HOMILY FOR CLOSING OF ST. ANN’S NOVENA
17th Sunday in Ordinary time
July 26, 2020
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 David, Father Mark and Brother Andre for preaching this year’s 96th novena to Saint Ann. You have touched this community deeply and on its behalf, I thank you.
Thanks as well to all of you who are here today for this final Mass of our annual Novena to Saint Ann and thanks to those of you who have participated in the novena from your homes. It was a very unusual experience this year, wasn’t it? Yet, while we’d all like to return to the way in which we’ve celebrated these special for the past 95 years, I’d suggest to you that in the midst of this difficult and challenging time, God always writes straight with crooked line!
For all that we’ve missed, so, so many of us have come to appreciate the power of this Novena in a way like never before. I went into the doctor’s office for a check-up the other day at 7:15 in the morning. As I signed in at the desk, the woman sitting behind it held up her novena prayers, reminding me that they can be prayed wherever we are. And that wasn’t the only experience that I had during the past nine days of good and faithful souls recognizing that God is not a prisoner of a tabernacle or even in this great basilica. God is woven into our lives and his power, love and mercy sustains us wherever we find ourselves and whatever the circumstance or challenge facing us may be. Thank God, especially in these times, for the gift of faith!
Not long before the coronavirus necessitated the closing of our churches and schools this past March, I had the opportunity to speak to some students in one of our Catholic schools. In the course of the reflections that I shared, I asked them to consider this fact: someday, everything that any of us possess will belong to somebody else. … Everything – from this ring on my finger, to the shoes that you’re wearing, to the money in your pocket, to the car that you drive, to the phone that you carry – everything will belong to somebody else.
That’s a pretty sobering thought, isn’t it? Yet, considering all of the time, energy and effort that we expend on securing and treasuring the “things” we acquire, one might think that we really do carry all of the things we possess into the next world. Sadly, sometimes the best of us can become so obsessed with creating a lifestyle that we fail to embrace the real treasures of life itself.
Pope Francis has reflected often upon this all too common tendency on our part, particularly as it has emerged within the Church. The fervor of being an authentic disciple of Jesus, the Holy Father noted, “is often replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence. … But this is to deny our history as a Church – as the People of God – which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity.”
In today’s gospel parable, Jesus calls us to embrace the “treasures” and “pearls” of lasting significance and worth – signs of God’s kingdom – the lasting values for which Jesus gave his life: love, justice, forgiveness, mercy and peace. And these aren’t found in department stores or the stock market or on-line shopping sites. No, they shine forth in the love of family and friends – in the support given and received through our faith – in the fulfillment found in serving and giving for the sake of others and not just ourselves.
Make no mistake, while they abound in our midst, these treasures come at a significant price. The price, however, is measured in something other than dollars and cents. Simply put, we’ll never be able to secure life’s lasting treasures by watching life from the sidelines. There, it’s easy to pass opinions on what’s right and wrong. It takes little effort to give lip service to rituals and prayers, while sidestepping the struggles of our world. From the sidelines, we can even quite righteously proclaim respect for human life yet treat some lives, simply because of the color of their skin, the sound of their voice or their land of origin, as if they don’t matter and are unworthy of God’s life and love.
To the contrary, as Pope Francis reminds us time and time again, the price of the true treasures of life is only paid by immersing ourselves in the messiness of life. We have to set aside – “sell off” – our own shallow interests, ambitions, prejudices and opinions in order to free ourselves “to purchase” the lasting treasures of God. The price of those treasures, my friends, will only be measured by the degree to which we are willing to embrace the pattern of Jesus’ life – a life rooted in compassion, selfless love, service and reconciliation.
An impossible task? Not really, if you stop and consider what we’ve been up against for the past five months. We’ve been immersed in a global pandemic that continues to wreak havoc throughout our world. We’ve been isolated one from another – afraid for our own well-being and that of those we love. We’ve been confronted with loss, grief and pain. We’ve found ourselves angry, frustrated and uncertain of how best to move forward.
Yet, through it all, something quite miraculous has occurred. We have been living out our faith – even and especially in the midst of adversity. That’s why we’re here today. So many among us have looked beyond themselves and their own comfort and well-being to serve the most vulnerable. Many of you have reached out to the lonely and have sought to care for the brokenhearted. Countless numbers of you have shared from your bounty with those who have lost so much. In so responding to our suffering world, countless numbers of you have acknowledged, almost instinctively, where the true and lasting treasures of God are to be found. … And they are found within us and among us, aren’t they?
More than we might realize, in the midst of so much upheaval, uncertainty and fear generated by a strange and potent virus, we have made as our own those life-giving words of Saint Paul: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Finally, brothers and sisters, through the mystery and wonder of God – perhaps more than ever before – we have believed during these challenging days the power and promise of these words of faith, familiar to us all: “O glorious Saint Anne, filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, … take the present affair which I – we – recommend to you under your special protection. … Good Saint Anne, mother of her who is our life, our sweetness and our hope, pray for us!” Amen.