Monday, February 18, 2013

A homily on hope (and how to be Pope!) 2/17/13

Eight years ago my eyes fixed on a book with an interesting title: How to be Pope-What to do and where to go once you're in the Vatican. In the event that I should receive a phone call in the next month I thought it would be good to do some prep work. According to the book, it says that the first thing I need to do is choose a name. I like the name Phineas. I could be Phineas the First and posthumously will be known as Phineas the Fisherman. Apparently I will not receive a salary but the good news is that I will have access to the Popemobile which gets approximately 9.6 miles per gallon. The other good news is that I will not have to pay taxes. No Vatican City residents have to pay Italian taxes. There is a pontifical pharmacy and a supermarket. I will also need to choose a Coat of Arms. I have decided that there will be a fly-rod on one side, a river on the other and my episcopal motto will be Jesus' last words on the cross "It is finished!" because the Catholic church will be finished if I am allowed to be Pope (lol).Some interesting trivia, because I like to exercise I inquired what the facilities may be. The book indicates that "through the ages, pontiffs have used different methods to unwind. JP II, an avid outdoorsman, enjoyed hiking in the mountains and swimming, while Pius XI was more of a full-blown mountaineer, ascending both the Matterhorm and Mont Blanc. He also kept 16 cars in the Vatican garage for his personal use. Pius IX meanwhile, loved billiards, playing against other Cardinals and Swiss Guards as much as he could. Julius II loved water and spent most of his free time on boats. A small gym is housed in the Apostolic Palace, where you can go to do a few minutes on a stairmaster or life weights. John XXIII installed a bowling alley that is regularly used by members of the clergy. In addition to the papal gardens, which are open to the public, you have a private garden on the roof of the Apostolic Palace." Apparently I will still be able to follow my beloved Red Sox, the book states "JPII insisted that the ceremony installing him as pontiff be held early enough so that he could watch an important soccer match on TV." So there you have it. A little bit of Papal trivia.... The message we hear this weekend is a message of hope. St. Paul says in today's 2nd reading that "the Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. That is the word we preach-for if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." After an eventful week-a blizzard, the resignation of a Pope, a meteor that injures 1000 in Russia, we all need hope, and the source of our hope is God. Sometimes in our life there can be temptations against hope. Perhaps someone you love has died, maybe someone you love is dying and your prayers are not being heard and you are losing hope. In today's Gospel, the devil tempts Jesus to be a superhero-Jesus Christ superstar. Sometimes that is the message that we hear and we can get discouraged. The Word Among Us has a beautiful message for us. It says, simply, "God's people have always had to face one fundamental temptation: forgetting the Lord and all the ways he has blessed us. The trouble is, when we forget our past, we tend to think we are alone in the present, that God isn't with us to help us and guide us." In today's first reading Moses exhorts the people to remember their history and to offer God their "first fruits" in gratitude. Perhaps you have lost hope, perhpas you want to have hope but don't know where to start. Today we will let Pope Benedict XVI do the talking. I will share some words from his encyclical letter Spe Salvi "On Christian Hope." This past week I was very frustrated by the snow-like you, I felt trapped. It was, however, also a time to reflect on how the Lord has blessed me. I remembered a mass I had with seminarians in Rome with a then Cardinal Ratzinger. It was avery simple mass-no pomp and circumstance, but it was in the chapel of the German college. We met with him for a group photo after. When he came to the United States in 2008, I concelebrated the mass with 500 other priests at the old Yankee stadium. You can imagine my surprise and joy when the MC handed me a ciborium and led us onto a platform leading right to the altar. I must have been no more than 20 yards from where the Pope was standing. What an amazing experience-I was standing where Derek Jeter stood! In the book Light of the World pope Benedict has a beautiful answer to one of Peter Seewald's questions. I wish it could be shouted from the rooftops because many times the message doesn't get through: "The church is not here to place burdens on the shoulders of mankind, and she does not offer some sort of moral system. The really crucial thing is that the Church offers Him." Do you hear that? The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum where perfect people play. That is why the Christian message is a message of hope. Regarding hope: here are the Pope's words: "Hope," he says,"is a key word in Biblical Faith-so much so, that in several passages the words hope and faith seem interchangeable." He continues: "A distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well." As he says, "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hope has been granted the gift of a new life." Pope Benedict XVI then shares the example of Saint Josephine Bakhita who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 and is "an example of a saint for our time who can help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with God for the first time." She was born in 1869 in Darfur, Sudan. "At the age of nine she was kidnapped by slave traders,beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled. As a result of these beatings she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian counsul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying masters who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of master, the living God, Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now, she heard that there is a God above all masters, the Lord of Lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to knwo that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her-that he actually loved her....what is more this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was awaiting her "at the Father's right hand." Now she had hope-no longer the modest hope of finding Masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: Through knowledge of this hope she was redeemed, no longer a slave but a free child of God. On January 9, 1890 she was baptized, confirmed, and received her first holy communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice-the future Pope St. Pius X. On Dec 8, 1896 she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian sisters and from that time onwards she felt she had to spread to everyone she met the liberation she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ. The hope born in her which had redeemed her she could not keep to herself: this hope had to reach everybody." And so it is with us, we have a living God, a God who is with us, a God who gives us hope-Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI through his teaching and preaching the last 8 years has been a witness to hope and St. Josephine Bakhita, in her encounter with Jesus Christ, shows us that no matter what life throws at you, there is always hope!

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