Sunday, July 1, 2007

Fr. James's Sunday Homily


Mike Christian came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He enlisted in the Navy at seventeen. During the Vietnam War he was captured by the North Vietnamese in 1967. In the same group of captives was Senator John McCain.

McCain gave an account of Christian's determination. Determined to keep the spirits high among the other prisoners as they were being cruelly tortured, Christian was able to gather small items of clothing from some packages the few delivered to the prisoners from the U.S. With the bamboo needle he had acquired and little strips of cloth ripped from the clothing, he painstakingly assembled an American flag and concealed it inside his shirt.

Every afternoon as the American POW’s shared a small bowl of soup, they would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of the prison cell and recite together the Pledge of Allegiance. But, one day as the Communist soldiers searched the cell they discovered the shirt with the flag sewn inside and removed it. Senator McCain relates that their captors returned that evening and beat Mike Christian, a Naval flight officer, severely for over two hours.

Shortly after the beating, Mike Christian, with his eyes closed shut from the beating, sat in the corner of his cell, sewing another American flag inside another shirt.

This brave soldier made a crucial decision: faced with the possibility of more beatings and even death itself, he was determined to make another American flag in order to motivate his fellow POW’s and keep them from becoming discouraged.

In this Sunday’s Gospel narrative, Jesus asks three people to make a crucial decision: follow me and leave everything behind. Each of the three made an excuse and was unwilling to make a crucial decision.

Following Jesus must be unconditional. There can be no excuses, and we cannot be lukewarm about our decision.

Christianity is essentially different from all other religions because the Christian does not merely follow a series of rules and regulations. Christianity is not about what, but about whom. Christianity is about relationship and of course, the greatest relationship of all. Christianity is about a relationship with the best friend anyone could ever have, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Catholic theologian Romano Guardini once wrote: “For Christ there is no norm. Once we meet Him the only way He can be met, in faith; once we renounce all personal judgment, letting Scripture speak with the full weight if its authority, every line of the New Testament suddenly comes alive. The Son of God and man escapes all categories – also those of the genius or religious founder. He steps out of eternity, the unknown, an immeasurable Being revealed to us bit by bit through the word of His messengers or through some personal trait. He Himself surpasses all description, though so many have attempted to tell us of Him – the synoptics, Saints Paul, John and James and Jude – all speak stammeringly. And if the portrait they trace are not identical, then only because Jesus Christ can never be intellectually unified. Faith alone senses the incomprehensible oneness of His many-faceted reality with its beatific promise of eternity” (The Lord, p. 629).

Married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends, and even dear friends understand what relationship is all about. True friendship is the love that transforms, bringing about a new way of being and responding. True friendship is not based upon an arrangement of rules. Friendship goes much deeper than this. Friendship is a relationship.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ. This life of sanctifying grace launches us into an awesome bond with Our Lord. Let us consider two fundamental dimensions of our relationship with Jesus.

First, our relationship with Jesus is personal. He is real because he is alive. He is a living person who sees you, hears you, speaks with you, and walks with you. He is there to bless you and to strengthen you. He is with you to sustain you and to dry your tears. Jesus is always there because He truly rose on Easter Sunday morning. “He has risen as he said, alleluia."

Secondly, our relationship with Jesus is real. Love is not based upon empty words and wishful thinking; love is translated into action. This is why St Paul tells us to live by the Spirit. “If you are guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit, the Spirit is totally against such a thing, and it is precisely because the two are so opposed that you do not always carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5: 16-17).

When Jesus speaks to us in the Gospels about humility, service, patience, chastity, honesty, apostolic zeal and the other entire gospel virtues, He calls us to put these virtues into practice. We show Jesus our true love by doing gospel deeds. Our relationship is so personal, that we become another Jesus. We talk like Him, we think like Him, we feel like Him and we act like Him. Authentic relationship automatically brings us to imitation. When we live authentic Christianity, we experience true freedom. “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5: 1).

Any true friendship can only be nourished through a close relationship. When we spend a lot of time away from a friend, the friendship begins to die. The adage: "Out of sight, out of mind", is very true. In order to love, we need to spend time with the Beloved. Contemplative prayer, the assiduous meditation of the Scriptures, daily reception of the Eucharist, and frequent Confession are the preferred moments of intimacy with the Lord Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Discipleship is a crucial decision because when we follow Jesus, our entire life changes. We are no longer the same.

Recently someone told me about a beautiful experience that he had with the Lord. This man had a friend who became his best friend. His best friend was a devout Catholic, hard working, loyal, and lot of fun to be with. One day, this man’s friend died unexpectedly.

Upon learning of his best friend's death, John fell to his knees and cried out to the Lord: “Why? Why did you take away my best friend?” John was inconsolable for many days, until finally, in a moment of prayer, he heard a soft voice while he was in deep prayer that said: “I am your best friend”.

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