Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Three Homilies: Stand Still, Pray Always, and Carry Your Cross

Three different priests have given three impactful but simple homilies at my parish in the past few months. They all dealt with prayer in their unique way, and the messages have stuck with me.


There is a retired Italian-American priest who occasionally presides at Mass in our parish. He is a good confessor and has helped me personally in the past few years. I hug him if I can each time I see him, because I am grateful for his pastoral care in my life. I know he prays for my family.

During a summer homily Father Dennis recalled fun trips his dad took the family on during weekends of his childhood in Pennsylvania. They drove to a lovely little creek that flowed near town, and the children jumped out to play around in the water.

Father Dennis pointed out that as the kids ran around and splashed each other, the little stream quickly became so cloudy that you couldn't see the creek bed beneath its surface.

However, if they simply stood still in the water for a few moments, the serene creek returned to a pristine state, all the sand and dust settled in its proper place, the water became crystal clear again and the objects beneath its surface clearly visible.

Father Dennis proposed that the creek scene was like life. The busier we get - so easy nowadays - the more our lives are unsettled, preventing us from seeing clearly through the dust of our own activity. But if we could just stand still in God's presence every now and then, as often as possible, our lives would become a lot clearer and more peaceful.


Father Thomas, who taught me a great deal as I went through and then volunteered with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and also in personal conversation on everything from the Old Testament to Sacraments, gave a fascinating homily on prayer not long ago.

Our Gospel reading that Sunday began with this passage from Luke:

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test."


Father decided to concentrate on these words especially: Jesus was praying in a certain place.

He then made the point that perhaps Luke omitted the place purposefully. Jesus was praying wherever he happened to be.

We, too, can pray wherever we happen to be throughout our day - while driving, putting on makeup, taking a walk, doing work. We can pray in our "certain place" throughout our lives. Our prayer can be constant even though our places continually change.

I found this homily consoling. Honestly, there's always some awkwardness when I try to say a formal prayer in a more formal setting. I am far more comfortable sending my thoughts up to God as if I'm letting go of little balloons with notes attached at the strings. And I can let go of those little balloons as soon as I think of the note to attach - a thank you, an invitation, a request for intervention - wherever I am. 


"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." 

Luke 9:23

Father Bill is short of stature but big in personality, and he serves often at our parish even though he's technically retired. He is also another man of God to whom I am grateful, because he has comforted me and counseled me on various occasions in the confessional and out of it.

It's hard to be human, and its hard to live with one's own weaknesses, but Father Bill put this all in perspective for me when he gave a homily on carrying your cross.

He pointed out that often people will come to him in confession and say, "I feel like I am always confessing the same thing over and over again..."

His response is, essentially, of course you are! You will always be you, and your weaknesses will always be part of the unique person you are. That is, of course, no excuse for throwing our hands up in the air and crying, "I give up! I am what I am, nothing I can do about it!" But your pitfalls will almost always be predictable. (So maybe we can recognize and avoid them?)

The question he poised in his homily was, in essence, this:

Do we carry our cross, or do we balk at it? Do we do our best to haul it forward or do we rebel against the fact that we are carrying the same old cross that has been chaffing our shoulders for ages?

This struck home, and I listened intently. Many times I think I'm that Christian by the side of the road pouting, railing against the unfair burden, or kicking my cross and complaining. I know sometimes I wonder why it's still there, why I couldn't have dumped it successfully by the road somewhere.

Father made me wonder, is there a way to carry my cross more gracefully? Can I see it, feel it, and not despise it? Can I allow it to bring me closer to God by acknowledging it humbly and relying more on His grace to help me carry it? Man once helped God carry His cross, so I have full faith Jesus will help us.

I was reminded during Father Bill's homily of a scene from The Passion of the Christ in which Jesus, terribly injured and incredibly weary, embraces the wooden cross to which he will soon be nailed as if it is the most precious thing he has.

We can't ditch our own personal cross or crosses. We know that. They're ours, and we must carry them to get to Heaven. 

But we can find a way to carry them better, more humbly, as we follow Jesus.