Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mercy on the Way - Homily for the 30th Sunday in OT

What do you want me to do for you?

I can’t get this question out of my head or my heart. Here is a blind man, begging along a street, crying out to Jesus, and Jesus stops and asks him:

What do you want me to do for you?

God stops. He listens. His heart is open….

For the blind man, his request to see again wasn’t just a request to receive his sight—it was—but also something more (it always is). Back story: in the ancient Jewish culture, blindness was seen as the result of sin, either the person’s or that person’s ancestors. As a result, the blind were not typically allowed into the temple to worship. (Somewhat akin to how lepers were treated).

That said, the blind man’s request is not only to receive his sight, but to be able to re-enter the Temple and to worship the Messiah, the Son of David whose reign would be seen through the miraculous healing of the blind (cf. first reading). Ironic: only the blind man could see the Messiah….

God heals the man and brings him back into communion. Jesus does so from a heart of love, and not only for the man, but also for the crowds who were surrounding the man—crowds who were not physically blind but spiritually so. Perhaps they would see His mercy and “see.”

What do you want me to do for you?

*          *          *

On Monday, I had the chance to go on pilgrimage with a few of our parishioners to the Cathedral in Belleville to see the body (major relics) of St. Maria Goretti. The line was quite long—some people waited as much as two hours to see her!—and so there was plenty of time to read and to pray. Along the line, there were large banners which told the story of St. Maria Goretti.

She was 11 years old when she was canonized a saint. (Remember this, my young children! You too can be a saint, even when you are young!—and to us who are old, let’s not give up!)

Maria was poor. Her dad died when she was very young and so the Goretti’s had to join themselves to another farming family. There, Maria learned very early to have total dependence upon God. Maria loved Him and His laws. Just like St. Dominic Savio—also a young saint—Maria’s love for God was such that she would rather die than sin.

One of the boys of the house, Alessandro, often tried to get Maria to sin. He was not a good young man. One day, he tried to do some very bad things to Maria. She refused and told Alessandro that she did not want to break God’s law. Alessandro, in a fit of diabolical rage, critically wounded Maria fourteen times.

For the next twenty-four hours, Maria suffered greatly. Her doctors could not save her. In her agony, Maria—age 11—spoke her final words:

            I forgive Alessandro and I want him in heaven with me.

Soak in that for a moment.....

            I forgive Alessandro and I want him in heaven with me.

Her last words. This is what Maria wanted Jesus to do for her.

What do you want me to do for you?

“I want Alessandro in heaven with me.”

*          *          *

Alessandro was one of the meanest criminals to enter into the prison. For six years, he blamed and harbored resentment. Then, one night, St. Maria visited him in a dream. She came to him and then stooped to pick up fourteen lilies, one for each of the wounds. She handed each lily to Alessandro and with each lily she said, “I forgive you.”

This mercy changed Alessandro. He repented. And he changed his life.

Thirty years after being convicted, Alessandro was released from prison. And on Christmas Eve, he went to Mrs. Goretti’s home. He knocked on the door. Mrs. Goretti opened it. … Can you imagine? Seeing your daughter’s murderer there? How many of us would utter Jesus’ words?

What do you want me to do for you?

Not I.

Alessandro looked up and said, “Do you remember who I am?”

Mrs. Goretti replied, “Yes.”

Alessandro, a convicted felon, pitiful and low, then asked, “Do you forgive me?”

In his heart, Alessandro was answering Jesus’ question. Jesus, I want to be forgiven—by you, by Maria, by her mom.  That is what I want you to do for me… He was the beggar. He was asking for mercy.

Mrs. Goretti looked at him and had mercy, saying, “Alessandro, God has forgiven you. My daughter has forgiven you. So yes, I forgive you.”

At that moment, Mrs. Goretti brought the repentant criminal into her home as her adopted son. Alessandro would go on to become part of the Capuchin order, where he would write in his will that he hoped his life would be a testament to God’s mercy and how the little saint, Maria Goretti, had saved him.

*          *          *

What do you want me to do for you?

As I stood in line, Jesus was asking me this question. What do you want me and Maria to do for you? I knew what I wanted. I wanted forgiveness. I wanted people who I had hurt when I was younger—I wanted them to know that I was sorry. We all have things that we regret, words and actions that we can’t take back, people who have moved on and who we cannot offer our apologies. I wanted peace and innocence and holiness. I wanted to become a saint. And I wanted the same for my parishioners, especially for those struggling with forgiveness, for those who had been hurt, for those struggling to be pure and holy. This, Lord, is what I want…

I had fifteen seconds with St. Maria Goretti. I knelt down before her and prayed. She was so small… she was dressed in white… and…

I cannot put into words the inundation of grace in that moment. My heart was overwhelmed by a presence, an innocence, a tremendous sense of forgiveness—a moment only interrupted by the usher asking the next person to come forward….

I went to the closest pew and knelt. And I will admit: I wept. But it wasn’t sorrow. It was relief. They were tears coming from a heart knowing again a quiet joy, a hopefulness, a peace, a being safe, and—most wonderfully, wonderfully of all—that I had, so very truly, a new friend: St. Maria Goretti was going to be with me in my priesthood. The little, innocent saint would walk with me.

The words of the psalmist came to me:

            The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy!

*          *          *

A repair man came to visit St. Maria. Salt of the earth man-- today, he was dressed up in a suit. One of the newsreporters interviewed him as he left and I caught a part of his story. He was having trouble at home; his family was hurting and he didn't know what to do. The newsreporter asked him: "So, why are you here?" The man simply replied: "Because I believe she can help me."

Isn't that a wonderful faith?

And our faith tells us that someone even greater than St. Maria is here. Yes, Jesus is here!

What do you want Him to do for you?

Do you have regrets that you carry, sins that burden you? Do you need to be forgiven? Do you want to know God’s mercy? Do you want to be able to forgive? Are you alone—do you want Him to be with you? Do you struggle with anxiety—do you want peace? Do you feel tempted to doubt or despair; do you struggle with faith; do you long to hope again and to love and be loved?

Come to Jesus. Come and ask Him. Lord, I long to see! Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!

From the St. Louis Review, pictures and article of the day..

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