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Homily for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost

W.592.157aIn August 1965 the Lovin’ Spoonful released Do You Believe in Magic and the song quickly sprang to the top of the pop charts.  So, do you believe in magic? As the lyrics of the song go, “believe in the magic that can set you free.”  Magic, of course, relies upon sleight of hand and illusion to give the impression that something supernatural has taken place.

As Christians the more appropriate question is whether we believe in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ and his power to perform miracles as he did in this morning’s Gospel reading from Saint Luke where, moved with pity, Jesus touched the coffin containing the widow’s son and said, “Young man, I tell you, arise.”  Rise, the dead man did, and “Jesus gave him to his mother.”  The power of God’s grace in His Son Jesus Christ caused this young, dead man to rise from the dead.

The people who had witnessed this were taken with fear.  “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.”  “God has visited his people,” they said.  God had worked a great miracle.  They saw that God had entered into human history.

There are many types of miracles that God works.   Saint Paul’s conversion can only be considered a miracle.  In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul acknowledges his former way of life as a persecutor of the church and how he tried to destroy her.  We also know from the Acts of the Apostles that Saul, as he had been known, was present when the mob stoned the first deacon and first martyr Saint Stephen.  In fact, the members of the mob who did the actual stoning placed their robes at his feet.  This was a sign of Saul’s authority in the community.  So, while Saul may not have thrown a stone, the mob was certainly stoning the good deacon Stephen with Saul’s full knowledge and consent.  It’s not a stretch to call Saul a terrorist.  Yet Saul, now Paul, accepted God’s loving mercy and grace.  After his conversion, Paul returned to Damascus and went on to Jerusalem, to Rome and Corinth, to Galatia and Ephesus proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles only to be revered as one of the Prime Apostles.

About twelve years before the Lovin’ Spoonful came out with their hit song, Do You Believe in Magic, a troubled twenty-something Frenchman by the name of Jacques Fesch had it in his head to rob a money changer on a street in Paris.  He had already left his wife and young daughter, and he wanted the money to buy a boat so he could sail to the Polynesian islands to escape his difficult circumstances and live a life of hedonistic pleasure. Well, the robbery went bad, and Jacques – who had no prior criminal record –fatally shot a police officer.  He was arrested, thrown into jail, convicted of his crime, and sentenced to death by beheading in 1957.  What happened in the three years between his arrest and execution is nothing short of a miracle.

Jacques grew up in very difficult circumstances.  Though he had a Catholic education, his father had a big negative influence on him.  Jacques wrote that his father was very: “proud, sarcastic, and cynical” and an atheist who “felt a disgust with life.”   He described family life as “utterly wretched…[T]here was no respect, no love.”  Jacques own life sounded not too different.  He married Pierrette after she became pregnant, and he did not love her.

All that changed for Jacques when he went to prison where he began his journey from atheism to God, a journey took about one year.  He was blessed to have the assistance of three persons – the prison chaplain who visited him and loaned him books; his attorney, a devout Christian who saw his work as a ministry; and a monk, Brother Thomas, with whom Jacques exchanged many letters.  One point that should not be lost: Jacques was connected with Brother Thomas by his wife Pierrette who never abandoned him in spite of what he had done to her.

Listen to what he wrote to Brother Thomas after his conversion: “an immense grief and an immense joy sweep over the soul together…for the first time I have wept tears of joy, knowing with certitude that God has forgiven me and that now Christ lives in me through my suffering and my love…I so need His love, strength and compassion.”

One week before his execution, at the age of twenty-seven, Jacques wrote to his Mama, “It is not for me that you should weep, but for sins that offend God.  As for me, I am happy.  Jesus is calling me to Himself, and great graces have been given to me.”

The day before his execution, Jacques wrote to his Mama, “God has given me the great grace of drawing me to Himself, and when you read these lines I shall be looking upon our Lord Jesus Christ…Remain calm…try to plunge your sorrow in the love of Jesus, who waits only for your appeal to come and console you.”

And to Brother Thomas, on that same night he wrote, “I wait in the night and in peace…I wait for Love.”

Jacques’ conversion gave him a new life in Christ.  He was beheaded on October 1st, 1957 – the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, the Theotokos in our Byzantine Church.  (Padre Pio used to say there is no such thing as a coincidence.)

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus taught us the Golden Rule to “[d]o to others as you would have them do to you.”  He raised the bar when he said it’s no big deal to love someone who loves you.  Even a bully can love a bully! He tells us to …love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.

It was only because of the Father’s mercy that Saul of Tarsus was able to receive God’s grace and live a life in Christ to become the Apostle Paul.  Had you been an early Christian witnessing the stoning of the first martyr Stephen and seen Saul standing there watching approvingly, might you have had a difficult time accepting the new Paul?  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It was only because of the Father’s mercy that Jacques Fesch was able to receive God’s grace and live a life in Christ to become a prodigal son returning to the Father after years of being an atheist.  After the cause for sainthood for Jacques was opened by the Archbishop of Paris, many complained that Jacques was a mere murderer.  These people were blinded by their lack of mercy.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It was the Father’s mercy perfectly manifested in Jesus who gazed into the eyes of the grieving widow with pity – yes, with compassion and mercy – that brought her only son back to life.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

What miracles might be possible in your life if you let Jesus embrace you in his mercy and let His Holy Spirit show you the way?  Remember, we’re not talking magic.  We’re talking miracles born out of God’s great mercy, He who is perfect love, He who entered into human history because of His great love for each and every one of us.

By Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck

BE MERCIFUL JUST AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL

Pope-Francis-and-sickSaint Ignatius of Loyola taught that there are three voices:
-The voice of God
-The voice of demons
-The voice of humanity/psychology

The voice of God in the Gospel cannot be any clearer in the Gospel reading for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Luke 6:31-36).  Mercy figures prominently in this reading.  So, too, in the Divine Liturgy where in Litany of Peace, after every intention prayed by the deacon, the congregation prays, Lord, have mercy…for peace from on high, for peace in the whole world, for the union of the churches of God, for our Holy Father Francis, for our most reverend Metropolitan William, our God-loving Bishop Kurt, the priests, deacons, and all the people, for seasonable weather and abundance of the fruits of the earth, for this city and every city, for the sick, the suffering, and the captive, for those who travel by sea, land, and air.  Lord, have mercy.

In Hebrew the word is chesed.  Mercy doesn’t quite capture its full meaning.  Some have suggested that loving kindness better captures the meaning of chesed.

What can be better than experiencing the mercy, chesed, the loving kindness of another, especially that of God, who is Perfect Love?  In Psalm 63:4, the Psalmist David prays, “Because your mercy is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus invoke the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Lest that seem fairly simple rule to keep, Jesus immediately raises the bar, saying it’s no big deal to love someone who loves you.  Even a bully can love a bully! He tells us to “…love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We have our marching orders, but what does that mean for our day to day lives?  What does mercy or loving kindness look like?  Consider the story of a beloved fictional character.

Before his conversion experience Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge personified the opposite of mercy: greed.  One life-changing Christmas Eve in Victorian England, Scrooge was approached by two upstanding Christian men asking that he offer a donation for the poor in the workhouses.  Scrooge’s response?  “I wish to be left alone.  Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the [workhouses]—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

To which the men responded: “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

Scrooge’s retort? “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—It’s not my business. It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”

Whose voice was Scrooge listening to?  Certainly not God’s.  How self-absorbed!  He harbored such bitterness toward the poor.  After all, it was his taxes that helped pay for the workhouses.  It was as if the poor were stealing his money . Scrooge was a slave to his passions and desires.  There was no room for anything or anybody.  His appetite for money could never be satisfied – to the neglect of anybody and everybody.  Then, later that night, Scrooge had a series of dreams in which he encountered spirits who helped him to see the selfish, self-absorbed man he had become.  When he awoke on Christmas morning he was a new man.  He became a man for others, merciful, and eager to help others.

The next day he told his longtime clerk, Bob Cratchitt that he would raise his salary, after many years without one, and assist his struggling family.  He promised to help Cratchitt’s crippled son, Tiny Tim.  At that he kept his word, becoming like a second father to Tim.

My brothers and sisters, to show mercy or loving kindness takes us out of ourselves.  A merciful person is selfless, open, and free to offer loving kindness to his brother, sister, and, yes, as Jesus insists, even his enemy.

So what are the ways of mercy? The ways are many.
-To feed the hungry, and to give drink to the thirsty.
-To clothe the naked, and to give shelter to travelers.
-To visit the sick and the imprisoned.  Isn’t sickness – both physical and mental – often, a form of imprisonment?
-To bury the dead.  Can we ever doubt the comfort the family receives when we help bury their dead?
-To give counsel to those who waver in their faith, and to instruct those who are ignorant in the faith.
-Without judgment and in humility, to admonish the sinner, remembering always that you are a sinner.
-To comfort the sorrowful with a visit, a listening ear, or a homemade meal.  Isn’t it comforting to know that you are not going through a great loss all alone?
-To forgive injuries.  This is the act of mercy which allows all other acts to flow.  It’s a tough one, but every time we pray as Jesus taught us we ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
-To bear wrongs patiently – difficult as it may be.  God never asked anything of us that he did not endure on the Cross.
-To pray for the living and the dead.  Prayer makes a difference, for those we pray for and for us.

These are the ways of chesed – mercy – loving kindness.  When we fail to be merciful, we are allowing ourselves to be swayed by the often very loud voices of the demons and of our humanity.  Pray to God that we listen to His voice, and not be swayed by these other voices so that we embrace the ways of mercy, that we be transformed and treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, even those whom we consider enemies and those who have hurt us.

Jesus has certainly raised the bar.  His expectations are high, but as the Lord said to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Did you hear that?  Power is made perfect in weakness.   Because of this, Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he would rather boast most gladly of [his] weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with [him].  He wrote: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

May we be open to the grace of God, that we be made perfect in our weakness so that we live our lives in the ways of God’s mercy in a world which so desperately needs it.

Homily by Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck

The “Little Way” of St. Therese

st-therese-of-lisieux-icon-426St. Therese of Lisieux was born in France on January 2, 1873 to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.  She was the youngest of nine children, four of whom died in infancy. At the age of four, she faced great sadness when her beloved mother passed away.  When she was fifteen, she followed in the footsteps of her older sisters Pauline and Marie and joined the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux. St. Therese loved God completely, and, above all else, desired for others to love God too.  Known for her “little way,” she once wrote: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice.  Here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”  

In the 1880s, a notorious criminal by the name of Henri Pranzini had been sentenced to death after murdering two women and a young girl.  St. Therese read about this sentencing in the newspaper, and also learned that he was unrepentant, bitter, and angry. Upon hearing this when she was only fourteen years old, Therese committed herself to praying tirelessly and offering sacrifices up for Pranzini’s conversion.  When she read the news article detailing his execution, she realized her prayer had been answered: “Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

St. Therese truly strove towards union with God with both prayer and simplicity.  While she is the patron saint of missionaries, she never left the walls of her convent.  However, St. Therese proved that you did not have to travel far and wide to lead others towards Christ.  While some of us feel as though we are not capable of doing “spectacular acts” for God and others, we must never underestimate the power of a simple prayer or the significance of doing “little things with great love,” just like St. Therese of Lisieux.  

By: Adriana Shubeck

Pilgrimage to Uniontown: A Reminder of Life’s Purpose

TIA group picFaith can be a challenging subject in our lives. It is something that is deeply personal yet challenges us into a relationship with one another. For no matter how hard we try to keep it within us, the joy that follows will always seek to be shared.

Growing up, the parish church ladies would board a bus and head off to a famous small town called “Uniontown, PA.” Upon their return they would sing songs, talk about experiences, and the best part; share their honey cake treats with the entire parish. While the parish no longer sent a bus to this sacred place, “the pilgrimage” to Our Lady of Perpetual Help as it was told to me, was one of those experiences that you just needed to participate in.

So, what did I do? With a leap of faith, I jumped in my car and headed off to the promised land called Uniontown.

They say the pilgrimage (the way getting there) is just as important as the destination. Well, they should have said that differently, because as soon as I got through half of Pennsylvania in a torrential downpour, I questioned to myself “Jerry, what are you doing?” That question sat with me as I reflected on the countless souls that traveled the same path over the years. Why was everyone heading to Uniontown? What could be so special about this place? Those questions soon revealed an answer as I laid my feet on the holy ground of Mt. Saint Macrina.

Opening my car door, the songs of praise and prayer seemed to flow through the wind and trees on top of the hill. There a small gathering of faithful prayed while I stood in silence. I was here, I had arrived at the blessed holy site of my ancestors.

But why? Why did I make this long drive to this small piece of property outside of Pittsburgh? What was I searching for? Could it be peace, after a rocky few weeks within the Catholic Church, or was I looking for the reminder of hope? Could it have been for something greater? What could have been the draw?

Holiness. That is what it had to be.

Holiness was the draw. Everywhere you went, you walked, you sat or stood, you found people around you seeking the same thing – holiness.

They came to seek deeper in their relationship with Christ, to build up their confidence in the faith, and be reminded of their true purpose as a Catholic and Christian. They came to be united in their call, and they came to be with their Blessed Mother. Could it possibly be that I came to seek the same thing? To be renewed in faith, to find a definite answer to my life’s journey?

Gazing on the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we find the story within of how child Jesus, given visions of His passion and death, runs so fast in fear to Mary that He almost loses His shoe. However, in the embrace of his Blessed Mother, He is restored in his confidence.

I too have run to our Blessed Mother. I have run in hope of an answer, for the warm reminder that all would be well.

Life is a process. We are reminded over and over again in the life of Christ – of the challenge, the fear, the joy, and the hope in a daily surrender of our own wills and life forward. We look at Mary’s fiat (her yes) when the angel appeared and told her that she was to give birth to the son of God, yet was not married, and fearful of what people would say. How was she to explain all that was happening? How was she to trust in God’s plan?

We look even to the final moments of Christ in the night before his crucifixion “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Matthew 26:42

Christ gives us a clear example of surrendering, sacrificing, and living for a greater purpose, not of his own, but of his heavenly fathers.

Something is always dying, and something is always giving life.
There is a beautiful story in the Gospel of St. John about Jesus’ call of the fisherman: “After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command, I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.” They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. -Luke 5:4-7

It is interesting to note how the disciples were ready to give up, yet God reached out one more time and asked them to try the other side. What do you do when it looks like there is no more hope? What do you do when you think it just is impossible to share in a relationship with one another, to be open, vulnerable, broken, hurt,…

 … forgiven, and loved.

Maybe you are sitting here thinking there is not much hope, that so much needs to be done, and that you are the only one to accomplish the task. Maybe you are sitting here thinking that you are unable to accomplish the task based on your skills, your worth, and your vision.

In those moments when you think it is impossible, those are the moments God is calling out to you saying “cast your net on the other side.”

Who are you in God’s Eyes…
Our lives and the life of the Church have many different struggles, bumps, and stops. Our natural tendency is to focus on the one problem, that blinds our focus on one thing without seeing our true image as son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, and friend. Without realizing by the end, the focus of our image is nothing but dead a stem of a flower without any petals.

However, when we put our struggles, challenges, wants, desires into a new perspective of sacrificial love, we realize what God has seen from the very beginning. A beautiful flower. Life may show you the stem, but God shows you the fullness of your life.

You never know what God is doing in your life, so be brave in how you communicate with him. Allow hope and sacrifice to lead your journey.

This was the true message that reminded me that our Church is alive, and our true hope is in Christ through Mary. That could not have been made clearer as Bishop Milan Lach, SJ closed out his homily with the following words: ” So dear brothers and sisters, we are here. Don’t worry, Jesus Christ is with us. Don’t worry about our future of our Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States. Don’t worry. God is with us! Glory to Jesus Christ!”