Another “must share” homily from Omaha — I am trying to stretch them out into August to not overwhelm you with too much bright light at once. The priest who homilized is in his 70’s, with the heart of a young man.
The Gospel that day that he preached on was this:
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Here are his words, reconstructed from scribbled notes jotted down on a crumpled piece of paper I found on the floor.
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Who are you? Who do you think you are? Ponder anew. Jesus tells us today: we are his brothers, sisters, mothers. The Father binds us all as one family if we do His will, which means looking to Jesus, the Son, as our model.
Growing up, my father was not there for me. Now, he was a good man, a hard working man and was always there for us. But he was never with us, with me. He was always distant, somewhere else when we was with us, and he never really spent close time with me as a boy. He was a strong and stoic figure that I feared, admired, but could not say I loved.
I grew up and matured, let go of the hurts and resentments. Forgave him for not being there, for not showing affection or concern for my little world, for not allowing me to have childhood memories playing with my dad. Jesus healed many of the shadows of anger and resentment in me and taught me to love my father and not nurse my own wounds.
As my father got older, he grew sick and I wasn’t sure how long we’d have with him. I just knew that now was the time to share with him my regrets, but without anger or hurt. Just so I could understand why. Why couldn’t he be there with us.
He listened attentively and, after a long pause, told me about his own childhood. He had never, not ever once spoken of his father to us. I knew only that his father died when he was a teenager. He told me that his own father had abused him, beat him, rejected him as his son. “Before [my father died,” he said, “he had already left me an orphan.” I asked my father why he decided to tell me this and not answer my question directly. He said, again after a long pause, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I never knew what it was like to be a son. To have a father. So I don’t know how to treat you as a son.”
It was a sacred moment.
Years later I asked myself while on a retreat, “Then how have I learned how to be a father as a priest?” It was clear at once to me as the exchange of Jesus and Phillip immediately leapt into my mind [14:8-10]:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”
Jesus, so intimately close to the Father, had shown me the Father and invited me into His own Sonship, to experience what it means to be loved by the Father, what it means to be a beloved son. There in the Heart of Jesus I had learned how to be a father, but Jesus did it so humbly I hadn’t even noticed He was doing it. I thought, I don’t have to imagine what the invisible, seemingly distant Father is like! The Son, who became human to make divinity “closer to me than I am to myself,” bears within Him the Father [John 14:11]; and He’s the perfect Image of the Father, His Word [John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1ff]. Looking at Jesus’ human face, into His eyes of love and compassion, is looking into a mirror of the Father’s invisible face, into His compassionate eyes. Jesus also says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” [Matthew 11:27].
I asked Jesus again and again as I looked at the crucifix: “Show me the Father.” I heard in my heart these words describing the prodigal father: “…while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” ([Luke 15:20].
We say Jesus is God-with-us, but Jesus also opens us to the vision of the Father-with-us. Playing. Rejoicing. Working. Running with unspeakable joy toward us.
T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I had been on a quest to recover the love I had never had, but yearned for, not knowing how to recover it. And when I came to Jesus, who stretched His arm out to me and invited me into His family, I found myself back to by own beginning; to the moment when God, in the womb of my mother, had breathed the breath of life in me and loved me into existence. Jesus led me, and I arrived where I started, and I came to know the place for the first time. New wonder. New joy. New gratitude. New life.
And the Spirit, who had been leading my exploration all along, murmuring indiscernible groans within, finally became fully articulate and cried out in me: “Abba! Father!”