Note: The following post is a homily for a Mission Mass for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Benld, IL on the occasion of the Centennial. This is for Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent (March 16, 2016).
HOMILY FOR THE WEDNESDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF LENT
Reading: Dn. 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
Gospel: Jn. 8:31-42
How deep is your faith in God? I am not asking you how strong is your faith in God, but how deep is it? What is the difference you may ask? A person with a strong faith uses the faith as a protection from any harm that may come to them. Think of getting a new coat for the winter to keep you warm and dry from all the elements. Nothing feels better than staying warm in your coat while your outside and the wind and the rain and the snow pummel you trying to make you cold and miserable.
But what if you put on that same coat and you have a cold? Will that coat cure you from that cold? No. The coat only keeps you from getting any worse. A coat is only good to protect the outside. Likewise, a strong faith is only good enough to keep temptations away. Someone who has a deep faith is someone who is immune from all the ills of the world despite seeming totally exposed to the world. They have been exposed to the all the viruses that the world can offer, but they have been vaccinated from those diseases so they will not fall ill and die. They could stand out in the middle of a field completely naked in the middle of a snowstorm and not become sick. They are the ones who have been prepared for anything that would question or even shatter their faith in God, but their faith never waivers. A strong faith protects us from harm, but a deep faith transforms us into a being where all temptations become insignificant. So again, I ask you, how deep is your faith in God?
In the readings for Mass today, we find examples of those having a strong faith and those who have a deep faith in God and in his love for us. Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews who were only Jews in name only. Their battle cry is “We are the descendants of Abraham. Abraham is our father.” They see their faith as a status symbol. They may not be completely committed to it, but their faith in it is strong. Jesus gives them a guide for them to be a complete disciple of God. “If you remain in my word,” he says, “you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
These words confused the crowd. They heard what was said, but they did not listen to its meaning. They only heard that they would be set free. Free from what, they thought. They were never slaves like their ancestors were, so how can someone who was never a slave be set free? The crowd heard these words as one who had a strong faith. But Jesus is giving them the tools to have a deep faith. The enslavement Jesus is speaking of is a spiritual one, not a physical one. Everyone who commits a sin is a slave of sin. Each and every time a sin is committed, a person becomes less and less a child of God and more and more a slave to the sinful act; and a slave will leave a household when his obligation is over, but a son will stay forever, according to Christ. A slave only performs the work they are told to do without question; a son understands their role in the mission. So, when the crowd said that Abraham was their father, they were not acting as children of God, but as slaves to sin. Their faith was strong, but it was not deep.
In contrast, those who were sentenced to death in the reading from the Book of Daniel knew the importance of a faith that was so deep it was able for them to be protected, even when all seemed lost. King Nebuchadnezzar sentenced Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to death in a furnace seven-times hotter than usual if they did not worship at the gods of his country. The three refused, so the King had them sent into the furnace to be burned alive. But because of their deep faith in God, the three were saved from the fires of the furnace by an angel sent to them by God. The King could not believe what he was seeing and immediately had them removed from the fire, where they came out unhurt. Nebuchadnezzar was so moved that he ordered no one was to belittle the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When one has a faith as deep as these three, it can not only save their life, but it proves their inheritance as a child of God.
How has being a part of this parish (St. Joseph’s in Benld, IL) helped you in having a deep faith? This was a parish-like many in the area- that was started after a great demand for having Mass in one location in town. The Catholics in the area were mostly having Mass at various homes or had to take the long trip to Gillespie on Sunday. So, finally in 1916 this parish had its first Mass celebrated by Fr. Crosson, pastor of SS. Simon and Jude. From 1916 until 1924, this parish was a mission of Gillespie. That changed when Fr. McKeough was named the first resident pastor of Benld, while also serving the needs of the Catholics of Sawyerville, Eagerville, Wilsonville and Mt. Clare. Over the years this parish has endured mining conflicts, organized crime influences, economic depression, war, loss of the local mines, school and now a slow collapse of part of the town due to those same now-abandoned mine shafts. And yet the faith of the people of this parish was so deep it was able to weather whatever ills befell them. The focus on God rather than the world has enabled this parish to continue its mission set forth in the inspiration of its namesake.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, was a carpenter who was of the house of David. He was not anyone special before the birth of Jesus, just someone trying to make a living and being faithful to God the best way he can. When he found out that Mary was with child, he had no idea what had happened, only that the child was not his. His faith told him that any woman who becomes pregnant out of wedlock was to be stoned to death. But Joseph could not accept that fate for someone he cared for, whether the marriage was arranged or not. So rather than exposing her “sin,” Joseph decided to be quiet and release her from the commitment. He was strong in the faith, but his depth began to show. And show it did. Joseph was told in a dream that he was not to divorce Mary, but to go ahead and take her into his home and they became husband and wife. Like Abraham before who was ordered to sacrifice his son, God saw the faith of Joseph and its depth and told him that everything would work itself out in the end.
The depth of the faith within Joseph is the example that this parish is giving to each and every one of its parishioners. In what way does having St. Joseph as the example of faith will help you to share that faith as you go out into the world? Or to put it another way, how often do you use St. Joseph as the example for your own life? One person who allowed his faith in St. Joseph to govern his life is St. Andre Besette, a brother of the Congregation of Holy Cross. His life in Montreal was nothing spectacular, much like Joseph’s. He was a very sickly person who spoke very poorly. And yet he was given the position of Porter of his monastery. He would meet people every day and give them a St. Joseph medal, which he kept in his pockets for just such an occasion. According to his biographer, St. Andre “was quite astute when he placed himself under St. Joseph’s protection. The saint surely would understand him, and never could abandon him. Countless witnesses stated that Brother Andre incessantly encouraged pilgrims to pray to Saint Joseph or he would say ‘I’ll pray to St. Joseph for you.’ Witnesses, time and time again, reported Brother Andre’s most usual advice. He recommended very simple prayers, such as ‘St. Joseph, pray for me as you yourself would have prayed, had you been here on earth, in my shoes, with my troubles. St. Joseph, answer our prayers.’” St. Andre felt that St. Joseph was a close friend who could understand his concerns and resolve them. He knew the depth of Joseph’s faith and wanted to emulate that in his life. As a result, he was canonized a Saint in 2010.
Knowing about the life and habits of your saint can be very important in how you respond to God’s call to proclaim the Good News to the world. How much we take part in the life of the parish is relevant to the depth of our faith in God, in His Church and with each other. The more active we are, the more life there is in the parish. The more life in the parish, the more stable the parish is to overcome any adversity. How much have you done for St. Joseph? Are you allowing your children to serve at the altar? Are you a reader on Sunday? Extraordinary Minister? Usher? Do you sing in the choir? Do you go to Altar Society or Knights of Columbus meetings and help out in their activities?
Taking a full, conscious and active part in the life of the Church is just as important as taking a full, conscious and active part in the Mass. It is in the sharing of the gifts of the parishioners that shows the world the depth of their belief in God. The deeper the faith, the stronger the parish; the stronger the parish, the desire for others to join the parish either by transfer or by initiation becomes irresistible. It is not enough to be strong in the faith, but also be deep in the faith. The deeper the faith, the stronger the roots and the greater the flower will bloom. Now is the time to grow.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
 Information taken from the book “Brother Andre” by Jean-Guy Dubuc (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press), 2010.