Tuesday, May 24, 2011

5th Sunday of Easter - homily (by a father of a GW Catholic)

This past weekend, I traveled up to New Jersey for the diaconate ordination of Dr. David Strader, the father of Beth Strader (GW Catholic, class of 2014).  It was a beautiful celebration!  Deacon Strader was one of 35 men to be ordained permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Newark (they ordain deacons every five years).  It took place at the Cathedral in Newark which is ginormous!  It is larger than St. Patrick's in New York and was designated a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II when he visited there in 1995.  I made some new friends from Newark - priests and lay people (yeah, Ron!).  The Straders showed me serious hospitality, making me feel like I was part of the family.  Great weekend all around!

Deacon Strader preached at the first Mass at which he served that evening in his parish.  The parishioners have been praying for him and supporting him throughout the five years he's been in formation to be ordained.  They showed him much love during and after the Mass.  I asked him to send me his homily so that I could post it here; it is below.

Please pray for Beth who had shoulder surgery this morning.  She is in recovery after a successful surgery.  BettAYYY!!

There is a lot of theology in this Gospel reading (John 14:1-12).  But I have to admit that my first thought after hearing it is: “Where did Jesus get these guys?” They are clueless! Remember, the disciples have been with Jesus since the very beginning of his ministry. This conversation is taking place at the Last Supper, right before Jesus is arrested. And they don’t know who Jesus is? That Jesus and the Father are one? It is hard for us to believe that anyone could be that clueless.

And yet…and yet, these are the same disciples who would witness Jesus’ death and resurrection and then receive the Holy Spirit. These are the disciples who would become the Apostles—dedicated men who would become the foundation of the Church, men who in many cases died for Jesus. What converted these clueless disciples into fearless Apostles who would spread the love of Christ throughout the world? One word. Faith.

Jesus said, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Even for two clueless disciples like Thomas and Philip, that statement was clear enough. And we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. Sometimes we have trouble seeing who Jesus is, ourselves. Whenever we fail to see Jesus in the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, or the pre-born, we are just as clueless as those first disciples. And like them, we sometimes need a reminder.

Last Advent, my class of deacon brothers had an opportunity to share a Saturday morning reflection with Sister Joan, a School Sister of Notre Dame. She shared with us a story when she was studying for a graduate degree in theology. She had signed up for a course in Christology, the study of Jesus Christ, and was startled when the first class met to find that it was being taught by a rabbi. She thought to herself, “How can this guy know about Jesus and still be Jewish?” Her puzzlement continued week after week. It was clear that the rabbi knew his stuff. Finally, towards the end of the semester, she summoned her courage and asked the professor directly, “How can you be so knowledgeable about Jesus Christ and yet be a rabbi?” He was quiet for a long time and Sister Joan was afraid that she had offended him. Finally, he looked up at her with a trace of tears in his eyes and explained, “You have been given a wonderful gift of faith. I received a different gift.”

All of us here tonight, like Sister Joan, have received a marvelous gift of faith, a gift that can come only from God. But often in our lives, other people transmit that gift of faith to us. Think for a minute: who in your life passed along that gift of faith to you? Maybe your parents? Maybe your spouse? Maybe your daughter, who wanted to be an altar server so badly that she pestered the ever-living daylights out of you, until you thought, “Well, if it is so important to her, maybe it ought to be more important to me.”

Growing up, my parents made faith an important part of my life. Mabelle and Frank made sure that I went with them to church every Sunday and said my prayers every night before I went to bed. And you didn’t just go to church in your regular school clothes—you had to get dressed in your Sunday “best”. I had to shine my shoes every Saturday morning so they would be ready for church the next day. And God forbid if I ever played outside in my Sunday clothes!

In addition to my parents, there was another person who was important in giving me the gift of faith, the gift of Catholic faith. I was never going to have a comfortable relationship with my father-in-law, Patrick, because I had stolen his only daughter in marriage. But if he hadn’t lived out his Catholic faith and taught it to his children, none of this that has happened today would have been possible. So I have a big “Thank you” to say one day.

Through our gift of faith, we can hear the words of Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life”, and they can resonate in our souls, not as an abstract concept that we might understand in our minds, but as a deep, true realization that we carry in our hearts. In a few moments, we are going to stand up and recite the Creed and say, “We believe…”. “We believe…”: what a profound statement of faith! And then, we will be invited to share in the Eucharist, at the table of Our Lord. A sacred meal that not only demonstrates our faith, but nourishes it and sustains it as well.

Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s pretty easy to understand. Even for some clueless disciples, like Thomas, Philip, and us.

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