The following is a Homily delivered the weekend of September 8 and 9 by Deacon John Maria, who is scheduled to be ordained in June 2019.
Good morning! I’m happy to be back at the Cathedral Church of St. Catharine of Siena. After several weeks off following my summer assignment here, I’ve returned to Seminary for my last year of academics.
And while it was indeed just a few weeks since I began my break in mid-July, I feel like I’ve lived many lives since then. It’s been a brutal few weeks.
The release of the Grand Jury Report and the recent allegations have been painful. Much has been said and written already. I suspect that many of you, like me, are emotionally exhausted. Shock, anger, frustration, profound sadness and tears. It’s been rough.
Our hearts and prayers go out to victims, their families and all affected. The people of the Cathedral parish have been in my thoughts and prayers. I have been humbled by many people reaching out to me, to encourage me and the other seminarians as we continue our studies.
When I returned to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary a couple weeks ago, I met with my spiritual director, a retired priest in Broomall. I hadn’t spoken to him since May, so he asked how my summer went. I said, well, my deacon assignment at the Cathedral was great, the family is good, and except for feeling like the world has blown up in the last month, I’m personally doing fine.
He smiled and said: “Do you still believe in God?”
“Still want to be a priest?”
“Yes, Father. Without a doubt, yes I do.”
Why would I want to do that?
My friends would joke that as a fan of the New York Jets, I am well-acquainted with mockery, rejection and disappointment. And while that’s true, that’s not why.
I still want to be a priest, and a Catholic, because of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, is still our Savior. He is still the Way, the Truth and the Life. He fully understood the darkness of sin, and that’s why He entered into it. He took upon Himself our sins, and the consequences of sin, the web of dysfunction, that surrounds us. He didn’t come to show us a way out, but a way through.
Jesus founded One Church to continue His mission, to teach and sanctify: the Catholic Church. He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail upon it. He would protect the Church from error in its official teaching. He keeps His promises. We can still trust the teaching of Christ, the deposit of faith entrusted to the Catholic Church.
And yet, He did not take away the free will and the capacity to sin grievously, from us or from any individuals in the Church, even its leaders, from His own hand-picked twelve apostles, to this day.
He has given us His truth, and His Holy Spirit to guide His Church, and all the means of holiness. He gave us His flesh and blood, pouring out His life for us, once and for all on the Cross. In the Holy Eucharist, He comes to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to draw us deeper into Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In all of the sacraments, He still restores us and strengthens us in the life of grace. Our readings today shed light on this incredible gift, and the mission of Christ. St. Mark tells us that Jesus went into the region of the Decapolis. Although this was near the Sea of Galilee, it was not home. It was Gentile territory. There was hostility to Jews. In a real sense, it was a place of darkness.
This was actually Jesus’s second trip there. On the first trip, He cast demons out of a man. The people came to Him and begged Him to leave. And He did.
And then He came back. People knew about Him, that He had power. They brought to Him a man who was deaf and mute, and they begged Him again, this time, to heal the man.
As Saint Mark tells it, Jesus’ response was complex. I might even call it weird. It’s one of those things in Scripture that is so detailed and strange, it had to be burned into the memory of the eyewitnesses, and the evangelist.
That strange process had seven steps. Trust me, I counted them many times. He took Him aside, touched his ear, spit on His hands, touched the man’s tongue, looked to heaven, groaned in prayer, and spoke the word, and the man was healed.
Jesus could have just healed him spiritually, with a glance. He could have even done it sitting on a cloud in heaven, with His divine remote control. But He didn’t.
He entered into the darkness. Physically. Personally. He took the man aside, as if he were the only one there.
He also chose to use physical signs to bring spiritual power to restore souls. One might say that He used outward signs to give a spiritual grace. Jesus chose to use sacramental signs.
I would even speculate that perhaps there is a lesson in those seven steps, perhaps a hint of the seven sacraments He instituted and entrusted to His Church.
And so, do I still want to be a priest?
To bring cleansing from sin, and to give new life in the Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of Baptism.
To bring His Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity to the people of God on their journey through this world, in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
To speak the words of Christ’s Mercy to repentant sinners, restoring them to life in Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
To witness the marriages of men and women, who seek to image the love of Christ and His Church, in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
To anoint and prepare souls to meet their Savior, in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
To be a witness to Christ, to teach and sanctify and protect the most vulnerable.
Yeah, I still want to be a priest. More than ever.
The Lord has brought His Light into darkness before, and He will do it again. In every age of the Church, there has been the darkness of sin. Some darker than others. And in every age of the Church, He has brought His Light and His healing, and He has raised up saints to carry the cross after Him, and shine His Light.
I’m not a patient man. I don’t want to wait 5 or 100 years for that renewal.
As we prepare to receive Him in Holy Communion, let us pray for the grace and courage to be those saints.