Thursday, June 10, 2010

Real Love

In honor of my 10th anniversary of ordination, I now represent the homily from my first Mass – 10 June 2000

Pentecost Sunday (B) – St. Ignatius College Prep, Chicago
Text: Acts 2:1-11 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12, 13 John 20:19-23

I must admit, I find it rather daunting to stand before so many people who represent all the various stages of my physical, professional, and spiritual life. It’s like looking at an abridged edition of the Pat Fairbanks biography. In one sense I’m glad it’s I who am speaking up here, rather than many of you who could probably tell better tales than I about that saga.

A biographical question for my family: Do any of you remember my first job? When I was 15 I worked at the A&W root beer stand. I guess the actual title of that job, not to give anyone any ideas, was soda jerk. I had to wear one of those funny paper hats with my name on the side. And my job description at the beginning was very simple. It could be summed up in 3 words: Draw root beer.

I would stand at the front counter all day. Take a cold mug and … draw root beer.
At first, that’s all I did, draw root beer. Then my job description became more complex: make popcorn – cook foot longs – count money and finally by the time I was in college, the boss trusted me with all the money and I got to “close out cash register.”

That was my first job. And in many ways, that simple job of serving people refreshments started a change in me. A change that I do see reflected in the new job I started yesterday … Jesuit priest. The title could be also Catholic priest, minister, servant, presider. They don’t have any paper hats for me to wear in this job, but I do have these robes and from time to time this white collar thing. The job description? Well, it’s similar to my first job, … but it can be summed up in 2 words: Draw near.

As a priest, my job is to draw near the people of God through the ministry of the Church. It’s as if the Lord says, “Patrick, you draw near, so that I may draw near.” In this way the priest brings the Lord’s own body close. And when the Lord draws near, people change.

Once during my formation as a Jesuit, I was working in a hospital in Detroit. I was sort of an orderly on the dialysis unit, taking care of simple things for diabetic patients. I remember being asked by the nurse on duty to go in and see what this older man, Mr. Johnson needed in the room down the hall. So, I walked down to his room, peeked in the door, and asked, “Mr. Johnson do you need anything?” And he whispered back to me very calmly, “I need a shave.” Well giving someone else a shave is like trying to tie someone else’s tie for him. Ya just can’t do it from a distance. You’re in an awkward position. And I’d never done that to anybody, so I felt very uncomfortable, …until Mr. Johnson told me that he usually doesn’t shave himself anyway; he liked to go to the barber and have it done. And so if he weren’t uncomfortable with it, I could at least try it. So, I found myself drawing near to him, physically and spiritually, bringing to him that which he wanted the most, and finding myself doing what the Lord would do. What the Lord IS doing.

That experience, and many others like it, have been small affirmations for me that the Lord would like to employ me / hire me to draw near to his people, through the work of the spirit in the church. As a man and wife draw near within the context of a family, as parents draw near their children, or a health care worker or a counselor draws near through their jobs, so the Spirit would have me draw near as a priest. Ordained or not, we all receive our job descriptions from the one boss. Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel reading shows us the boss, the risen Jesus, as he draws near to friends of his who had become estranged. The disciples were fearful. Locked behind closed doors. In an upper room. Avoiding the bustle of the street. The mood was probably uncertain, because PEACE is the first thing the Lord brings to them when he draws near.

Now many of you may picture that upper room as a place like this fifth floor chapel. A spacious room, Big enough for the kind of drama we hear about in the version from the first reading the account of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles: lots of mysterious activity fierce wind filling the entire house, fire everywhere, lots of people talking in tongues. A big production.

But the account we find in the gospel of John, the same apostle who drew near to Jesus at the Last Supper and laid his head upon the breast of the Lord, the description we find in John is one of a close group, perhaps huddled together in fear, so close that Jesus is able to breathe on them.

And what I find particularly striking about this version of the Pentecost story is that it describes exactly what the priest does at the Mass. My friends, this is a job description for the presider:

Jesus came and stood before them. Jesus said to them, Peace be with you. He breathed on them, inviting them to receive the Holy Spirit. He showed them his body. He told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” “As you draw near, so I may draw near.”

Today, from this upper room, at the end of Mass, I will send the assembly out on a mission of the Spirit to bring the Lord’s touch and breath to other people. As you heard today’s readings, perhaps you too may find a job description for yourself. What sort of language will you be called to speak in the days ahead? Who is it that needs you to draw near? St. Paul reminds us, we are many bodies, and we each have our own specific gifts, but we share the one Spirit. And it may just be your body that brings the right breath of refreshment to someone in need.

Last month, in my parish back in Boston, I served as a deacon for a former pastor of that parish. This aged gentleman, Fr. Readdy, had returned to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest. Fr. Readdy was about 80 years old and he had very serious Parkinson’s disease so he couldn’t turn the pages of the Sacramentary book, nor was he able to hold the chalice and paten up at the consecration. Well, this was my last time serving as a deacon, and I felt like it was my final exam.

As the two of us sat there next to the altar, I had to find the right pages for him, I had to whisper to him that he should be standing, I had to be sure he didn’t trip on the steps, at one point during the Creed, I had to fish around in the fabric of his alb to switch the microphone on and off for him.

Unexpectedly, I was called to draw near to Father Readdy, in the same way that the Spirit unexpectedly drew nearer to me. This is exactly how the Spirit works in all of us. Descending upon us, whispering with an unassuming, almost unnoticeable breath. Guiding us and operating in the very fabric of our lives, until, over time, we realize we are actually employed by the Spirit.

We have all been hired to perform, in our own circumstances, simple acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The fruits of the Holy Spirit. The job description of all Christians. So, if yesterday was my ordination, the day when the Lord calls ME forth into a new job, a new life, then today, Pentecost is the day when the Lord calls US forth into a new job. A new life.

(At this point I put my old A&W hat on my head).

Thirty years ago yesterday, June 10, 1970, was the day I started work at the A&W root beer stand. On that day, I walked out of our house in Hamilton, Ohio, headed down a few streets, over the bridge, through downtown Hamilton, past the court house and department stores, walked to the other edge of town to a far off and busy street, and I started the work of drawing closer to people. I broke forth from the security of locked doors into the risky business of social and personal relationships. That’s where the Spirit first gets to work.

I am thankful to my earthly Father for calling me to that job, and today at this liturgy, I am thankful to my heavenly Father for bringing that Spirit to fruition. Also at this liturgy, I lay aside this symbol (the paper hat) and gladly receive two new symbols of my new life: the chalice and paten. Gifts from my family, gifts which represent our communion, our drawing near to the Lord Jesus Christ in our drawing near to each other.

May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Should Have Known Better

A few weeks back, as I sat in the dentist’s chair rigged up with suction, oral instruments and cotton … I started laughing. The hygienist asked why I was laughing and I gestured to my mouth as if to say, “How in the world can I answer that question.” I waved to suggest that I would tell her later. Afterward, as I got up to leave, she asked again why I was laughing.

I told her, “When I was 9, I remember sitting in Dr. Gaylord’s dentist office ready to get the regular teeth cleaning. That hygienist back then got the electronic toothbrush ready and chirped, 'So, which kind of toothpaste do you want today? Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound.' What a dilemma! I thought and thought and replied, 'Oh, I’ll take the Yogi Bear.' She then approached and started to whirr my teeth to sparkling white.”

Yeah, so why was I laughing? It just dawned on me at that moment that my hygienist back then very likely had only ONE flavor of toothpaste at her disposal. Somebody must have instructed her to “give kids a choice.” How nice of her to include me in the saga of my own dental care. Kinda makes modern health care a little less mechanistic. At least that’s what it seemed like.

In any case, it's fun to open up memories from time to time and see how active God was in making life a bit more adventurous for you. Keep smiling.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tomorrow Never Knows

A few minutes ago this morning, at the start of the Mass of Mission and Thanksgiving to end the school year at Saint Ignatius College Prep, one member of the class of 2010 (Daniel Brito) came forward to take hold of his class banner and solemnly proceed out of the Church. That exodus symbolized the moving on of the senior class to larger and greater things.

Daniel’s class graduated last week, and I had the honor to invoke the Holy Spirit at that ceremony. The invocation is presented here as my blessing for a fruitful and relaxing summer.
Congratulations to the Class of 2010.

Gracious God,
On this night to recognize and celebrate the class of 2010
On this night when, for the final time, they gather as one body
On this night when they step forward into the light of life
On this night when they accept the challenge of real discipleship
On this night when they seize the opportunity – the kairos – to express real gratitude

Father of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
We ask that your Holy Spirit may descend upon this body at this time and to bless these students, and bless too their parents – those present in time and present in spirit.

Gracious God,
Bestow your abundant gifts upon these men and women: these graduates at graduation.
- Give them hands to fold in prayer, from time to time, for you know them inside as truly Religious.
- Give them eyes to look on diplomas with pride, for they are indeed intellectually competent
- From this night forward, Give them voices of optimism and promise, for you have made them open to growth
- Give them feet to walk with the poor, for they intend to move ahead, on their own, committed to Justice
- And give them arms to embrace their parents in gratitude, for they are indeed loving, fully aware that love ought to be shown more in deeds than in words.

As so let us pray for the greater glory of God: Lord teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that I am doing your will. Amen

Saint Ignatius, pray for us.