scroll down to view video from our Mission Sunday and 1st, 2nd, 3rd & Sessions
Click “Radiating Christ” by Blessed John Henry Newman or “The Kitchen Prayer”
for a printable version of the prayers used during the Mission
Unfortunately, the video file of the Homily by Deacon Greg for the last day of the Mission was damaged and could not be used. Below is the written text of the Homily should you want to read it.
It’s fitting that we end this mission on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the great patron of Christian charities—and that we hear this particular Gospel, which shows us the first missionaries, the apostles, embarking on the great adventure of evangelization.
Here, the great work is beginning.
“They set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.”
This Gospel presents an episode that is, really, the story of Christianity. The first words of that sentence say it all: “They set out.”
Periodically, whenever PBS is having a fund-raiser, they’ll have a marathon of their classic shows. And one that pops up again and again is the series of interviews that Bill Moyers did about 30 years ago with the great writer and historian Joseph Campbell.
Campbell is most famous, I guess, for his best-selling book, “The Power of Myth,” which is adapted from those interviews, in which he dissected some of the rich traditions and storytelling techniques of ancient cultures and religions. George Lucas credited Campbell with influencing his thinking when he created the “Star Wars” movies — celebrating them as great myths of the modern age.
I should mention here that Joseph Campbell is not exactly a poster child for the Catholic faith. He was born and raised Catholic, but abandoned any belief in his adult life. So to see and hear him being interviewed on television by a Baptist minister, Bill Moyers, makes for fascinating television, as they come at the same ideas and concepts from different angles.
Anyway: at one point in the interviews, Joseph Campbell discussed the idea of the hero – something he wrote about extensively in his first major work back in the 1940s, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”
And in his interview with Moyers, Joseph Campbell made this simple statement – one that has implications for all of us.
“The hero’s story,” he said, “doesn’t really begin until he leaves home.”
Home. It’s an idea both specific – and abstract. It could be Greece. Or Egypt. Or Dublin. Or Tatooine. Or Nazareth. Or even a place like Mashpee.
It doesn’t have to be a geographical location. It may be emotional, psychological, spiritual. Put another way, it might be considered our comfort zone. To leave it is to leave what we know and go into the unknown.
It is really, in essence, to put out into the deep.
The first apostles did it, before they even realized the full extent of what they were undertaking. They set out.
Looked at another way – maybe in a way Joseph Campbell would appreciate – they left home. They went out to be heroes and heroines of their own story. That is the call to all of us. To set out and spread the Good News…and BE the Good News.
Leave what you know and begin the great adventure of living – the journey that will take you to places you never even imagined.
Spread the Good News.
As Don Hewitt put it: “Tell me a story.”
We might ask ourselves: has our own story really begun?
Have we left “home,” the place where we are comfortable? Have we stepped out of our comfort zone? Are we willing to be adventurous? To risk? Are we willing to be heroes?
St. Vincent de Paul undertook a heroic journey of his own. At one point, he was kidnapped and spent part of his life as a slave—and then later, after escaping, became a priest and ministered to those who were other types of slaves—slaves to poverty…and injustice…and hunger. His ministry eventually spread around the world to become the charity that now bears his name.
This memorial of St. Vincent reminds me of something we all do during Lent— alms-giving—offering money to the poor or those in need.
It’s interesting that this singular kind of giving is not unique to Christianity. You find it in all major religions.
The Famous Jewish scholar and sage Maimonides created a list of charity, with eight different rankings…the lowest form is to give begrudgingly…but the highest form of charity is to give in a way that allows someone to become self-reliant.
You see different expressions of what alms-giving means in all the major religions, in Islam, in Hinduism, and so on.
Nonetheless, only in Christianity do you see this sense of helping and serving others, born from a place of love. It goes beyond humanitarian good works. In our theology, it is modeled on the sacrificial love of Christ—who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, but who taught us, “love one another as I have loved you.”
Love is not done as a solitary act. And the beautiful, challenging fact is: Neither is Christianity.
The Christian life is to be lived with others, in community, through love and sacrifice and companionship. It’s interesting to note that in the gospels, almost every time Christ reveals himself to the world—beginning at Christmas, in the stable, and on through the Transfiguration and the Resurrection and on the road to Emmaus—it is almost always to a group.
There is more than one person who experiences it, and he or she experiences it with others. That is Christianity. It is communal. It is shared.
We are not alone. The most profound acts of love acknowledge that. I saw that for myself several years ago.
My wife asked me to stop by H&H Bagels in Manhattan on the way home from work. If any of you have heard of them, you know: back in the day, H&H were the greatest bagels in the world, period, no discussion. They’ve since gone out of business, but they had a legendary shop on the Upper West Side and even had a thriving mail order business.
Anyway: they used to offer them on sale, half price, after four o’clock. So I went after work, and got a bag, and went down to the subway station, to head back to our apartment in Queens. The bagels were still warm, and smelled wonderful.
I went to get a fare card, and there was a homeless man standing there, by the window of the token booth. He was small, and old, and filthy, and he was holding a small cardboard cup, asking for money. I almost always avoid these guys, or ignore them, but this time I had an idea. Instead of giving him money, I asked him if he’d like a bagel. His face lit up. “Oh yeah!,” he said, and he nodded. I reached into the bag and got one and gave it to him and he just grinned and thanked me. He was overjoyed. You would have thought that I’d just given him a sirloin steak.
I was feeling very proud of myself, and my generosity. I felt so unbelievably holy and Christian. I went through the turnstiles, and waited on the platform. My train came, and as I stood there, waiting to get on, I looked for my homeless man. I couldn’t see him. But then I noticed: he’d walked all the way to the end of the platform. And there, I saw, was another old homeless man, sitting on the ground. My homeless guy took the bagel I had given him, and broke it in two, and gave his friend half.
My train came. I got on. And I watched them eating the bagel as my train pulled out of the station.
I had thought myself so generous, and so thoughtful. And yet: a man who had next-to-nothing had given half of all he had…to a man who had even less.
Besides being a lesson in humility, and generosity – showing me, very graphically, what it means to “love thy neighbor,” that moment was also profoundly Eucharistic. It was Emmaus in a subway station. I saw something of Jesus there, in that moment, in the breaking of the bread. I’ll never forget it.
And it taught me something beautiful about what it means, truly, to serve others and, in doing that, bring them the good news.
First, it means seeing a need, and trying to meet that need. Years ago, it was not uncommon for Mother Teresa to have a knock on the door in her convent in India, and open it to find some earnest young person from Santa Monica or Buffalo or Cape Cod standing there saying, “Hi, I’m here to help the poor.” And she’d look at them and say, “You don’t have to be here. Find your own Calcutta.”
Those words have stayed with me, and even guided my own life. “Find your own Calcutta.” For a long time, I think, my Calcutta was CBS. Where is yours? Look for the need in your own backyard.
Whether it’s feeding someone who is hungry, comforting someone who is grieving, offering friendship to someone who is lonely.
Calcutta is everywhere. In New York. In Pittsburgh. In Beverly Hills. In Cape Cod. It might be around your kitchen table. It might be in the extended family of your parish community. And it is not just a place where people are physically hungry. There are many kinds of poverty and hunger. And there are many kinds of Calcuttas. What is yours?
Ask yourself: What are people hungering for in your world? Where is the poverty? The helplessness? The hopelessness? Sometimes people who need help the most, who are the most poor, are people who seem to have everything they could possibly want. But they lack love. Or dignity. Or self-worth.
How can you serve them? Look for a need and try to meet it.
Second, serving others means leaving your comfort zone. It’s walking out of your way. It’s going 100 feet down the subway platform—or embarking on a heroic journey that begins, as Joseph Campbell taught, by leaving home. It means looking out for others that no one else is looking out for. It means embracing an element of risk.
A teacher of mine in high school had a great saying that you’ve probably heard: A harbor is a great place for a boat, she said. But it’s not where it belongs. In other words: put out into the deep. Or, as Joseph Campbell would say, you leave home. Go where you don’t think you could.
Third, serving others means being Jesus to one another. The other night I talked about seeing Jesus in others. Well, they should see Jesus in us. It’s extending a hand. It’s holding out hope. It’s sharing part of yourself. It is loving in a way that asks nothing in return.
It’s breaking the bread, and giving it to another, because you know that’s what they need and it’s what will nourish them in that moment.
It’s being Jesus to one another. It’s being the good news to one another.
Consider the story of a young woman named Tamara Fowler. Last year, about a month before her wedding, Tamara decided to break off her engagement. She called off the wedding. Her parents, Carol and Willie Fowler, had sunk thousands of dollars into planning a dinner reception for 200 guests at Atlanta’s Villa Christina restaurant. The Fowlers were heartbroken for a lot of reasons—not the least of them being that the event was already paid for.
The father of the bride thought about the situation, talked it over with his wife, and prayed about it one night before going to bed.
The next morning, he knew what they had to do.
The Fowlers decided to go on with the dinner as planned—but not with the original guest list.
They invited, instead, a different group: 200 men, women and children who were homeless.
The Fowlers called a nonprofit organization called Hosea Feed the Hungry in Atlanta. The woman who picked up the phone later said she was so shocked, she thought it was a prank call. The Fowlers arranged a meeting and explained what they wanted to do. They told the woman at Hosea that they especially wanted to help children—70 percent of the homeless in Atlanta are kids—so they set out to make it a reality.
And so, one September afternoon, buses brought dozens of needy people to one of the premiere wedding venues in Atlanta. Children had space outside to run and play. Face painters and jugglers were hired to entertain them.
The kids, it turned out, had to be shown how to eat hors’ d’oeuvres, how to use the right fork. They weren’t used to eating off fine china. They had never experienced anything like it before.
And at evening’s end, the caterer was amazed. For the first time, she said, at the end of a big wedding there were no leftovers. Every plate was clean.
For a little while, a few people who otherwise felt overlooked and discarded and helpless did not go hungry.
They were given an immeasurable gift: the gift of dignity.
You want to talk about serving others? There it is, in spades.
That’s being the good news.
We can’t all throw a party for 200 homeless people.
But there are so many crying out in so many ways. We need to hear their cry and not just shrug and walk away or decide, “Someone else will handle it.”
The office of readings today quotes from a letter by St. Vincent de Paul—and it struck me as especially timely, because it echoes something I mentioned last night about prayer:
“It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else…If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.”
The blessed John Henry Newman composed a beautiful prayer that sums up so much of what I’ve been trying to impart over the last three nights. I’d like to leave you with these words.
It’s called “Radiating Christ.” It was a personal favorite of Mother Teresa. Her sisters often prayed this after communion. As we prepare to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, let this be our prayer:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.