July 26, 2002
Readings: Eph 2:13-18; Ps 84; and Jn 17:6-17
World Youth Day in Toronto
A few hours east of here on the St. Lawrence River, you’ll find the very beautiful shrine of St. Ann de Beaupre. I hope that someday you’ll visit there. The French Canadian settlers from my hometown in Kansas traveled there on pilgrimage quite often when I was a young boy. In fact, Canadians have a long tradition of devotion to St. Ann, who was the mother of the Virgin Mary – a devotion that has its roots in the ancient Christian East.
We know very little about St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim. They’re not mentioned in the Bible, and the pious legends we have come from apocryphal writings of the early centuries. “Apocryphal” comes from a Greek word, and it just means that we can’t be sure how accurate the stories are. But St. Ann and St. Joachim are still our grandmother and grandfather in Christ, and we know they pray for us.
Even though we don’t know many details about the life of this faithful Jewish couple, we can assume from the character of their era, and the holiness of their daughter Mary, that they were simple people of great hope. They surely must have longed for the coming of the Messiah, and the reconciliation, peace and unity that God alone can give. Of course, they had no way of knowing that their own daughter had been chosen by God to be the Mother of the Messiah and the Ark of the New Covenant.
The faithfulness of Joachim and Ann should inspire great hope in us because we humans like to aspire to great things, and we’re usually dissatisfied with the small, the quiet and the ordinary. But God’s ways are not our ways. He calls us to a higher greatness, a greatness of soul, and this greatness has its roots in humility.
I was ordained a bishop 14 years ago today on this Feast of St. Ann and St. Joachim, but before I was a bishop and even before I became a priest, I was a Capuchin Franciscan – and as a Capuchin, I look to St. Francis as the model of a person with greatness of soul. For you, maybe St. Joseph, the Husband of Mary, or St. Therese the Little Flower, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta will come to mind. They all had the same greatness of soul rooted in humility.
Their humility helps us to focus on our Christian vocation to be salt, light and messengers of reconciliation. Their witness proves that God accomplishes His great work in the small, quiet and ordinary moments of life. That’s true whether you’re a teen-ager who struggles to balance school and work, or a bishop, or even the Pope. And we should take consolation in God’s methods, because we know from Scripture that God chooses the simple to shame the wise of the world, and the weak to shame the strong. That’s why we humble pilgrims can rejoice today, because in our weakness, God shows His strength.
And really, what greater proof do we need than Jesus Crucified. Look at Him. Who could be more weak or vulnerable than a man stripped and nailed to a cross? But this crucified man is the power of God who destroys death and crushes evil by taking on our sins. As St. Paul says to the Ephesians, He is our peace who has made Jews and gentiles one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He is the new Adam, the new man through whom we have access to the Father.
This is the good news, and we are its messengers. We who have been reconciled through the mercy of God must share God’s mercy with a hurting world – one person at a time.
We who have traveled here as pilgrims must, in the words of today’s psalm, yearn with our whole being for the courts of the Lord and cry out for joy to the living God. Jesus has shared with us His mission of reconciliation, peace and unity, and now we need to go out into the world as Christ’s apostles, with zeal and confidence.
No doubt some people will see our gathering here as a waste of time, and our mission as hopeless. Rejoice anyway! The critics of Jesus laughed at Him even as He prayed for their forgiveness. And the followers of Jesus in every age will be ridiculed and persecuted because of His name. But what greater honor could anyone have?
We should reflect on the prayer of Jesus that we heard from St. John’s Gospel, and make it our own. Jesus prayed that we may be one even as He and the Father are one, so that the world might believe that the Father sent the Son to save sinners and not to condemn them. Like the apostles, we’ve experienced this mercy. Now we are witnesses to it.
So when we leave here today, may God so perfect us in His unity that the world will see in our lives the presence of Jesus Christ. And in living our lives as Jesus lived His, may we show the world that the Father loves all men and women with the same love He has for His only begotten Son. Truly, this is cause for rejoicing.