A First Mass Homily

Homily for the First Mass of Fr. Vincent Strand, S.J.  
St. Bruno Parish, Dousman, WI -- June 5, 2016

1 Kings 17: 17-24;  Galatians 1: 11-14a, 15a,c, 16a, 17, 19;  Luke 7: 11-17

Two women.  Both are heart-broken. They have lost their husbands, and now, their own flesh and blood, their sons.

The Prophet Elijah was a boarder at one widow’s home during a time of drought and famine.  God miraculously provided food for the three—the prophet, the widow and her son—but now the son dies.  Elijah feels her pain.  He prays.  And God brings the boy back to life.

Jesus was recognized as “a great prophet,” in the tradition of Elijah.  He feels the widow of Nain’s pain and is moved with pity. Then, with his own power because he is Son of God, he brings the youth back to life.

Commenting on this story, Pope Francis said:

This “compassion” is God’s love for humanity, it is mercy--thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us. What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! … The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man.

The restoration to life of the two sons is beautiful, but temporary. They will die again.  Their being raised to earthly life is a sign of something better. Because Jesus rose from the dead, he has power to give not just a temporary extension of life, but eternal life.  He can raise people from the dead to live forever with him in heaven.  This is part of the Creed which we proclaim together:  “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Jesus shares this power to give new and eternal life with the Church, his Body. 

Vincent, Jesus shared this power with you yesterday. Jesus called you and yesterday he empowered you to heal broken hearts and souls.  Pope Francis, in a recent interview book entitled “The Name of God is Mercy,” said that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not like going to the dry cleaner to get stains removed.  It’s much more, much deeper. It involves healing wounds.  You are now an instrument of this healing and life-giving grace.

St. Paul, as we heard in the Second Reading, experienced the merciful love of God that took him from being a persecutor and zealot to proclaiming the love of God revealed in Jesus.

Pope Francis, at age of seventeen, on September 21, 1953, went to confession and had such a profound experience of God’s merciful love—and the healing and peace that it alone can give—that he chose to become a Jesuit priest.  You have also experienced the profound merciful love of Jesus that has drawn you to this vocation.

In the Novitiate you wrote:

As I grew more and more aware of God’s great love for me, suddenly my vocation seemed simple: to bring the love of Jesus to the world. For me, the love of Jesus was symbolized by the love of his Heart. I felt Christ calling me to share the love of his Heart, to be an apostle of his Heart. This, it seemed to me, was at the core of what it means to be a Jesuit. I knew it was to the Society of Jesus that God was calling me.

The image of the Heart of Christ that you chose for your ordination card is striking.  It’s not pretty, not sentimental. It was etched into a wall in one of the cells in the starvation bunker in Auschwitz. It’s just down the hall from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell. 

And on the wall opposite this image is another—
the one that is spoken of in the quote from Pope

Benedict XVI that you chose for the back of your card.  It’s a crucifixion scene—the Cross.

[We know that in the end—as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly—the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world.]

In that place of darkness—symbol of humanity’s inhumanity, of sin, and the hatred and violence it brings, there are images of love—the Cross and the Pierced Heart

You were ordained yesterday to bring the light of Christ’s love into the darkness. You will do this through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

You will do this through the prophetic ministry of the Word, speaking words that challenge us to believe in the love of God and to have hope when it is so easy to despair; to, as some have said, comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable; to speak and write the truth that saves and to do so with love.

But more, you are now able to bring to people the very One who forgives, heals, and gives eternal life.  When you celebrate the Eucharist, Christ makes himself present through you. He makes present his life-giving death on the cross and his resurrection. Through you the bread and wine become the Body and Blood for us to receive and to be transformed. 

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this in Cologne Germany at World Youth Day 2005. Your brothers were there, but you were not able to go because you had just entered the Novitiate.

Speaking about the Last Supper, Pope Benedict said:

By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all.

In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.

To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

But it must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.

Through your service at the altar, Vincent, we receive the Bread of Life, the food that transforms us, in Pope Benedict’s words, into “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.”  As “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood,” all of us are now empowered to bring the merciful love of God into our own little corners of the world. The Eucharist, of which you are now a special servant, makes this possible.

We thank God for the call that you received and the grace with which you were able to accept the call. 

St. John Vianney, patron saint of all priests, said:

"The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”

This love involves sacrifice, something you’ve obviously learned from the beginning, from the sacrifices that you’ve seen your family make. Thank you for offering yourself to be a priest, a Jesuit, an apostle of the Heart of Jesus.