HOMILY – FEBRUARY 21-22
This past week, I heard an interview on the radio that touched me profoundly. A reporter in Iraq was talking with an 11-year-old Chaldean Catholic girl whose family members had been raped and murdered by invading terrorist soldiers. She and surviving members of their Catholic village had taken refuge in a half-built strip mall in a town miles away, and had been living there for some weeks. The girl spoke in Arabic, and her soft, gentle words were translated for the reporter by an interpreter. The reporter asked the girl what she missed most, besides her family. She quietly replied, “My school and my church.” The reporter pressed on, “Well, how do you feel about these people who have done such horrible things to you and your family?” Without a quiver in her voice, this 11-year-old girl replied, “Oh, we pray for them all the time. That’s what Jesus wants us to do.”
A statement of faith like that would rather seem to indicate who is dealing death, and who is dealing life. These modern-day martyrs might seem far away, but we are one with them this very morning in the Eucharist we celebrate. Here is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, who told his Apostles, “DO THIS in memory of me.” And then the next day, he cried out to the Father as he was being crucified and tortured to death, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!”
“DO THIS!” These words at the Last Supper were spoken as the Lord began the action of the Paschal Mystery, his passion, death, and resurrection. We understand that they were spoken over bread and wine, and refer to the transforming action of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. But the Eucharist is also the re-presentation of Calvary, of his suffering and death on the cross. And his “DO THIS” echoes over the scene of his crucifixion as starkly and lovingly as it lingers here when we pronounce those sacred words that change mere bread and wine into his Body and Blood.
“DO THIS!” Jesus cries out. And in the desert of Iraq, a little girl and her family, and her classmates, and her townspeople, hear the words of Jesus and DO IT. Right now, right this minute, our brother and sister Christians are DOING THIS in Jesus’ name. And what about us?
You might say, as I have often said or thought on being confronted with someone else’s cross, someone else’s disease, someone else’s suffering: “Wow, I could never do that.” But friends, don’t discount God’s grace. He hasn’t asked you to do THAT — YET. Your time will come, and the Lord will tell you, as he told his apostle St. Paul, “Don’t lose heart, my grace is sufficient for you.” The temptation is there for all of us to lose our faith, to surrender to hopelessness and despair, to listen to the seductive voice of the evil one, who knows very well how to make the good look bad, and the bad look very, very good. But Jesus tells us, “DO THIS!” Can you gain some strength from the living witness of this 11-year-old Iraqi girl?
We often get discouraged in the face of temptation. It’s so easy for us to cry out at such times, “Where is God in all this?” We forget the very simple lesson of the Incarnation, that our God has freely chosen, in the person of his Son, to “become like us in all things but sin,” as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us. It means that if we’re asking, “Where is God in all this?” we’ve likely turned our backs on HIM, and so can’t see him. And all the while his arms are open in a loving embrace, and he’s reminding us, “I was here FIRST! We’re in this TOGETHER.”
We often speak of baptism as “taking the plunge with Christ.” In this morning’s Scriptures, Jesus reminds us again that in our baptism, your baptism, my baptism, little Andrew who is being baptized this morning, Jesus reminds us that HE TAKES THE PLUNGE WITH US! He loves us so much that he freely becomes an integral part of our lives, and will never leave us to face our trials alone. All we have to do is DO THIS, what he does, as he does it, where he does it, when he does it, because he does it. He does it first. He sets the pattern for us. And we walk with him in the shadow — and in the radiance — of his cross.