[I was honored to preach at the First Mass of Thanksgiving of Fr. Angel Marrero, who was ordained for Baltimore on Saturday. Here is the Sunday homily.]
Today, we return to the Sundays of Ordinary Time.
What's so great about that?
The great celebrations of the Easter season even required a couple weekends of extra festivity with Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi. But now, here in Ordinary Time, what's the big deal? It's just life as usual now. Should we even bother?
Even the readings seem to settle back into the everyday business of life: Paul is just telling us how he got his start, and Jesus is chugging along, raising young men, inspiring faith.
"Ordinary" stuff as far as we are concerned.
Bring on the summer vacations!
But hold on a second. Is this time really ordinary? Are there wonders still at work? Let’s try and pay closer attention for a moment.
Today, we gather and rejoice with Fr. Angel as he celebrates his first Mass of Thanksgiving. Here, in this place, the love of Jesus calls us together to recognize the gift of priesthood, the gift of faith, and the gift of the Holy Eucharist. These are no ordinary things. Rather, all of them flow from the very heart of God.
In our First Reading, the poor widow at Zerephath lost her son. He died, and she was utterly alone. In her complaint against God, we can understand her pain and loss. Elijah, the man of God, also experiences her pain and prays that God allow the boy to return to his mother. And he does! At this, the woman proclaims her faith in Elijah's word and places her trust in him.
Jesus, too, encounters a poor widow who has also lost her son. Our Lord does basically the same thing – “moved with pity for her” – and the young man is raised from the dead and returned to his mother. All see and come to believe.
This is certainly not ordinary stuff for ordinary times.
Miracles, indeed. Miracles that produce faith and trust in God.
But is that what it takes for faith? Are our lives so ordinary with life and death, love and loss, that it takes extraordinary events to make us aware of the good things around us? Do we really need the “lightning bolt moment” to make us believe that God is present and that He loves us?
Fr. Angel has shown his ability to console and sympathize with those in pain. He has also been moved with pity, showing our Lord’s Heart in his own actions, and this will serve him well in his Priesthood. In a few moments, Fr. Angel will pray over bread and wine and they will become the Body and Blood of Christ! He couldn't do that last week. This is a miracle, and it happens at every Mass - "ordinary" stuff, as far as we Catholics are concerned, but a miracle nonetheless. Do we recognize that? More important: do we believe?
Ordinary time comes upon us at regular intervals in the liturgical year. In fact, most of the year is “ordinary” - like our lives. However, that does not mean that it is devoid of miracles. We only lose our sense of wonder. We get caught up in the extraordinary and miss what's right before us.
John Lennon once sang, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." He was singing a song to his young son, comforting him and letting him know how much he loved him. These widows in our readings today loved their sons very much, too. I am sure that they had big plans for them. However, as it often goes, it usually isn’t until we lose something or someone that we realize how special they truly are.
Ordinary time is not time to plan for later or to reflect on the past. Certainly, we can look forward and remember fondly. But we should not do so at the expense of the present. “God visits His people,” as the folks in the Gospel say today; and He is here, now.
Today, Fr. Angel’s chalice is a gift from another priest – Fr. Joseph Kitko – whom I knew, and who passed away in 2009. Fr. Joe never knew Angel, but his sister does, and she and Fr. Joe’s family have passed this gift along to Angel – an ordinary act, but an extraordinary gift. Many priests wish that they would inspire more vocations to the priesthood, and they are often thinking of setting dramatic examples for others. However, the gift of a vocation is best passed on in the ordinary actions of faithful living of what God has called you to be. Fr. Angel, you will inspire others to follow a call to priesthood by simply being yourself, by living your vocation joyfully. This is how God called you, and it is how He continues to call others.
The love of God that raised the boy at Zerephath, the compassion that moved Jesus to raise the widow’s son at Nain, the love that gathers us all here today is all the same. It is the presence of God in our midst.
And there is nothing “ordinary” about that.