HOMILY FOR CLOSING OF ST. ANN’S NOVENA
Sirach 44:1, 10-15; Matthew 13:16-17
July 26, 2018
I am grateful for the presence of Father Jim O’Shea, Provincial of the Passionist community, and so thankful to Father Richard Burke and the members of the Passionist community as well as to the friends and supporters of Saint Ann’s Monastery for making this incredible time of prayer and worship in honor of Saint Ann available to us all. I am especially grateful to Father Rick Frechette and Father Jack Conley for preaching this year’s novena. You have touched this community deeply and on its behalf, I thank you.
There’s a story that was told years ago by Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boy’s Town, which today, 100 years since its founding, still provides care for the neediest and most helpless of boys. Maybe you’ve heard the story before. … A frail, ten year old boy was brought to Father Flanagan after his mother had died. One of the first things the staff did for the young boy was to provide him with a warm shower and clean clothes. The boy rather liked his new clothes, but to the surprise of the staff, he kept his old, tattered cap. In fact, he clutched it tightly when they tried to remove it. Only after some coaxing did the boy agree to exchange it for a new one. But before accepting the new cap, he ripped the lining from the old cap and stuffed it into his pocket. “Why did you do that?” Father Flanagan asked the boy. “Because,” the boy responded, “that lining was a part of my mother’s dress and I have to keep it because it’s the only thing I have to remember her.”
Our memories are pretty powerful things, aren’t they? They can unsettle, heal, challenge and console us. And when rooted in faith, they give us hope! Just consider for a moment the treasured role of memory in our gathering this evening as we bring this novena to a close.
Perhaps our very presence here tonight evokes the memory of a parent, a grandparent or some treasured soul who instilled in us the seeds of faith that prompt us to participate in this novena every year. … Maybe the focus of our prayer during these treasured days is for a loved one who has passed and whose cherished memory consoles us in the midst of our struggles. … And more than anything else, the memory of Jesus and the gift of himself that he passed on to us during the Last Supper on the night before he died in the Eucharist provides us with nothing short of life itself and peace beyond measure. “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood poured forth for you. Do this in memory of me!”
Pope Francis captures the blessing of our memories best, “Jesus’ love which gives birth to and sustains our faith comes down to us through the memory of others – witnesses – and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church. The Church is our Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith.”
Using the treasure of memory, recall again the words from this evening’s gospel, “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”
Jesus speaks these words to his disciples following the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. In that parable you might recall that some seeds fell on rocky ground – they sprouted quickly and then withered and died; some fell among thorn bushes that grew up and choked them; and some seeds fell upon good soil and brought forth a great harvest.
In telling the parable, Jesus affirms his disciples for providing an environment of fertile soil for the seeds of faith that God had planted. He encourages them in their willingness to announce the kingdom of God, despite the fact that they will undoubtedly do so in the midst of a disappointing world that is adverse to what they believe and proclaim.
“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.” Jesus speaks these same words to you and to me this evening.
No different than the world that faced Jesus’ disciples, these are difficult and, at times, overwhelming days for all of us. … Our world is filled with voices of hate, rooted in religious and cultural differences. … In this modern and sophisticated era, people are still discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the way they speak, their country of origin, their lifestyle, and what they don’t have. … Immigrant families – the foundation for this great land – are being used as pawns to support political ideologies on both sides of the issue. … Even the Church has let you down by the abusive behavior of leaders who should know better and decisions of those who cared little for the most vulnerable. … And the poorest among us suffer while the privileged pay little heed to their needs.
Yet, the very faith that we proclaim this night – more than anything else – gives us a reason to move forward in the midst of the struggles of our world and the challenges of our lives. Listen once again to Pope Francis, as he reflects upon this unique gift and its power. “Faith,” he says, “is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything. Rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path (of suffering) with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see light within it.”
I’m so grateful to Father Rick and Father Jack for providing us with hope and helping us to discern how best to navigate the turbulent waters of life that envelope us every day. … You’ve challenged us to be more than we believe ourselves capable of being as disciples of Jesus. … Above all, you have reminded us that we are loved – that God hasn’t given up on any of us and never will. He continually calls us, as we are, to participate in his life and to proclaim his message of love to our broken world.
Brothers and sisters, these days of prayer during this annual Novena to Saint Ann are a treasure beyond imaging for those of us who seek God in our lives. … Why? … Because God is here. … Because in the memories that you hold in your hearts, in the stories of your lives and mine, in your desire to grow in faith, and especially through the Word of God and the power of the Eucharist, God’s presence is all around us, enveloping this hilltop with his love and mercy – giving us hope in times of struggle and challenge.
So keep your eyes opened to see the signs of God’s love. … Listen with care for his voice as he speaks to you a message of hope. … Hold fast to the memory of these days. … And take your place with Peter and the other apostles – with Joachim and Anne – and with Mary, their daughter and our mother – in proclaiming the good news of Jesus and the salvation that God has promised to his people.