“If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing…”
Here’s a homily I gave in Connecticut to the a gathering of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and their families. It was the Sunday after the first profession and renewal of vows for some of the younger sisters, who were all present along with their families.
On June 28, 2012, I packed everything I thought I could possibly need for the summer into two backpacks, one on my belly and one big on my back, got a cab and headed to the airport in Rome. I was excited for the adventure of a lifetime. A few hours later when we landed in Tirana, Albania we had to take one of those buses to the terminal and I’ll never forget that moment when I stepped out of the plane at the top of the steps. I looked at the advertisement on the side of the bus and I hit me hard, I didn’t know what those words meant. I didn’t speak the language. Those of you that know me know how much I love languages and talking, so this was really stressful. But it wasn’t just the words that had me doing my best Dorothy impression, “Toto, we’re not in Missouri anymore.” I suddenly felt somewhat nervous, concerned about the uncertainties, the total lack of knowledge as to what would take place during my mission.
A few minutes later having passed through customs I collected my bags and walked out into the main hall where I immediately spotted Sr. Flora, who I only recognized by the habit, as I’d never met her before. She then took me to the Apostles community in Dajç, where I was welcomed with open arms for lunch. As soon as I got there, all of my worries and concerns were gone. Why? I had never met these four women whose house, table and food I was now sharing. But in a deeper sense, it was if I had already met them, because I had already met all of you. There we were, within a few minutes laughing and having a good time as if we’d known each other a long time. Why? It wasn’t just because they dressed the same as you all, but because the habit is an external sign of an internal reality, a charism, a certain zeal and love of Christ which was instantly recognizable. So to Sr. Elizabeth, Mahilia and Christina, in the words of our reading from St. Paul today, you have put on not just some new clothes, but a new self, you now belong in a deeper way to the this lovely group of sisters who surround and support you here in Hamden, across the US and all over the world.
Yesterday we all gathered together, what a joyous gathering it was, to celebrate first vows and renewal of vows. This putting on of the new self. For the rest of us, such celebrations can provide the opportunity for us contemplate how it is that we are called to do the same, so whether we made vows just yesterday, or many years ago, ordained some number of years ago or just 5 weeks, newlywed or married a long time, we should all be inspired, and strengthened by the example and witness of these 8 young holy women. A reminder that we too are to put on this new self in Christ, through our joy we are renewed in our zeal and love for God.
But what does this new self look like? It’s not like we can just flip through a catalogue to pick out what a new self looks like? You won’t see it in any of the back to school ads? There’s no app for that.
To get that answer we need only turn to today’s Gospel reading in which our Lord reminds us, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” This same food which, “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Which gives LIFE to the world.
So as Fr. Bob mentioned, this new self is not to be mopey, crabby and miserable, we are to be full of LIFE, but how? what’s the source, let it be because we have been nourished by the Eucharist. Thus the Eucharist, that which gives us life must impact our entire being and all our doing. Let it become the Caritas Christi that Urgets nos. And we’re not just alive when we are singing so beautifully in the chapel, but in all that we do, everywhere we go, everyone we meet, Christ’s presence may be recognized in us.
Some of you may have heard Mother Clare telling some of my stories from Albania, and I shared some of them with you all as well. When I worked in the Health Clinic in Dajç, I help the sisters in the clinic and sometimes, when there are really bad cases, we go out to their homes, in which we encounter incredible amounts of suffering, for things that we take for granted here. Like diabetes, many of us either are, or know someone affected by this for us, controllable disease. We see advertisements for the little strips on tv. In Albania there are no strips, no shots. So inevitably people lose circulation in their feet, lose the ability to walk and then eventually call the sisters to come cure their wounds as they lie on their deathbed. One night after a long day, after having seen terrible things, I was visiting with Sr. Loreci, and i asked her, “sister, how do you do it? I’m only here for a little while but you do this day in and day out, how do you handle so much suffering?”
She looked up at me and said, “If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing, If I couldn’t receive him in the Eucharist, I could do nothing”
What’s even crazier, and some of you might have heard this story because I know Mother Clare found out while she was here on her visit to the US province, this same sister, the day before my most recent visit to Albania, had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister if not go after the guys who did it. But what did sister do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ, washing the feet of diabetics and healing the sick.
That sisters and brothers, is what it means to be one who lives, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” That is the recognition that this bread from Heaven, “gives life to the world.”
May this Eucharist we celebrate, amongst the many joyous celebrations of this weekend, be that which gives us life, not just here and now, but in every aspect of our lives so that we who have put on a new self in Christ, and especially for those newly professed, may your lives always be a witness and living expression of Caritas Christi Urget Nos.