Thursday, March 24, 2016

We are refugees!


A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After his checkup, concerned, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The woman quickly said, “Tell me what I need to do.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him, it will only make his stress worse. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year or so, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”

This humorous story points out the deepest reality of our faith; one that tonight’s celebration in particular hopes to highlight – we are called to live and live eternally, but the only way to do that is by pairing love with service; loving as Jesus loves – completely, unreservedly, without counting the cost.

Let me share an example from a story I read on a favorite blog of mine called “The Deacon’s Bench” by Deacon Greg Kandra. He shares the story of the 2014 ISIS invasion of northern Iraq. During this invasion homes and businesses were confiscated, and this was the beginning what we now are recognizing as Christian genocide. Christians had to make a choice: pay a heavy tax, convert to Islam, or die. Countless people lost their lives. Tens of thousands fled their homes, with just the clothes on their backs, escaping into the desert.

Some of those who escaped were young men from a seminary in Quaraquosh. They managed to make their way to Lebanon, where they eventually resumed their studies at another seminary. By the grace of God, last Saturday, March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, four of those same young men were ordained deacons. In a few months, they will become priests.

But Saturday’s ordination was something extraordinary. It didn’t take place in a cathedral or basilica. Instead, the men returned to Iraq. At their request, they were ordained in a refugee camp. A priest told Catholic News Agency: “They chose this church specifically because they wanted to be close to the people who suffer.” He added that it would be a sign of hope to the universal church. “Despite the difficulty,” he said, “there are vocations, youth, who give themselves for the Church, to serve the people of God. This is important in our times.”

One of the young men explained the location another way. It only made sense to be ordained in the camp, he said, because “we are refugees.”

The example of these young deacons returning to be close to these people, their people, is a mirror of the example that Jesus gives us in a two-fold way tonight. We celebrate tonight both the establishment of the Eucharist – Christ’s true and abiding presence, His literal closeness, in our midst – and the impulse to let that Eucharist transform us into humble, loving servants – again, a form of closeness to the people of God, especially those in the most dire and desperate situations.

When we look at our world, and listen to the constant political discourse, we can easily be filled with anxiety. In our own most recent memory, we experience despicable attacks in Brussels, Ankara, San Bernardino, Paris and so many other places. But, in these moments we are called to even greater closeness; to remind the world of the precious closeness of God. We are called to fight the temptation to allow that anxiety to become fear and that fear to become a variety of irrational reactions to the challenges we face. We are called instead to remember who we are – we are refugees, we are immigrants, we are people in need of God’s presence in our lives, we are sons and daughters of God. We are called to be strengthened and renewed in that identity and to fill the world with God’s presence.

Pope Francis, who today himself washed the feet of refugees, said, “We identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves. We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them… Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation." Or more simply, Jesus asks us to be close.

We heard tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” In the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have internalized Him in our lives; we most powerfully make Him present through the simple act of washing feet; simple acts of service that make Jesus real; simple situations of experiencing and expressing the closeness that God has with us and desires for everyone.

Tonight, as we enter into this Sacred Triduum, let us fall on our knees in awe of our God who loves us so much that He is close to us and comes to us in this most personal and intimate way through the gift of the Eucharist. Tonight, when we stand and leave this church, let us pledge, once again, to be that close and to be the compassionate presence of God to everyone, but especially the “countless people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”

Someone once said, “When we are young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we may realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.” My friends, let us pledge once again to change the world together.

“‘Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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