moment vividly.
One of the more surprising stories of that day, though, is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the credit as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular and profound, as a man of faith.
He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, prayed. This is his description of the moment, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages that I had brought which contained some bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”
It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on another world were the words of Jesus Christ, the same One who made the Earth and the moon. It was a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin had traveled all the way to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.
This image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflect on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in the quiet place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many of us seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own quiet place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. I returned a few weeks ago from my vacation at the beach, which for me is an annual tradition and one of my favorite quiet places.
Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, rest from our work, engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, our spirits, and our faith. This year perhaps more than usual we carry the stress of this pandemic in our bodies, we carry the anxiety of this time in our hearts and minds. We need time to decompress, relax, enjoy – and renew. During my vacation, my favorite times are at sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.
Buzz Aldrin travelled all the way to the moon, and his first act was to find that quiet time to be renewed by God. Like him, we too need to find that time to allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls in the ways that only He can do.
Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Right here in this church is that chance to leave the world behind and exist in the midst of holiness and let God speak to our hearts. Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God immersed in prayer.
My friends, the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest and prayer; renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a quiet place to find peace we need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.
As we recall what transpired on the moon more than 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is the ocean of God’s love available to us every time we pray. So let us meet God in that tranquil place and let Him renew us one small step at a time.
May the Lord give you peace.
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