Sunday, May 3, 2015

What I Learned from the Emergency Room this Week - Homily for the 5th Sunday in Easter (2015)

Just Visiting Father

As many of you are aware, Father Holway has been in the hospital for a few days because of abdominal pain. He’s going to be ok and he’s getting better, but he won’t get out of the hospital until sometime tomorrow we hope. The bad thing about his pain is that he hasn’t been able to eat or drink anything since Tuesday; it’s been all IV’s for him. Can you imagine? Fasting for four days straight?

On Friday, I went to visit Father. On my way there, I thought to myself: I should go to the local Five Guys burger joint and pick up a double bacon cheeseburger and fries…. You know, to eat it in front of him.

No, I really didn’t do that.

Ok, I did.

No, in all seriousness, I went and visited Father for an hour or so and we talked without hamburgers and I relayed many of your greetings to him. He thanks you for your prayers and for the many of you who came by and visited on Wednesday. There were so many of you that the nurses put up a sign on his door, something to the effect of “I’m sleeping.”

So, we had a good visit talking about what’s been going on and how he’s doing and all that. And then, after an hour or so, I left and continued the rest of my day.

I visited.

I didn't remain.

Remaining would have looked different. It might have looked like Tuesday night….

Remaining With Father

On Tuesday night, before all of this happened, Father Holway knocked on my door and was doubled over in pain. He told me that he was going to drive himself to the hospital. “No way,” I said, “I’m going to drive you.” This was an emergency after all.

So we got in the car and I did 80 down highway 94. We arrived at the emergency room at around 10pm and Father received an initial check-up. The place was hopping. We would have to wait for the doctor. So, Father and I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. 10pm became 11pm, 11pm became midnight. One of the staff members, a Catholic, saw us priests and gave us a holy card—St. Gianna. It was her holy day. It was like God was saying, "I'm with you." And St. Gianna: "Me too."

Eventually, at about 2am or so, Father was brought into his room and was examined and diagnosed. He would need to stay. I told him I would hang around and… remain. I had remained with him for four hours anyway. But he told me to go—after all, he said, “you have my 6:30am Mass now!”

And, admittedly, I was kind of happy he said for me to go. I was very tired; I knew I needed sleep; I knew Father would be ok. I had remained with him for a time, but now it was time to go and do my thing. I had remained with him, but now I had to go.

So, I did what Jesus was talking about, right?

Remain in Me

Actually, no. Jesus doesn't say remain with me. It’s remain in me.

Remain in me.

What’s the difference?

Remaining “with” someone means that eventually I get to go home and do my own thing. Remaining "in" means that "my own" thing doesn't exist-- because "my own" means something individual to me. Remaining "in" means that I am no mere individual, but in communion with someone.

Let's unpack this.

Remaining “with” someone still keeps me separate from that someone—I’m here and God’s there and Father Holway’s there… And because there is that separation, I don't possess the totally of what it is to BE that someone else. So, for example, with Father Holway, when I remained with him, I felt compassion for him, I felt empathy, but I was not the one needing the morphine. I was with him, but not in him.

That’s the difference. Remaining with someone always keeps us at some kind of distance, however small that might be. Remaining in someone…. well, that’s a whole different story.

And it seems physically impossible. How can someone remain IN someone else?

The best way we can visualize this is in the basic teaching on Holy Marriage: the two become one. The man and woman don’t just remain “with” each other like roommates; they are literally one: body, blood, soul, humanity—united by the power of God such that no one can separate them. And because they are one, because they remain “in” each other, the couple—if they are really doing this—will begin to think like each other, to act like each other, to will what the other person wills. They become one—a communion.

This is the depth of communion that Jesus wants us to have in Him. He doesn’t want us to simply swing by on a Sunday and visit, and then to go home and do our thing, having forgotten about Him. He doesn’t simply want us to think about him in a fleeting moment on any given day and to have a nice feeling because of that and then go out and sin.

No, he wants every. single. aspect. of our lives. united. in. Him.

To be thinking like He thinks, to will what He wills, to love what He loves. In every part of our life.

Not to be just visiting; not to be just with; … but to be IN. In communion.

The Vine, the Branches, ... and the Sap

The best way Jesus can make us understand this is through the image of the vine and the branches. He is the vine, we are the branches.

Vines have sap and nutrients that go through them. Branches can only survive and bear fruit if they receive this sap and its nutrients. If something obstructs the branches from receiving the sap, the branches will die and they won’t bear fruit. In order for the vine to grow, the dead branches would have to be cleared away. Hence, Jesus says,

            [The Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit...

What does all of this mean?

The sap of the vine is grace. The life that comes from the vine (Jesus) and which enters the branches (us) and keeps us alive is grace. Without His grace, we die. And this death is not simply physical in nature, but spiritual. Hear Jesus again when He says:

Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.

What He is talking about there is hell. The branches (us) that are not in union with Him (the vine) and receiving His grace (the sap) are hell-bound.

Do you see how important this is?

Those who cut themselves off from grace—whether by failing to receive the graces offered through the Sacraments, or by cutting themselves off through disbelief or through immorality—those who obstruct the flow of the sap of grace will be spiritually dead.

Would you like to know if you are spiritually dead?

John in our second reading writes to us:

Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.

Keeping the Commandments—if we do not do this, we do not remain in Jesus; and not remaining in Jesus, we are bound for hell. It’s that simple.

Now, please don’t take Jesus for a superficial judge. Rather, it is precisely because Jesus wants us to avoid this that He is so adamant in telling us. Notice how many times He prays for us to remain in Him. On the night before He dies, for example, He prays that we might be one in Him and in the Church—hence He gives us His very body, blood, soul and divinity that night in the Last Supper, the Eucharist, which is Holy… Communion.

His body and blood entering into us—and to what purpose? So that

whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live in me and I in him (Jn 6:56).

And to show how important communion is, He also warns:

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you 
(Jn 6:53).


How could we go back to business as usual after that?

Let’s be honest: so many of us, myself included, receive Jesus in Holy Communion, but then go back to business as usual. This is not remaining in Jesus. That’s “just visiting.” And because that’s not remaining, the grace which we receive doesn’t actually bear fruit.

And that’s worthy of hell as Jesus Himself just told us.

And that’s why Paul writes with passion to his flock: 

As God's co-workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain (2 Cor 6:1)

So, it’s not enough to simply be here and to come and commune. This has gotta change you. It’s gotta get in you. Change your thoughts, your words, your actions.

What Fruits Are We Bearing?

During this past week, there were a lot of people who were brought by God to receive a greater union and a deeper intimacy with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Many young children received First Holy Communion; our young adults received Confirmation; we had two marriages yesterday; and the thousands of other people who came up to eat the Body of Jesus and drink His Blood.

But if they are not here today… they are dead.

This is because the commandments are connected to union. So, in the case of Sunday Mass, Jesus is calling His people to union with Him in Holy Communion, but His people have chosen other things to do on His Sabbath. And so they skip. Or they leave early. Or they receive and go off to "more important things."

They are just visiting.

As such, they are not remaining and will therefore wither and die. And if they haven’t yet, it is only by the miraculous grace of Jesus which begs the Father to not take them away, not yet.

Live in me, says the Lord. I give life in you. Remain in me. … It is not enough to simply be with. We must be in.

The way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

If we are in Jesus, if we are really remaining in Him, will bear fruit from the Spirit He gave us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the fruits of the Spirit. They are:

charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity (CCC 1832)

Are you bringing forth these fruits? Are you modest? Do you have self-control? Are you patient? Are you generous and kind and gentle and joyful?

Without Me, You Can Do Nothing

Look at the news cycle; look at what is going on in our world; what we see are the fruits not of God, but of a life without grace. There is a new walking dead out there, entire communities who are separated from God and His grace; we see it advocated in our courts, in our schools, in our entertainment—shoot, we do it ourselves too. Where is the good fruit?

We know how this ends. We have seen the results of the social experiment of a life without God’s grace, right? So let’s just say it: that social experiment is over! We've seen the fruits of decades without God in the public square. Our world cannot live without grace. Jesus Himself said so!

            Without me, you can do nothing.

Nothing! And if we should do anything, it is because He is helping us by His grace—a grace that we so often take for granted.

Hear that again:

            Without me, you can do nothing.

That doesn’t mean, “without me, you can do some things…” or “without me, you can do B- work.” No, without me, you can do NOTHING.

Perhaps we should pause for a moment and reflect on how much we take for granted here and how much we think that we are the ones who are doing everything…..

Perhaps we should pause and examine how we receive communion, examine whether we are simply visiting or actually remaining in Jesus such that our lives are changing and bearing good fruit.

People who leave Mass early without an emergency, I will be quite frank: you have no union! People who are in a hurry: you have no union! You are the rocky soil, the trodden path, that will bear no fruit! This is why your lives have not changed.

Our world is only getting worse because we are content to just visit, but not to remain in Him. You are trying to do everything without Him. But without Him, you can do nothing!

This is an Emergency 

Brothers and sisters, if your loved ones were to come to you in an emergency, you would take them to the hospital right? And you’d do so because you love them. And because it’s a matter of life and death.

Well, we are dealing with something more than just life and death. We are dealing with heaven or hell here. And we are all, our culture, is in an emergency. People don’t even know it.

It’s high time that we wake up and take this seriously and stop being content with just “making it” here.  It’s high time that we stop turning a blind-eye to our brothers and sisters who aren’t here today, chalking it up to “their decision” and “their life.” Who would ever say such a thing in an emergency?

“Well, he doesn’t want to go to the hospital, I guess I’ll let him die….” That’s insane!

We have to stand up and take charge and not only reach out by weak invitations to our brothers and sisters. We have start pulling them by the arm and bringing them here.

So, if you are coach of a team and you know that there are parents who don’t take their kids to Holy Mass on Sunday, consider it your duty to pull them in. By the arm if you have to. And if they refuse, ask them point-blank:

 “Do you want to go to hell? Do you want to contribute to a God-less world?”

And they may hem and haw and say they have Jesus and that they are “good people.” You have something to say to them. And because you remain in Jesus, it will be His words that will become your words and He will speak through you. And He will remind them through you that  

Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.

And maybe that’s where we all need to begin examining our lives. Are we really united here? Do we allow the grace of the Eucharist to enter into our every aspect and facet of our lives?

Are we remaining in, or are we just visiting?

Because, as you might now notice: this isn't just about communion with God, it is also about communion with each other. Community, after all, requires communion.

Let us pray.

Let us pray that we might be more united in the communion offered us by the sacraments, the communion offered us by the commandments and the moral life, the communion offered us by the teaching of Jesus through His Catholic Church.

Let us pray for those who have fallen away from the sacramental life. Let us pray for those who have fallen away from the commandments and the doctrines of the Church, doctrines whose Truth is guaranteed by Holy Spirit.

Let us pray also that those who belong to other Christian communities might become one with us in the Catholic Church. Let us ask God to strengthen us to invite them home.

And let us pray that we never take this faith and this grace for granted.


UPDATE: Father Holway has returned from the hospital. Deo gratias!

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