Homily from the 5:30 p.m., 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses at St. Paul Catholic Church in Valparaiso, Ind.
Brother Bruno would go out into the streets of Quito, Ecuador every Monday night. He knew where all the city’s homeless stayed. “Gerardo stays behind this building.” “Juan Carlos sleeps next to the stairs at that building.”
We would go out and deliver them some hot food, a simple meal of chicken legs and rice, some coffee, blankets. We were doing our works of mercy.
But for Bruno, it was something more. He knew every one of these people. He knew their stories. He knew their struggles. He insisted we pray with them and for them – every single one.
I remember we stopped one time at a bunch of trash bags. He called out, “Carlos!” Suddenly I saw two eyes staring at me, and a man rise from the pile of garbage bags. Bruno explained that Carlos collected the trash bags during the day so he’d have something to sleep on at night.
At a point, we were driving around and I asked him, “Aren’t you afraid, waking people up in the middle of the night, that one might jump you?”
The friar looked at me and said simply, “How can I be afraid to encounter Christ?”
“How can I be afraid to encounter Christ?”
In every face, Brother Bruno was seeing Jesus.
Are we able to see the face of Christ in every face we see? Maybe the real question is, Do we allowourselves to see Christ in others?
The people of Nazareth in Mark’s Gospel today, they didn’t allow themselves to see Jesus as the Christ when he came home. They saw little Jeshua who helped hand Joseph tools in the woodshop. They saw the young man who crafted the table in their home. They couldn’t open themselves up to what was right in front of them: this man Jesus, who was going around performing miracles, giving sight to the blind, helping paralytics walk again. They couldn’t see it. They were so stuck on the surface, on appearance, on the familiar, that they wouldn’t expand their minds nor their hearts.
Friends, we spending too much of our lives in Nazareth? Too much of our lives stuck, unable to move, unable to expand our hearts and minds?
We see images of people walking down the Dan Ryan, because another young life has been lost to senseless violence, but that kid looked like a thug. He was probably up to no good.
We see young children being ripped from their parents at the U.S. border, sent to detention camps, and our hearts go out, but only so much, because well, they don’t belong here.
We see teenagers afraid to go into their Florida high school, because it’s where they experienced the most traumatic moment in their young lives, where their classmates were killed and maimed. And again, our thoughts and prayers go out to them for a brief moment, before our attention spans begin focusing on something else. We thank God because nothing like that could ever happen here. Except it did.
It's easy for us to put our blinders on, just as the people of Nazareth did. Can we allow ourselves to see Christ in these situations? To see Christ in these faces?
Can we look at the mother marching down the Dan Ryan, reeling over the loss of her son and see Jesus weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus?
Can we see Mary and Joseph franticly looking for Jesus in the temple when we see the images at the border?
Can we look at the teens in Florida and see Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing he has to face his greatest earthly fear?
Can we see Christ among us? Can we embrace Christ in our struggling neighbor? Can we dive below life’s surface? Can we truly accompany each other in this life?
If we take seriously what happened to us in those waters, we have to. We have no choice. It’s our baptismal call. It’s the reason we’re here right now. We want to see Jesus. We want to know Jesus. We want to know we belong. We want to feel the embrace of God through the hearts and hands of this St. Paul family.
Yeah, each one of us is going to be at a different place in that journey. You might have left Nazareth years ago. You might see the face of Jesus every time you pick up the paper or turn on the TV. Take what you know. Take your experience with Christ and share it, because odds are, there’s someone else here right now who is struggling, struggling to make sense of the world around them, struggling to see where God is in a world that’s so messed up. Be Christ for that person.
And if you are that person whose faith is hanging on by a thread, know that you’re not alone. We’re all disciples on the journey back to God. Look around you. Plenty of the people here right now have experienced grief and loss, but also joy and consolation.
Unlike Nazareth, there is a great faith here. Let’s figure out how to amaze our brothers and sisters with it. Let’s keep our hearts and minds open to the possibilities God has in store for us. It’s all possible, if we’re just willing to see Christ in our midst, and be Christ for one another.