My plan was to begin today's homily with a humorous Mother Teresa story, but due to recent events, I think it best to put all humor aside.
You may say “why does Deacon Brian always speak about Mother Teresa.” Well, in homiletics class, we were taught to “speak about what you know.” I know about the Missionaries of Charity. I have worked with them for many years, and I would like all of you to get to know these sisters.
Last Saturday, at the Immaculate Conception Shrine in Washington, DC, I attended the “Final Profession” of 9 Missionary of Charity sisters. This day was the culmination of a 13 year journey, to profess FOR LIFE vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. A big step in one’s life isn’t it? - To make a decision to live poor. To own only two sari’s - one pair of sandals - to visit your family once every ten years. This is truly giving oneself completely to God and it a perfect manifestation of “Christian Hope.” This vocation is not for everyone, which makes me glad, because I don’t think I could do it.
The Mass was more than well attended - barely room for standing. Beautiful Liturgy with bells and incense. The church was filled with the families of the sisters, religious brothers, priests, deacons and volunteers. Everyone there had some association with the Missionaries of Charity. I was blessed to be invited to join my fellow clergy on the altar. I do not deserve such a gift.
This is the legacy of Mother Teresa – 4000+ sisters and over 100,000 lay volunteers operating in 123 countries, serving people with aids, leprosy, in soup kitchens and more. Although these apostolates involve “social work”, Mother never ceased to proclaim “I am not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the Church.”
Mother, like John the Baptist, was a “prophet.” When we hear the word “prophet”, we think of a person who foretells the future – but that is not the meaning of the word in scripture. A prophet is one who calls the people back to fidelity (loyalty/observance) by words and by example. For example, Mother said “if you cannot feed one hundred people, then feed just one”. Do you know that these words have been the cause of many conversions? A prophet is also a thorn in the side of God’s people because he identifies their infidelity and God’s displeasure with them. In 1985, Mother Teresa gave a speech at the United Nations, which by the way, was attended by the late Sam Ciccone at the request of Mother. Sam was a parishioner at St. Thomas. We had a saint in our midst. Mother said “peace, begins at home, in our own family. Works of love begin at home and works of love are works of peace. We all want peace, but we are not afraid to kill an innocent child, that little unborn child, who has been created for that same purpose: to love God and to love you and me.” I am sure these words were a thorn in the side of many at the UN. So Mother fulfilled a prophetic role when she called the world to defend and work for the dignity of the human person.
The Church, in her great wisdom, has chosen for this 3rd Sunday of Advent, or “Gaudete Sunday, a most appropriate gospel passage. It is a message, as St. Paul says, that causes us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” It is Jesus, through John the Baptist, giving us insight into how we should live our lives.
But today, the message of “rejoicing” is hard to hear - for we have just experienced a tragedy beyond belief - the loss of life, of the innocent, in an elementary school in Connecticut.
This tragedy hits home, with all of us – parents or non-parents. I think of my grandson, my little Oliver, I think of my son who is an elementary school principal in Midland Park – of his great responsibility to protect so many children. I ask Jesus, what is your answer for all of this?
Jesus told us that John the Baptist, his own cousin, was the greatest prophet – more than Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, even Mother Teresa. So we should listen to him.
The crowds, the tax Collectors, the people, they all thought that John may be the Christ. So they all asked him a question, “what should we do? We ask the same question today, “What should we do”? John’s first answer is that we should “share.” Our clothing, our food…. Certainly Christians are called to do this – we must do this. But there is much more here. We are called to share our hearts, with our families and our neighbors – we all have a responsibility to protect each other from evil. What was the cause of this tragedy? Certainly a young man with a deranged mind. Certainly the violence that permeates our society today – in all types of media. The devil use’s all means available to wreak havoc in our world. And is a society that is trying to take God out of all aspects of life a cause of violence? Absolutely.
We need not look too far back in history to see the results of a Godless society. We must not be afraid to stand up and protect our children. Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world.
John answers again, “be satisfied with your wages.” In our first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says “Do not be discouraged, for the Lord, Our God, is in our midst.” No matter the situation, God is always present. St. Paul tells the Philippians “have no anxiety at all; the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
No matter the situation, God brings triumph out of tragedy. Still, these words too are hard to hear. This deacon does not have all the answers or the insight to explain to you why God allows evil to exist in our world. Yet there is one man who understood suffering well, and was a witness to the worst violence known to man. His name was Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. His following words were spoken immediately after 9/11. I believe they are appropriate for today.
“Let us beg the Lord that the spiral of hatred and violence will not prevail. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Mercy, fill the hearts of all with wise thoughts and peaceful intentions.”
Deacon Brian J. Murphy