Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday homily: the power and beauty in suffering

For the second weekend in a row, I delivered my Sunday homily from a mental outline rather than a written text or page of notes,'s very hard to reconstruct my homily for you here. Perhaps if anyone heard my homily cares to recount what you heard? That might be interesting!

I began with the curiosity of our approach to suffering--we seem to embrace it, and that may be hard to explain to others, even to ourselves. Why do we do this?

Well, we do this of course because of what our Lord taught. But my next point was to describe how I, in reflecting on this, was led to recall the last years, and particularly the last days, of Pope John Paul II. Recall how he went from being so hale and strong, and gradually his body weakened, his back stooped, his appearance was contorted, until he could no longer walk or lift his arms, and in the end, he could no longer speak. Recall how there were those who said he should resign and retire, because he couldn't carry out his duties as Vicar of Christ! Instead, the late holy father understood quite well--far better than they it seems--how to represent Christ!

His last years and last days were his most powerful homily: demonstrating that life is worth living, and is beautiful, even amidst great suffering. I also talked about how we see this in so many people we love, who do the same in their own lives; how I saw that in my parents who, each in turn, faced their own decline and death with courage and faith.

Along the way, I recalled the saying my mother had, which often annoyed me as a child: "offer it up." Sometimes it served to confront me with the triviality of my claimed "sufferings"; but it also revealed a powerful truth about our Faith: that God has taken what otherwise would have no value, and transformed it--from death to life.

If God had not done this--if he had not embraced the cross and made it the path to salvation--then it would mean that for all the wonderful things we could tell the world about Christ, when it came to the thing that unites all humanity, all experience, when it comes to the trials and sufferings and persecutions that all endure, we--Christ--would having nothing to say to humanity.

Instead, by choosing the cross as the path of our redemption, God has placed himself at the very center of human experience. God has made the hard and difficult reality of the human condition central to his plan of salvation. He has turned death to life.

Also, God proposes for us a kind of exchange: bring our crosses, our trials, to Christ, and exchange them for his cross. By doing so, he takes our trials and suffering as his own--and we receive life! This is what happens at Mass: we are able to place, as it were, all our pain and difficulties on the altar, with the bread and wine; and Christ, who acts through the Mass, particularly through the priest, will offer it all, along with his own body and blood, as the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. Do you realize what that means? Our little, ordinary, seemingly meaningless trials and difficulties actually become part of saving the world!

That exchange is also what happens in receiving the Eucharist--we receive his Body and Blood. We give him our suffering and crosses; and he gives us life.


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Fox,

I am in a religious order currently (my first year) as I think God is calling me to become a priest. But, I think about diocesan life too and the possibility that maybe it's for me.

Here's the thing: one of the reaons I went with the order is because diocesan priests so often (and it saddens me) seem to be caught up in tasks that must be handled (paying bills, fixing the sink, whatever) but things which are not what priests are ordained for. They seem to get burned out and frustrated and such.

I'd like to ask you, as a diocesan priest, if this has been your experience. Do you find time to do things priests yearn to do (hear confessions, for example) or do you find yourself as more of an administrator?

Thanks for any insight you can offer.

mrsdarwin said...

"Offer it up!" The standard of Catholic mothers everywhere. I heard that many many times (mostly as a teenager), and my children will hear it at least as much.