St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)
1 Kings 17, 17-24 + Psalm 30 + Galatians 1, 11-19 + Luke 7, 11-17
They are coming out of the villiage and Jesus is going in. They are going in opposite directions. Death meets life; and then what? Don’t you suppose that the death march turned around? Just that image itself tells the story Luke leaves us immediately before disciples of John come asking if Jesus is the one they are waiting for. From just this story, we know the answer.
Funeral processions are not the sort of gathering that would invite or attract anyone. Here in Oklahoma we have an fine old custom of pulling over, or stopping our cars when we come upon a funeral procession; but we don’t turn around and follow it. No one sees a funeral and joins the crowd unless they are part of the grieving family or friends. But it isn’t that way with Jesus. He should have ignored that funeral procession. In fact, he approached it at some risk, becasue he could have been defiled. He was running the risk of becoming unclean, but he is drawn to this woman. He sees her need. She never asks for anything. She never says a word. He is wounded by her pain. It is not the death of the young man that moves Jesus to act, but the plight of this woman who in that time and age just as well be dead herself when as a widow she looses her only son. This is really a funeral procession for two. With no man, she has no home, no identity, no future. We can see through and in this story how culture and society abandons a woman without a man. There is as much social critique here as there is miracle. The miracle and the story unmasks the social condition that turns people into the poor and the vunerable. That is a homily for another day.
Setting aside the awe and wonder of a miracle, we are left with unmistakable evidence of a God who goes after the vulnerable, the sad, the grieving, and helpless. Whether you are a mother whose only child has died, or a family who have lost everything in an Oklahoma spring storm, there is one unmistakable fact: God will be found there. I can’t help but be struck by the two parallel readings today in which the sons are returned to their mothers. It’s as though these children do not belong to death but they belong to the one who gives them life. So it is with us all. We belong not to this world, but to the one who gives us life. The work of Jesus is to lift us up, to call us from death to life, to turn us around and lead us back into the city, the new Jerusalem.
It is just a little over 11 years ago that I stood here for the first time and told you that after speaking with the other priests who had moved that time around, I was convinced that I had won, and I have never doubted it since then. It is not that Saint Mark Parish is better than the Cathedral, or St Thomas More, St Joseph in Union City, Mt St Mary High School or the Old Cathedral, all places I have served in the last 45 years. It is simply that it took me so long to get it right and understand and believe what the priesthood is all about and what it means to be the shepherd who teaches, leads, and sanctifies; who proclaims the Kingdom of God and stands at the sacred altar praying for the people who asssemble with him, giving thanks and glory to the God who calls us his own and reveales himself to us in so many ways. In truth, the parish of Saint Mark owes a lot to those other communities who taught me so much, tollerated and forgave my mistakes and immaturity. Laughed with me and at me, forgave me, and let me learn from their joys and sorrows how to be priest.
One day when riding in the car with my father I told him I thought I would be a priest, he said: “Be a Jesuit.” I said: “Why?” He said to me: “Because they’re the best.” I said, “What if I just become a parish priest and do the best I can.” He just looked at me and kept on driving. We never spoke of it again, but he was the first person in line for communion at the Mass of my Ordination. I had never seen him take communion before.
As some of you know, one moment in Salvatin History, the Annunciation, holds my imagination more than any other. That young woman in Nazareth said “Yes” to God and what she understood was God’s plan and will for her life. Because she said “Yes” we are here today, and this world is full of hope becasue our lives are full of faith. She knew when to say “Yes” and I think she knew when to say “No.” How else could she have been free from sin?
Forty-five years ago, I said, “Yes” and then laid down on the floor in the old church of Saint John the Baptist in Edmond, Oklahoma while the assembly sang the Litany of the Saints. An outrageous April thunderstorm was taking place which my classmates, who were present, considered to be a sign from God. At the end of the litany, Charlie Meiser, the master of ceremonies said: “Rise” just like Jesus said in the Gospel today.
I still want to say “Yes” to God. Forty-five years ago, I had no clue about what was ahead of me, where I would live, what my life would be like, and what was going to happen. I feel the same way right now. I have no clue about what lies ahead, what God wants, or what the rest of my life will be about. In April 1968 I felt as though the seminary had done the best it could to get me ready. I did not have a lot of confidence. I just had lot of hope. Now in June of 2013 I feel as though you have done the best you can to get me ready for whatever is next. I have no more confidence now than I did then, but I have a lot more hope.
Look at these young men and women. For the past 11 years, they and others who could not be here today have made the journey down that aisle with cross, candles, incense, and the Gospel Book. You, young people, are the very heart and the very reason for this parish, for this church, and for my life. You are the very reason for Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death and His Resurrection. We are here for one reason: to pass on to you what we have received from those who have gone before us. We want to pass on to you our love for Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. I want to tell you one more time: don’t you dare betray or abandon what your parents and their parents have given you. It is the best, and leaving it for anything less is foolish. Don’t be going out of the village when Christ is going in. I want you to remember one thing from our time together. Remember that what he said to those apostles he still says to you: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
There are a couple of more weeks for us to gather here before I get some rest and continue deciding when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” It seems odd to be having this joyful celebration of Thanksgiving when I am still gong to hang around till the end of the month; yet it does give me time and more occasions to say Thank you again and again and again. No matter where any of us are in the months and years to come, let’s keep walking down an aisle somewhere toward an altar where in the mystery of God’s providence we shall always be one in Communion, and for as long as we can, keep remembering one another gratefully and prayerfully.