Shortly we pilgrims will be off. May it please our Lord and our Lady to give us a safe trans-Altantic voyage.
Alas, we are going to miss the Dallas game at FedEx Field on Sunday night. Some things cannot be helped. We have to have our priorities straight here.
Hopefully, you will hear from me again when we reach Assisi. There is always the chance that technical difficulties will beset the Preacher and Big Daddy team on the road, however. To allow you to follow along with us no matter what happens, I present you with drafts of my homilies for the pilgrimage…
First, the Sacred Scripture “theme” for the pilgrimage:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its savor, what can make it salty again? … Have salt in yourselves.” (Matthew 5:10, Mark 9:50)
Homily for Sunday, November 16: 33rd Sunday of the Year. Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, site of the Portiuncula, the chapel used by St. Francis and his first followers
“You yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
Last night, the thief came and stole the whole night’s sleep from us. We got on a plane, did what little we could to get comfortable, and all of a sudden it was morning.
This thief has stolen more than just a night’s sleep from us. He has stolen our familiar environment. He has stolen our daily companions and routine. He has taken away our familiar food and the creature-comforts of home. We are in a strange place, surrounded by not a few strangers, fatigued, probably a bit bewildered.
Welcome, dear brothers and sisters, to the pilgrimage. The special grace of going on pilgrimage is precisely this: to be removed from the familiar and the comfortable. The Lord has called us to travel to Italy to discover what He has in store for us, and we have come. He has led us far from home, to teach us how to put ourselves completely in His hands. Into His hands and also Elizabeth’s hands (our tour escort, Elizabeth Flanagan).
St. Paul tells us: “You are children of the light and children of the day.”
You can say that again, brother. We have not visited a bed for nearly thirty hours. This day feels like the never-ending day. We want to “stay alert and sober,” like St. Paul tells us to, but it would be easier to stay alert if we could get a good night’s sleep.
We have come to Assisi to rest a little. Rome is of course our ultimate goal—the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul are our ultimate destination. But Rome does not offer much peace and quiet. Assisi is the perfect place to regain our traveling strength.
So let us throw ourselves into the loving arms of St. Francis here in his peaceful town. When St. Francis lived in Assisi, this area at the bottom of the hill was a secluded wood. When St. Francis brought his first followers down here to rebuild this little chapel, he was seeking a place of quiet contemplation.
Let us pray that the good Lord will give us a good night’s sleep and plenty of vim and vigor to continue our pilgrimage, so that we can be alert to all that He has in store for us.
Homily for Monday, November 17—Basilica of St. Francis
The Lord Jesus tells us that we Christians are the salt of the earth. It is for us to season the world, to cure it, like salt cures meat and keeps it from spoiling. It is for us to keep the world from going bad, to keep it from getting rancid. Not only that—it is for us to make the world savory, to make life in this world pleasant to the discerning palate.
How can we hope to be salt for the earth? This is our God-given mission—how can we accomplish it? What is it exactly that can keep the world from going bad? What will make life on earth flavorful with vigor, with virtue?
We have just heard the answer to this question. The Beatitudes are seasoning for the earth. A single life lived according to the Beatitudes is like a pinch of salt dropped into a pot: It will fill the whole stew with good flavor.
The earthly life of St. Francis was one such pinch of salt thrown into the pot of this world, a holy life according to the Beatitudes.
Yesterday we concluded our Litany of St. Francis by praying: “O Lord, when the world was waxing cold, to the inflaming of our hearts thou didst renew in the flesh of St. Francis the sacred marks of Thy Passion.”
The Beatitudes are more than a moral code. They are a portrait of Christ crucified: Poor in spirit, meek, mourning the sins of the world, hungering and thirsting, suffering insult and persecution, merciful, making peace by His sacrifice.
The Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ on the Cross, and St. Francis, too, is such a portrait. In the Litany, we called St. Francis a “living crucifix.” St. Francis was so profoundly united with Christ that He bore the Lord’s wounds in His own flesh.
The Lord has brought us here to the tomb of this beloved holy man in order to season us anew. We cannot hope to retain our saltiness by ourselves. Left to our own devices, we become insipid and bland to the taste, if not downright unpalatable. Buried under the weight of daily routine, we can become completely un-salty. We can become indistinguishable from everyone else–run down, oppressed by worldliness, distracted and unfocused.
In the Litany yesterday, we said an amazing thing about St. Francis. We addressed him as the one whose soul has taken Lucifer’s place in the heavenly choir. The Devil was a glorious angel, made to sing the praises of the divine Majesty. But in bitter pride, he fell. God in His Providence raised St. Francis’ soul to the place which Satan vacated. This is truly an awesome thing to contemplate. And here we are, next to the body that will one day be re-united with that seraphic soul.
St. Francis, pray for us, that we might be salty enough to flavor this world of ours with holiness!
Homily for Tuesday, November 18—Orvieto. Memorial of the Dedication of Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul
The hand of God guided the steps of both St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome. It was the Lord’s will that both of these Apostles would give their lives for the Gospel in the capital city of the Empire. By shedding their blood in Rome, the Apostles consecrated the city as the Holy and Apostolic See, the capital city of the Church.
The first Christians of Rome buried both Apostles near the sites of their martyrdoms. Both were killed outside the ancient city, in the suburbs. St. Peter was crucified on the far side of the Tiber River, in the Circus of Nero, at the foot of Vatican Hill. St. Paul was beheaded on the road to Ostia, a few miles south of the ancient city.
Nine days ago, we kept the feast of the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. The Lateran Basilica was built shortly after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal. As we recall, the Lateran Basilica was built on property that had belonged to a prominent Roman family. It was a central location in the city, ideal for the cathedral.
At the same time, though, two other great churches had to be built. For centuries, Christians had been coming on pilgrimage to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, even risking their lives to do so. Now the time had come when the Church could finally build worthy basilicas to house the tombs and give the pilgrims a proper place to pray. Today we commemorate the solemn dedication of those two churches. We will be visiting them tomorrow and the next day.
Today we find ourselves in a remarkable situation. We are on our pilgrim way to Rome. We have stopped at Orvieto to refresh ourselves.
The exact same thing happened in 1363. A priest was on his way to Rome on pilgrimage. He stopped on this hill to say Mass.
He was a pious priest, but his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was weak. Because he could not understand it, he did not think he could believe it.
When this priest elevated the Host after the consecration at his Mass here, the Host began to bleed, and blood flowed down his fingers. Some of the blood fell on the square cloth which the priest unfolds on the altar. The cloth is called a corporal.
The priest took the corporal to the Pope, who was living at Orvieto that year. Rejoicing over the miracle, the Pope instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymns for the feast, Pange Lingue, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo. The rest is history.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With these words, St. Peter inaugurated the great age of Christian faith. This final age of the world will last until the Lord Jesus comes again in glory. Then everyone will see Him and know that He is God, and faith will no longer be necessary.
In the meantime, we know the Christ, the Son of the living God, by faith. We believe Him when He says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” When He comes to us in the Holy Mass, let us greet him like St. Peter did. We believe, Lord.
[The story of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena/Orvieto is recounted on this interesting-looking weblog.]
Deacon William Walker, a fellow pilgrim, will preach the homilies at our Holy Masses at the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul on Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20.
Homily for Friday, November 21—Feast of the Presentation of Mary, in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
Today we celebrate our final Mass of the pilgrimage at the Pope’s Basilica of our Lady. Today we keep the feast of her Presentation in the temple, when her parents Joachim and Ann offered her to God, and the Blessed Virgin’s service to the Lord began.
Our Lord’s grandparents presented their daughter to the priests in the Temple so that she could learn to do the will of God. Preserved from original sin, she was the perfect pupil. Her entire life was an act of obedience to the divine will.
The Virgin’s vocation eventually led her to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to the Christ and then laid her newborn Son in a manger. Some of the wood of that manger is in the chapel beneath the high altar in this basilica.
Being a saint is always doing the will of the Father. This church houses saints who have done the Father’s will at different times in history. St. Jerome, who collected and translated the books of the Bible, is here. Pope St. Pius V, whose prayers protected the Christian people from an invasion from Turkey and who guided the Church after the Council of Trent—he is here. Both St. Ignatius Loyola and Pope Pius XII said their first Masses here in St. Mary Major.
Our heavenly Father will call each of us to do particular things for Him. We do His will by being faithful to the duties that He has given us in our particular states of life. We become more and more the salt of the earth the more we are open to the Lord’s summons to do more for Him, to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.
Being faithful means making sacrifices. We will all have to make a sacrifice for the Lord tonight by setting our alarms for 3:00 in the morning, so that we can make it to the airport on time. Trust me, I did not schedule this flight. But we might as well make the most of it by offering it up.
May our Lady watch over us as we make our way home. May her prayers, and the prayers of all the saints we have visited, help to keep us salty and ready to do the Father’s will.