Given at St. Stephen Church, Caseyville IL
May 29, 2011
Author and homilist, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher
More or less what I proclaimed for the homily. It was nice that we also had a baptism at Sunday Mass and that event could be referred to (although it is not in the written text) as a visual experience of what was being proclaimed in word.
Text based on John 14:15-21
All of us have probably seen the images of the destruction caused by the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri this past week. On the television news, in the newspaper, on the internet there were many images of the swath of destruction caused by the tornado in Joplin. Most striking was a before and after photo of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. All that was left standing was a cross and statue of the risen Christ. It would not be unusual for the people of Joplin to wonder where the heck God was in the midst of this destructive violence. It is possible to hear the folks saying, “Have you left us orphans, Jesus? Why did you not stop this tragedy? Are we abandoned by you?”
I recall waking up one Saturday morning at my childhood home when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My sister would have been maybe 3 or 4 at the time. Mom and dad must have gone outside to talk or maybe go on a quick errand thinking they’d get back before my sister and I woke. So, there my sister and I were standing at the living room picture window, looking out wondering what happened to our parents! I remember saying to her, “I guess they’re gone. We’ll have to get to the orphanage. I know there’s one in Belleville.” Unknown to us, mom and dad were probably in the kitchen watching this drama unfold. They quickly came in and reassured us they had been there the whole time! I was so glad!
This is, perhaps, an analogy of the experience of the children of God the Father. Sometimes we don’t see God is right there all along. We presume God is gone. Yet, the Father is still present. Our grief, our pain and lack of understanding of God’s ways prevent us from seeing that the Father never leaves his children untended. God is present in those times God seems absent. We, the beloved children are looking outward toward the world that seems changed instead of being aware of the presence that is in the household, the family of God.
Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “I will not leave you orphans!” Jesus is true to his promises. “I will give you my Spirit, an advocate, who will remind you of this truth. I am with you.” Jesus gives us his very breath of being, his love, in the person of the Holy Spirit. Just as a husband and wife cannot physically grab onto the reality of what they call their love for each other, but feel its effects we can feel, we can know the love that flows from Father to Son and Son to Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is infused with this Spirit, this very existence of God. The church is the Sacrament of Christ. In this part of the Gospel Jesus is preparing his followers for to re-tune their perceptions. He will soon ascend to Heaven. The physicality of an individual body (albeit a resurrected body no longer constrained by time and space) will cease to be available to the disciples. BUT, a new encounter with the person of Jesus is about to come to the forefront of the disciples’ experience. That new presence of Christ that will never leave the disciples is the CHURCH. The Church, the communion of the baptized, is now the physically encounter-able “Body of Christ” on earth. This is possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and Son placed in each and every baptized person (Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist…). Where the Church is, there is Christ!
The baptized become the “children of God.” And like any good Father or Mother, God will not abandon his children. They are not abandoned even when life is full of death and destruction because the Church is there, making really present the love of Jesus. Wherever the church sacrifices for the sake of others, where it reaches out in compassion to meet the needs (emotional, physical and spiritual) of the broken, suffering human person, there is Christ. Because of the baptized we are never abandoned, we are never a “motherless child.” The Church is our Mother, who gave birth to us in her womb, the baptismal font, made fertile by the Spouse of the Church, Jesus Christ. And since the Church is also the Body of Christ, the children of Christ are never left to face the world on their own.
All of the sacraments, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage, all sacraments reassure us that Christ is near, in a real way, perceivable if we know where to look.
So, God did not abandon Joplin. The church building of St. Mary may be destroyed, but the Church still gathers there this Sunday for Eucharist recalling that out of the tragedy, the sacrifice of the Cross, there came new life. This building we worship in could be blown down today (in fact if you recall our history, mighty winds did blow the walls of this space down during its construction in 1962 but the building was restarted) the Church would still be in Caseyville. God’s presence would still be known because we are the baptized who attempt to the best of our ability as a community to practice the unselfish love of Jesus that was planted in our hearts when we were washed of sin and buried with Christ in the font.
Children sometimes think that their mother or father must have eyes in the back of their heads. “How did she know I was going to do that?” “How does dad know I took something from his room? He wasn’t there!” Children don’t always understand how perceptive, how full of wisdom their parents are. God, who will never abandon us and is like Father and Mother, will always have his eyes on us ready to step in and save us from the terrors of living. It just takes us, the children a life time to realize the fact and see that the Spirit of God is with us all the time, even in the destruction of death. Then we shall move into the new home prepared for us by Jesus, the resurrected body like us and see him as he is, no longer mediated by the sacraments but face to face.
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