Sirach 44:1, 10-15; Matthew 13:16-17
July 26, 2021 

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 Robert Carbonneau and Father Bob Joerger for preaching this year’s 97th novena to Saint Ann.  You have touched this community deeply and on its behalf, I thank you.

Saint Theresa of Calcutta – Mother Theresa – spent most of her entire life ministering to the poorest among us.  As you know, she spoke often about the pain of poverty, but not solely the poverty that comes from a lack of material resources.  She spoke too of another form of poverty that she described as even worse than the pain that comes from material want:  the poverty that comes from loneliness – from being unloved, unwanted and without meaning or purpose in one’s life.  She would often say that it’s possible to be materially well off and yet to be the poorest of the poor.

There was a story that Mother Theresa regularly told that captured quite profoundly what she meant as she witnessed poverty in so many forms.  Maybe you’ve heard this story before.  …  One day, she visited what she described as an old people’s home.  It was well run, orderly and clean, with good food and a trained and competent staff.  One could conclude that it was an ideal place in which one’s elderly parents or grandparents could spend their final days and years.  But Mother Theresa quickly came to see that it was not.

She recounted that as she moved among the elderly, she noticed that none of them smiled.  And she noticed something else.  She noticed that the residents kept looking toward the doors of the rooms where they stayed.  “Why is that so?” Mother Theresa asked an attendant.  “They’re looking for someone to come to visit them,” she was told.  “But no one ever comes.”

The Saint reflected on what she had experienced with these telling words, “The physical needs of these poor souls were met.  Yet, they were lonely, unwanted, without any meaning or purpose.  They were indeed poor and to be pitied.”

Brothers and sisters, we’ve just come through what can likely be described as one of the most challenging years that any of us have or will experience in our lifetimes.   For all of the fear, concern, physical suffering and grief that many of us experienced – for all of the pain associated with the loss of employment that impacted countless numbers of lives – for all of the uncertainty and pain that care givers and families endured as they tried to respond to souls clinging to life – the loneliness and physical distancing that we all experienced in one way or another were, for most of us, stark reminders of just how poor we all are, how desperately we need one another, and how very much we must rely on a power bigger than ourselves to carry us through life.

As we slowly begin to emerge from the ravages of this global pandemic, your presence here today and that of the thousands of individuals who have participated in this Novena over the past nine days proclaim to our world a lesson that, through God’s grace, you have been blessed to acquire.  That lesson, as Pope Francis has reminded us time and again during this past year: “No one is saved alone.  We are all indebted to one another, for we are all brothers and sisters.”  And for as capable as we see ourselves to be, we are not in control of our lives.  That responsibility belongs to God, in whom we celebrate our faith this day!

Today’s gospel from Saint Matthew, in its two simple verses, reminds us of all that we’ve received through the gift of our faith.  “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”  …  Jesus proclaims that reality to his disciples after just sharing with them and others the parable of a sower who goes out to sow seeds.  You know it well.  …  While many listeners couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about, the disciples did.  Because their hearts were open to the power and presence of God, they knew well that Jesus was talking about how crucial it is for all of us to take the gift of faith that we’ve been given, to trust in it, to nurture and care for it and to give it away – to allow it to bear fruit in our lives and in the lives of those whom God places within our midst.

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”  …  Because of Jesus’ incarnation – his birth in time and space – God’s presence is all around us, filling our world with love and mercy – giving us hope in times of struggle and challenge.  We have only to look and listen with care.

We know very little about the two saints whom we honor this night:  Saint Ann and her husband, Saint Joachim.  But we can assume a few things.  …  We can assume from our understanding of the era in which they lived and the holiness of their daughter Mary, that while simple people, their hearts were filled with great faith and hope in God’s promises.  We can assume that they loved, cherished and served generously the lives given to their care.  And we can assume that they looked carefully throughout their lives for signs of God’s presence and love.

Perhaps now we begin to understand why God looked to Nazareth, a poor, hostile, outback area of Palestine, in order to find a family in which his son could be born.  …  While the world has long set misguided parameters for greatness, God sees greatness in hearts that are humble enough to acknowledge their need for his mercy and generous enough to extend that mercy to others, despite their own struggles and pain.

This simple reality of God’s plan for creation affirms that God continues to work in my life and yours – if we but open our eyes to see and our hearts to acknowledge God’s presence all around us.  And God continues to use unlikely individuals like Ann and Joachim, like Mary and Joseph, like me and you, to accomplish his purpose in our world – to give hope – and to proclaim a message of life, salvation, mercy and peace.

Take a look around you.  Look at the faces that you see – not just the familiar faces that you haven’t seen for a few years, but faces wounded by pain and grief – faces that have known loneliness and separation – faces that are longing to be healed – and faces that are grateful for God’s abiding presence in their lives.

This gathering is so powerful and encouraging, isn’t it?  …  First, it reminds us that the hope we have placed in God is a well-founded reality as we finally emerge from the darkness of this past year into the light and promise of a world permeated by God’s grace.  It also reminds us that we are not created to be alone but need one another as we journey through life.  That is simply the way that God has chosen to work within our world.

Pope Francis put such profound reminders in perspective with words that he shared as he announced the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly that the Church celebrated yesterday in anticipation of today’s feast honoring Jesus’ grandparents, Joachim and Ann.  During these days that continue to challenge our well-being as a result of the current health crisis, Pope Francis assured our elder brothers and sisters – and all of us – that “the Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time.  He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic.  …  Even at the darkest moments, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to assure us: ‘I am with you always.’”

May we gratefully open our eyes to see the angels that God continually places in our midst – grandparents, daughters and sons, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, pastors, care-givers, and countless numbers of individuals whose names we will never know – angels who have carried us through these difficult times, who give us hope and who touch our hearts with God’s peace.