Words from our first pope in vespers tonight: “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult. Return a blessing instead.” When people let you down, when they are unkind and unreliable, when they are mean or nasty or unthoughtful: we return a blessing instead.
Today we celebrate St Stephen, whose claim to fame might be his mention in the Christmas tune Good King Wenceslas: “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.” Stephen, the “apostle of Hungary,” was made king of Hungary on Christmas day in 1001, likely the “feast” mentioned in the tune. King Stephen brought Christianity to Hungary and it blossomed under his rule. Our psalm today is fitting for St Stephen: “Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!” His soul was filled with fire and it touched everyone. That fire spread from his faith to the entire country of Hungary. He had a particular concern for the poor.
Today, on this solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, we celebrate that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. It is scriptural. We hear in our first reading St. John’s vision. He sees Mary, body and soul, in heaven. What a vision! Christians have always revered this day.
This is what I did at school Mass–
- The human is like a balloon: the body (the rubber) and the soul (the air inside).
- Genesis says that God breathed and we were made, body and soul.
- In the fullness of time, Jesus came as man, like us. Body and soul.
- Jesus, by his own power, ascended into heaven….like a balloon with helium…body and soul.
- Mary was assumed, body and soul….no helium. She went up by Jesus’ power.
- Those are the only two bodies we know for sure are up there.
- As for the rest of us, if we die and have been faithful, our souls will go up. But bodies stay here.
- Until the second coming, when scripture says our bodies will rise up.
Today’s readings insist on the importance of silence in our lives, and, in particular, they stress the importance of silent prayer. We hear the story of Elijah in our first reading. He was frustrated when we see him in our reading today. He was the only prophet of God left, and there were 450 prophets of the false god Baal says scripture. Elijah was the only prophet of the real God that remained, and he had a lot of work to do. He was trying to save everyone from their bad ways. And he was failing in his efforts. No one seemed to listen to him or his message. He was busy and tired, stressed and sad, lonely and angry. So he climbs a mountain and finds a cave. He prays in silence. We see Jesus doing the same thing in our Gospel today: he climbs a mountain and prays in silence to the Father. Not just for a few minutes or even an hour. He prays all night.
Both Elijah and Jesus climb mountains and pray in silence. The lesson is simple: we must pray in silence. When we are silent, we can hear the voice of God. So many of us never have a moment of silence. We have phones, televisions, radios, full calendars. We are always running from one thing to another and we can’t hear God. I know that God is calling many men to the priesthood, and many women to be nuns, but they are too busy to hear, there is too much noise in their lives that makes it impossible to hear Jesus. There are many married people who cannot hear what God is telling them — and if they did hear it, they would be better husbands and wives and parents.
We must, like Elijah and Jesus, go up the mountain and pray with God in silence. [Mountains are important in scripture; they signify the sacred encounter of God and man….which is why traditionally monasteries and churches are built on hills.] On the mountain, in silence, we gain a new perspective on life. We rise above our preoccupations, busy schedules, and problems. In silent prayer, when we reflect on things with Jesus, we see things differently within his presence. We calm down and the small things remain that: small things.
My friends, if we want to survive the storms of life, we must do as Elijah did and find a cave and be silent with God for a while. [By the way: God does not cause the storms. Notice that in our first reading, the scripture says: God was not in the earthquake, he was not in the fire, he was not in the wind. And he was not in the storm in the gospel. God does not cause the sufferings, the storms of our life, and sometimes we need to stop telling God how big our storms are and start telling the storms how big our God is…because he is our peace, our strength, our grace in the storms.]
We all have storms to deal with, from the oldest person here to the youngest. Jesus had storms to deal with, so did Elijah, and so do we. Peter had a storm to deal with, too. And in the midst of it he started to walk on water. As long as he was looking at Jesus, he was fine. But when he got started thinking about the storm and the problems at hand, he sank. The message is simple: keep focused on Jesus and we’ll be fine. What I’m saying is we can’t keep focused on Jesus if we don’t have silence in our lives, if we don’t stop for a few minutes each day and pray in silence.
My friends! There is no better way than time with God in Adoration, with the Holy Eucharist. We have adoration here almost every day. Mon-Fri we have it at noon till one, and we have 24 hour adoration on First Fridays. Other times also. I get excited about our master plan because I really want us to have in Shelbyville a place where we can all come, around the clock, to find silence, a mountain where we can reach God and speak with him anew and see things in perspective.