Sirach 44:1, 10-15; Matthew 13:16-17
July 26, 2022

I’m so grateful to see so many of you here tonight and throughout these days to celebrate your faith and to give thanks to God for that great gift.  I’m especially thankful for the presence of my Passionist brothers in ministry:  Father Jim O’Shea, Provincial of the Passionist community and a good friend, Father Richard Burke, Rector of Saint Ann’s Monastery and Pastor of the Saint Ann’s Parish, and all of the members of the Passionist community as well as the friends and supporters of Saint Ann’s Monastery – all of whom have helped to make these treasured days of prayer available to us all.  I am especially grateful to Father Paul Fagan for preaching this year’s novena.  Your messages have touched me deeply and on behalf of this local Church, I thank you.

As we bring these days of prayer to a close, let us continue to hold in our prayers Father Rick Frechette, who was originally scheduled to preach this year’s novena with Father Fagan.  His selfless ministry to the suffering people of Haiti is beyond measure and a unique reflection of the saving cross of Christ.

Perhaps this year more than ever, as life seems to have returned to a degree of normalcy, I’m struck by the degree to which our experiences during these days of the novena emerge not only from God’s gift of faith but also from the blessings we’ve received from our relationships – our relationships with family and friends.  They too help to make these days meaningful, don’t they?

I can’t begin to imagine just how many of you who have gathered for this novena reflect generations of families that have and continue to implore God’s mercy and sustaining grace through the intercession of Saint Anne.

For me, in addition to my own mother who has been present for so many of these closing masses, I’m thinking of an aunt who, prior to her passing twelve years ago, led four generations of her family to this hilltop each year to pray.  …  And another aunt, who passed away on Palm Sunday of this year at 96 years of age, who would make her way to the basilica whenever she visited from her home in South Carolina.

My most vivid family recollection, however, pertains to my grandmother – my mom’s mother – who passed into God’s eternity fifty years ago this very day.  While her circumstances in life and her health were such that I’m not sure if she ever prayed the novena at this revered shrine, her devotion to Saint Ann – to Saint Joseph – and to any number of saints – is part of the legacy of faith that she passed down to her ten children and their families.

My grandmother immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1912.  She married my grandfather, who, like so many of your fathers and grandfathers, worked in the mines.  Life was hard.  They had very little, raising their children in the midst of the Depression.  But they treasured what they had:  their family, their heritage and their faith.

If you’ll bear with my recollections, I remember the days leading up to her death as if they were yesterday.  In fact, one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in life came from her the day before she died.  …  Eight of her ten children and many of her grandchildren had gathered in her modest home as her health deteriorated.  While confined to her bed for a few days, my grandmother surprised us all by wanting to get up and walk into her kitchen and look out the back door of her house at her beloved garden.  She didn’t say very much as we hovered around her.  But I will never forget the few words she shared.  “I’m so happy.  My family is here.  God is good.”

My friends, as different as your experiences of life may be from those of my grandmother, there is something in those simple words that she shared the day before she died that lies at the heart of this novena and the saints we remember this day:  faith, family and gratitude – faith in Jesus Christ and in the power and promise of his life, suffering, death and resurrection – the gift of family, those relationships in and through which we experience God, and gratitude for the simple blessings that we have all been given through the goodness of God.

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

Jesus shared these words taken from this evening’s gospel to his disciples following the parable of a 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 affirmed his disciples for providing an environment of fertile soil for the seeds of faith that God had planted.  He affirmed them in their willingness to proclaim the kingdom of God.  …  “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.

This annual gathering, my sisters and brothers, and every gathering of the Church at prayer is foundational to authentic faith.  It assures us of God’s love and reminds us that we are never alone because of what we hear and see in the Word of God, in the Sacraments we celebrate – especially the Eucharist – and in the lives joined with our own – all made in the image and likeness of God.

Yet, we know that faith, no matter how deeply rooted in our lives, is hardly a panacea that protects us for the often harsh realities of life.  To the contrary, to speak of faith more often than not also involves speaking of pain, of human weakness and of suffering.

No different from the world that faced Jesus’ disciples, these are difficult and, at times, overwhelming days for all of us.  …  Our country 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.  …  At times, 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.  …  Our world is at war in so many lands, as we pray for peace for so many, and especially for the suffering people of Ukraine.  …  And the poorest among us continue to suffer while the privileged pay little heed to their needs.

Pope Francis acknowledged those struggles well.  “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.”

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

My sisters and brothers, open your ears and listen to the voice of God as he speaks to your heart and offers you a message of consolation and hope.  …  Look within yourselves.  See God walking with you even and particularly amid all of the hurts, the wounds, the brokenness, the guilt, the grief and pain that are yours.  …  But also, look beyond yourselves.  See in the Eucharist – the body and blood of Jesus – God’s love poured forth for you – for me – as we are – with the gifts of life, salvation and peace.  …  And see in this great assembly of believers – in each life represented here and in every faith-filled prayer that is offered – the countless numbers of ways in which God is present in our midst today, enabling us to embrace today and especially tomorrow with hope.

Finally, remember these words of my dear grandmother:  “I’m so happy.  God is good.”  …  Sisters and brothers, trust in the goodness of God and be at peace. God bless you!