I don't blog much these days, but sometimes when I write out a homily, I still post it. Here is my homily from today--Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time--delivered at St. John's Seminary.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, a priest arrived in a major city in Belarus, looking to serve Catholics there. After seven decades of communist rule, however, nobody really understood what he was talking about. Eventually, someone mentioned to him a nearby village where he might locate people who were still Catholic. He discovered a Catholic community there. Seventy years earlier, the priests of that village were all executed. For seventy years, the people would baptize their children, meet nightly for the Rosary, and gather on Sundays in different homes, taking turns reading the Mass from the Missal, but silently omitting the Words of Institution which they knew only the priest could speak. During those years, whenever they would sin in some grievous way, they would go out to the cemetery and whisper their sins over the graves of the priests who had long ago been executed. They hoped that somehow, God would still use their priesthood to absolve them.
The people there kept the memory of Christianity, the memory of Christ alive in the midst of a religious desert. For seventy years, they remembered Christ. They remembered the Mass. They remembered who the priest is. Those of us who are or who will be priests in this current age, need to be men who live and who make present the memory of Christ. The world is forgetting Christ. Even people close to us—families and friends, are forgetting Christ. In front of this, we are called to remember Christ, to live the memory of Christ.
It is so easy to forget Him. We are always at risk of forgetting him. The disciples forgot him! They forgot to bring bread, but they forgot so much more than this! They forgot how Jesus fed the 5000 in the Jewish territory and how there were 12 baskets leftover. They forgot how he fed the 4000 in the Gentile territory and how there were 7 baskets leftover. They forgot how even the Syrophoenician woman was able to receive crumbs from the table and be satisfied.
We too live constantly in danger of forgetting. We forget Christ. We move on to the next thing, without pondering and carrying in our hearts what Christ has done. Christ becomes a vague notion to us rather than a real presence. We forget that he is sufficient. We forget all that he has done for us. And when we forget these things, we seek our sufficiency elsewhere. We seek our sufficiency in our own projects, ideas, and plans.
The priest is a man who remembers, and who makes the memory of Christ present. He does that firstly by his very being. He prolongs the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd in the midst of the flock. Like the disciples who had only a little bread, the priest, with only a little water and a few words, introduces people into the life of the Blessed Trinity. With a little oil and a few words, he brings healing to the infirm. With only a few words from his lips, the worst sins are absolved. With a few crumbs of bread and a few drops of wine, he offers the sacrifice that saves the world. Every day, he remembers and makes present the saving Passion, wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven of Christ.
The priest is not only configured to Christ, but he is also called to be conformed to Christ. To make the memory of Christ present through his own way of life, through his celibacy, his obedience, his simplicity of life, his praying of the Divine Office. The world has forgotten Christ. People are wandering about, unaware that God loves them; unaware that God sent His Son to save them. Even in the Church, even among his disciples, there is always the risk of forgetting. There is always the risk of trying to live Christianity without Christ; to live in moralism. We are always at risk of forgetting Christ.
Our life together here in the seminary is a life of living the memory of Christ together, a life of reminding one another about the presence of Christ. The world needs priests who are faithful to the memory of Christ, priests who live the memory of Christ. Priests who are forever remembering what Christ has done. Remembering that Christ is everything, that Christ is the answer to the hunger of every human person. Remembering that Christ is sufficient. Remembering that Christ comes to feed the crowds, and—like he did for the Syrophoenician woman—he comes to feed each person.
Every day, we look up at that central window and see a basket of bread there. It is as though the Lord is saying to us, “Never forget. I have fed you. I am feeding you. I will always feed you. I will feed whoever comes to me. I am sufficient for you. I am sufficient for all the people you will encounter in your ministry. Never forget!”
Every day, Christ looks at us and commands us, “Do this in memory of me.” None of us knows what our future ministry will look like or what will be asked of us tomorrow. But we know how to prepare for it. We prepare for it now. We prepare for it today by faithfully living the memory of Christ. Whatever we do today . . . let us do it . . . in memory of him.