Rev. Fred Zagone, S.J., acting vice president for mission and ministry, presented the following homily yesterday at the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
The other morning, I was walking to my office along Wells Street and I was really conscious of the sounds of the city: an old Volvo with a really bad exhaust system, another car with a Pink Floyd song blaring over the stereo, a fire truck headed west from downtown, the seagulls circling the top of the buildings. It is the sounds of the city — these are the sounds of a vibrant and alive place.
To those of you who are new to Marquette or to Milwaukee, first I say, “welcome!” Welcome to this vibrant and alive place. Welcome to a new world where life will unfold before you in ways you may have never imagined. But it is also a place in a world filled with division, terrorism, racism and fear. Is there any better example than the recent experiences of the mass killings around our country? Where is it safe to be? A theater, a night club, a church, a mosque, a Wal-Mart? We want you to find that safe place here.
Now imagine the words of Jesus being heard by his listeners. Here is the man whose message is about peace and love. “Peace and love. Welcome. Follow me.” Now He is talking about those being locked out. Those being denied a place at the table. Those who are not in a safe place.
But there is hope. First, we believe that God is good. God promised Isaiah, “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues, and they shall come and shall see my glory.” This prophetic word speaks to God’s goodness and salvation, which is intended for all people. Jesus says the kingdom of God will be full of surprises. But haven’t we had enough surprises here in this world?
When bad things happen, God’s kingdom offers another way — the narrow door about which Jesus talks. God’s path is intended for all people, and people from every nation. Even those we consider “last,” can respond positively to God’s word, can knock on the door of His kingdom and gain entrance.
Let me tell you my philosophy of the keys. When I was a kid, I thought that the more keys you had, the more important you were. My dad always carried a big ring of keys and I thought he was very important. Mr. Clausen, the custodian at my grade school, had a huge ring of keys. He had a key for everything!
Then I got to high school and our principal, a Dominican sister, was really important. She had one key that opened everything. But as I got older, I realized that the really important people didn’t have any keys. The doors were opened for them. Alas, as we listen to the Gospel today, we are reminded by Jesus that to be a really important person, we need to have the humility to knock.
In the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire.” It is my hope that all of you, but especially the new members of our community, will start a fire. We call this the Mass of the Holy Spirit and we frequently picture the spirit coming to us as a flame. One of St. Ignatius’ more famous quotes is, “Go and set the world on fire.”
We are talking about a fire that is to be handed on. This is a fire that makes things bright and pure and free and grand. But whoever comes to follow Jesus must be prepared to be burned. Being a Christian, then, is daring to entrust oneself to this burning fire. The fire is set ablaze when we speak the truth.
Jesus warns us to be prepared. But how do we prepare? What do we have to do before it is too late? Too late to beg for forgiveness. Too late to make amends with an enemy. Too late to tell those closest to us that we love them. Too late to change the course of our final direction. What are the things that we have to do before it is too late? What must we do before the door is locked?
I’m reminded of a story about my dad’s cousin, Nena, and what I learned from her one day when I was about ten years old. Several of my family members were gathered at a bar operated by some cousins in Chicago Heights. Nena decided to bring all of us home to her house for dinner. In the days long before cell phones, she asked the bartender, another cousin, for the phone, which he placed on the bar for her to use.
In her deep, loud, Italian voice she said, within earshot of everyone in the bar and restaurant, “Karen, it’s your mother.” As if Karen wouldn’t recognize that voice! Nena went on, “Put on a pot of water for spaghetti. Stir the gravy.” There was a pause and then, “And pick up all the dog poop on the back porch. I’m bringing home company.”
Ok, she didn’t use the word poop but you get my drift.
And hopefully you see the message of Jesus in her words. And my words of advice to you here at Marquette. Feed and nourish those around you. And pick up the poop that lies in their path.