Last night, S+L aired the final installment of its Lenten Mission. If you missed our broadcasts, there’s still time before Holy Week to enjoy the three reflections preached by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. Below you’ll find the video and text of the homily from day three of the mission. Visit our Be Holy As I Am Holy webpage to watch or read the homilies from days one and two.
The Holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church
Homily for the Eucharistic Celebration to Conclude the Lenten Mission
March 16, 2011
Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51
1 Peter 1:13-16; Luke 11:29-32
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
In both our first reading from the Old Testament and this evening’s Gospel text from Luke, we hear about the prophet Jonah. The Old Testament text relates in great detail Jonah’s prophetic and difficult mission in the enormously large city of Nineveh. Jonah was bearing words of doom and gloom, announcing that Nineveh would be destroyed because of its sinfulness, faithlessness and evil ways. Yet we know that Jonah’s words did not fall on deaf ears. People listened, leaders heard, repentance began. A people was saved from destruction because God saw their sincerity and had mercy on them.
For people of faith, the amazing Jonah story contains a great message: because the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and turned from their evil ways, God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them. No person, place or situation is beyond God’s mercy and healing reach! It is no wonder, then, that Christianity saw Jonah as a positive figure prefiguring Christ and his universal Gospel message. Through Christ, God approaches his world in a new, decisive way in order to fulfill all the expectations and hopes of the Old Testament.
In tonight’s Gospel of Luke, we also hear of the “sign of Jonah” which is nothing more than preaching the need for repentance by a prophet who comes from afar. The sign of Jonah is interpreted by Jesus himself to be his death and resurrection [Matthew 12:38-42].
Over the past two evenings, we have been reflecting together on the call to holiness that is extended to each one of us. The beginning of that call lies in recognizing our sinfulness and wretchedness, the need for forgiveness, repentance, mercy, healing and wholeness. On Monday evening, the first night of our mission, we reflected on the Mosaic Law that exhorted the people of Israel: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). “Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20:8). Even though these citations come from Leviticus, which was like a code of worship in Israel, the holiness commanded and recommended by God is not to be understood merely in a ritual sense, but also in a moral sense. It is that which renders us, in the most essential way, like to God and worthy to approach God in worship: interior rectitude and purity.
As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ is the living incarnation of this holiness. He himself is presented as “he whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (Jn 10:36). The messenger of his earthly birth said to Mary about him: “He who will be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). The apostles were witnesses of this holiness, as Peter in the name of all proclaimed: “We have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).
Jesus made his own the call to holiness already addressed by God to the people of the old covenant: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” He emphatically repeated it continually by word and by the example of his life. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount he left to the Church a code of Christian holiness. There we read that, after having said that “he had not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them” (cf. Mt 5:17), Jesus exhorted his followers to a perfection modeled on that of God himself: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Since the Son reflects most fully this perfection of the Father, Jesus can say on another occasion, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
St. Peter urged the early Church community to take up Jesus’ way of holiness in tonight’s second reading from I Peter 1:13-16:
“Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I (am) holy.”
These verses are concerned with the call of God’s people to holiness and to mutual love by reason of their redemption through the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-21).
The history of Christian holiness is the proof that by living in the spirit of the Beatitudes proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:3-12), Christ’s exhortation in the parable of the vine and the branches is realized: “Abide in me, and I in you…. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn 15:4, 5). These words are verified in many ways in the lives of individual Christians, thereby showing, down the centuries, the manifold riches and beauty of the holiness of the Church.
What does Jesus Christ demand of us today? Repentance, conversion, a turning away from our own ideas about how God’s Kingdom should operate and a turning toward belief in Christ’s teaching and example about God’s Kingdom that is among us here and now. Yet, the challenges, burdens and conflicts are so great… At times do we not often run the other way to the lake and like Jonah, wait not for a whale but a speedboat or cruise ship to pick us up and take us to a quiet, peaceful place that is much less complicated and less hostile to our message? Like Jonah in the Old Testament, we must bring this Good News of Jesus and the call to holiness to our cities today- cities that are often so enormous, impersonal, busy and filled with noise.
Where do we start? How do we penetrate the hardness of heart, meanness of spirit, and faithlessness around us? We begin by celebrating the Eucharist with devotion and love. We never respond to the violence around us with more of our own. We pray incessantly. We continue to do many hidden, quiet sacrifices each day of our lives with love, peace and joy. We take our Baptism seriously and activate the Beatitudes in daily living. We must never give up in living God’s Word and preaching it to others in words and deeds… and many times with quiet deeds and very few words.
Pope John Paul II: the Pope of Holiness
The Saints and Blesseds of our Catholic Christian tradition show us how to do this. Pope John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers the world today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” of Pope John Paul II are the Saints and Blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. To believe greatness is attainable, we need successful role models to emulate.
Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.
Remember his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. He wrote to his dear young friends throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the Jubilee’s greatest celebration:
“Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.”
Two years later at the concluding Mass or World Youth Day 2002 in Downsview Park on Sunday, July 28, 2002, Pope John Paul issued an unforgettable, stirring challenge:
“And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.”
One of the most powerful lessons he taught us in the twilight of his Pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. Yet nothing made John Paul II waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed Parkinsonian mask, and ultimately his inability to speak and move. Many believe that the most powerful message he preached was when the words and actions failed.
One of my most vivid memories from the last week of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II’s life was during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday evening in 2005, in which he participated by watching the service at the Coliseum in his chapel on television. We were televising that moment from our broadcast centre in Toronto. The television camera in his chapel was behind him so that he would not be distracted from taking part in this ceremony in which he always took part personally. Then-Archbishop John Foley was doing the television commentary in English from Rome, reading the very provocative meditations prepared by a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
At one point toward the end of the Way of the Cross, someone put a rather large crucifix on the knee of the Holy Father, and he was gazing lovingly at the figure of Jesus. At the words, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” Pope John Paul drew the crucifix to himself and embraced it. I will never forget that scene. Those of us working in the master control room in Toronto had tears streaming down our faces. What an incredibly powerful homily without words! Like Jesus, Pope John Paul II has embraced the cross; in fact, he embraced the crucifix of Jesus Christ on Good Friday night.
Some of your may remember that in the years before his death, as his body fell apart and the suffering increased, people both within and outside the Church suggested that Pope John Paul II should resign. Pope John Paul II said on several occasions as he read what people were saying: “Jesus did not come down from the cross.”
Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the face of Jesus in a remarkable way.
“Lumen Gentium”, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness “is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others” (LG 39). In this variety “one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God…and follow the poor Christ, the humble and crossbearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory” (LG 41).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, when the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who went into the Ninevehs of our day and preached the word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and give us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.
That a person is declared “Blessed” is not a statement about perfection. It does mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Rather, it means that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.
In the life of Karol Wojytyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” On April 2, 2005, he died a public, global death that stopped the world for several days. On April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House.”
As we prepare for Sunday May 1, 2011, the Beatification of this great servant and priest, let us beg his blessing for us, our diocese, our parishes, our families and indeed upon our nation that was blessed to have this holy man among us. May he intercede for us and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican.