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HOMILY ILLUSTRATIONS

United in the moon in His name

The lunar module “Eagle,” carrying astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong, landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. While Armstrong prepared for his moonwalk, Aldrin, a Presbyterian, unpacked bread and wine and put them on the abort system computer. He described what he did next. “I poured the wine into a chalice…In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten, were consecrated Bread and Wine.”

Just before receiving Holy Communion, Aldrin read the passage from the Gospel according to John: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.” Commenting on his Communion experience on the moon, Aldrin says, “I sense especially strongly my unity with our Church back home, and everywhere.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

NOTE: Aldrin wasn’t the only astronaut to experience religious rituals in space. In 1994, three Catholic astronauts took Holy Communion on board Space Shuttle Endeavor. Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramonreportedly recited the Jewish Shabbat Kiddush prayer in space (he later died when Space Shuttle Columbia exploded in 2003). And Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryzhikovtook a relic of St. Serafim of Sarov, a Russian Orthodox saint, to space in 2017. READ MORE

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Gerald Coffee

Gerald Coffee, a retired Navy captain, was a prisoner of war for seven years. His home was a cell that allowed him to take only three steps in any direction. Still, during these years of unbelievable hardship, he was able to pray, “God, help me use this time to get better.” He took a dismal situation and used it for a time of mental, emotional and spiritual growth. In spite of being able to communicate with his fellow POWs only by tapping on the cell walls, he along with other prisoners managed to learn French. He learned to recite Kipling and Shakespeare. Most amazing of all, Coffee and his fellow prisoners were able to keep their sense of humor. Often he composed poems to keep himself amused. One that he particularly liked went, “Little weevil in my bread, I think I’ve just bit off your head.” Today Captain Coffee addresses major corporations on the subject of keeping your Faith (and sense of humor) during difficult times. He shares his harrowing experience in order to inspire others. [Allen Klein, The Healing Power of Humor (Los Angeles, California: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989).]

Gerald Coffee’s captors could not know he had “connections in high places”! Gerald Coffee is connected to the Vine which is Christ. And that is the difference in life. Christ is the Vine. We draw our Life from him. He is the Vine. We are the branches. It is He who links us to one another. We not only have connections in high places. We also have connections in low places and places in between. We are connected to one another as branches linked to the vine of Christ.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Einstein and his chauffeur

There is an old story about Albert Einstein. He was going around the country from university to university on the lecture circuit, giving lectures on his theory of relativity. He traveled by chauffeur-driven limousine. One day, after they had been on the road for awhile, Einstein’s chauffeur said to him, “Dr. Einstein, I’ve heard you deliver that lecture on relativity so many times, I’ll bet I could deliver it myself.” “Very well,” the good doctor responded. “I’ll give you that opportunity tonight. The people at the university where I am to lecture have never seen me. Before we get there, I’ll put on your cap and uniform and you will introduce me as your chauffeur and yourself as me. Then you can give the lecture.”

For awhile that evening, everything went according to plan. The chauffeur delivered the lecture flawlessly. But as the lecture concluded, a professor in the audience rose and asked a complex question involving mathematical equations and formulas. The quick-thinking chauffeur replied, “Sir, the solution to that problem is so simple I’m really surprised you’ve asked me to give it to you. Indeed, to prove to you just how simple it is, I’m going to ask my chauffeur to step forward and answer your question.”

What I’m asking you to consider is not about anything as complex as the theory of relativity. It is about our close relationship with Christ the Vine, deriving the sap of spiritual life from him, as branches do from the main stem of the vine.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Fish on the beach sand

“Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach.

Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just as a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.” (Max Lucado, in his book, When God Whispers Your Name).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Stay connected to Christ the Vine with servant mentality

In his book, Living on Tiptoe, Cecil Myers reminds us of a time when a group of educators in our country wanted to honor Albert Schweitzer… and they brought him to America. The University of Chicago planned to give him an honorary degree. When Albert Schweitzer’s train arrived, the university leaders ran to greet him warmly and they told him of their joy in having him here in America. But then as they turned to leave the train station, suddenly Albert Schweitzer was gone. He had just disappeared, vanished, slipped away. They looked everywhere for him. Finally, they found him. He was carrying a suitcase for an elderly woman. He saw that she was having trouble and rushed over to help her. You see, it was so much a part of his life to be a servant for others that it was as natural as breathing for him (when he got off the train), to begin immediately to look for somebody to help. That was his approach to life… and he had learned that from the Bible… he had learned that in Church… he had learned that from Jesus. Albert Schweitzer loved to help other people because he was strongly connected to Christ and His servant mentality. The university officials said later that when they saw Dr. Schweitzer helping that woman with her suitcase… they were wishing like everything that they could find somebody they could help… somebody whose suitcase they could carry. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Mother Teresa’s servant mentality

Some years ago, Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter one day, “What is your biggest problem?” Without a moment of hesitation, Mother Teresa answered with one word: “Professionalism.” She said: “Here are these servants of Jesus who care for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came back with her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees. Another with a master’s in social work… and when they came back with their degrees… their first question always is, ‘Where is my office?’ Then she said, ‘But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where they simply hold the hands of dying people for six months, and after that, they’re ready to be servants again.’” [Victor D. Pentz, “Take This Job and Love It” Protestant Hour Sermon, (3/14/2005), p. 3.]

This was the greatness of Mother Teresa… her unflinching commitment to stay connected to Christ’s Servant Mentality.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

The novel: Brazil

John Updike once more revealed his remarkably brilliant powers of description in the novel Brazil. Updike shares his uncanny ability to portray the setting and landscape that surround his characters in order to highlight their nature and their roles. However, Updike’s greatest gift is the manner in which he is able to crawl inside the characters to reveal their restless and frantic struggles to discover themselves. The principal characters in Brazil are Tristao and Isabel. Their love for each other survives a tormented parade of trials forced on them by family, nature, society, and the economy. Yet, the end for them is as tragic as for Tristan and Isolde, whose names and whose roles are so similar. Purposely, the reader is left to wonder a great deal about the significance of such relationships and, above all, about the meaning of such lives.

Today, the Holy Gospel suggests to us that life lived apart from our Lord Jesus Christ is meaningless and without purpose. Jesus himself talks about the need to be attached to him. We can readily appreciate the importance of relationship in a day when human relations are extremely difficult. What Jesus suggests, however, is that all human relations are dependent upon him.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

 John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King

In his book, The Kennedy ImprisonmentA Meditation on Power, Gary Wills contrasts the contributions of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., through their conception of power. The Camelot that JFK created at the White House vanished. On the other hand, King, the pacifist who believed in non-violence and achievements through suffering and patience, made lasting impressions on our society.

In like manner, the contrast in styles and understanding of power in ordinary people makes for differences in their lives. People who in their quiet ways draw life from the One who is the Vine discover that they not only live in Him by love and grace, and He in them, but also they are able to live in one another through love and grace.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

“Mom, you’ll never have to take in washing again.”

Marian Anderson, perhaps the greatest contralto who ever lived, had a wonderful relationship with her mother. It was said of Mrs. Anderson’s life: her music could bring one to tears; her life could bring one to one’s knees. She was once being interviewed, and she was asked the most wonderful moment in her most impressive career. She could have mentioned that time when the great Arturo Toscanini told her that hers was the greatest voice of the century. She could have mentioned that time when she sang before the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She could have said that it was winning a coveted award for the person who had done the most for her hometown of Philadelphia. There was also the time when she sang before a crowd of 75,000 on Easter Sunday beneath the Lincoln statue. Which of these high moments would she chose? None of them. “My greatest moment,” she said, “is when I went home to my mother and said: ‘Mom, you’ll never have to take in washing again.’”

If this relationship can exist between a mother and a daughter, then how much more can our relationship with Jesus Christ be? “I am the true vine,” Jesus said. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you.” And what happens, when we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us? Our joy will be made full.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

He was buying a get-well card for the bus driver

She had been brutally murdered on a neighborhood bus. A young, teenaged girl. Cut down in the prime of life by a man suddenly gone berserk. The bus driver, struggling with her assailant, was himself injured. The morning after the tragedy, I was in a drugstore when this young lady’s father entered. I did not know him, but was told by the druggist, “That’s the girl’s father.” I immediately assumed he was in the store having a prescription filled for a sedative of some sort. I could well imagine the effects of this sudden and shocking tragedy on the family. The next day I found out how wrong had been my assumption. Do you know what that father was doing in the drugstore the morning after his daughter’s tragic death? He was buying a get-well card for the bus driver.

Such concern is not born in the orchard of a life barren of fruit. The father’s action was most Christ-like. Even in personal sorrow, he was concerned for the well-being of another. Where does such gallantry of soul come from? It comes when one looks into the heart of God through a living relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord, using vivid symbolism, spells out clearly his relationship with us, and our relationship with him. “I am the Vine; you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Royal wedding of Lady Diana 

Back in 1981, the attention of the world was focused on the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The reporter of a newspaper was describing the arrival of the entourage to the Cathedral where the wedding was to take place. He described how all the royal family were carried in special royal coaches to the Cathedral while Lady Diana arrived in the coach of a commoner. Then there was this rather telling sentence in the newspaper account. “Lady Diana came to the Church as a commoner; she departed as royalty.”

This is a vivid description of what grace is all about. We come as sinners, but grace turns us into heirs, and joint heirs with Christ, of all that God wants to give us. It also is a vivid description of the possibility that comes to each one of us – the possibility of a deeper walk with Christ. Jesus said to his disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Ponder that awesome truth. We have not chosen God; God has chosen us. In His extravagant grace, He has given us His love, and confronted us with His call. We arrive in his presence as commoners; we leave as royalty.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Story of a branch separated from the vine in the film La Dolce Vita

The film follows the exploits of a young scandal-sheet writer named Marcello as he flits from mistress to mistress and from orgy to orgy. Marcello embodies the loneliness, emptiness, and boredom of the jet-set crowd with whom he keeps company. Their decay is symbolized in the last scene in which Marcello and his friends find on a beach a strange fish rotting in the sun. Across the inlet, an innocent girl calls to Marcello. Although she reminds him of the good and simple life he once enjoyed and could recover, he cannot find the courage to react to her invitation.

La Dolce Vita illustrates what our Lord meant when he said in today’s Gospel: “A man who does not live in me is like a withered branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt.” When Marcello was growing up with his family in a small town he led a simple but happy life. But now that he had forsaken their religion and lifestyle for the decadence of the big cities, he found himself not only unhappy, but also dying intellectually, morally, and spiritually. Indeed, Fellini’s image of the rotting fish and Christ’s metaphor of the withered branch are strong symbols of what happens to us when we separate ourselves from our Lord, his Church and our family [Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds].

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

One-hundred percent American?

Often we do not like to admit our dependence, but the fact remains that we are constantly dependent on others for living our daily lives. “The average person might awaken in a bed built on a pattern which originated in the Near East, to a clock, a medieval European invention. He slips into soft moccasins invented by American Indians. He showers with soap invented by the ancient Gauls, and dries himself with a Turkish towel. Returning to the bedroom he dons garments derived from the clothing of nomads of the Asiatic steppes and in ancient Egypt. At his breakfast table, he has pottery invented in China, his knife is made of an alloy first produced in southern India; his fork is a medieval Italian invention, his spoon a derivative of a Roman original. His food originated in discoveries from all over the world. He reads the news of the day imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites, by a process invented in Germany upon a material invented in China. Sometime during the day he may thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is one-hundred per cent American.” – (Harold Buetow)

Today’s Gospel speaks of our radical dependence on God for everything. To be fruitful, the branch has to be cut and pruned, but must remain always attached to the vine or else it dies. “As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me.”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

We are the terminals

A poor German schoolmaster, who lived in a humble house in a small village, carved over his doorway this proud inscription: “Dante, Moliere, and Goethe live here!” That schoolmaster had learned that the secret of a rich life lies in one’s spiritual companionship. — Jesus wants his followers to be united with him as the branches are related to their Vine, and to enjoy continually his spiritual company. “I am the Vine, you are the branches”, he says. Insofar as we abide in Jesus and he in us, we will bear much fruit, because Jesus is the source of life and insofar as we do not, we will be absolutely ineffective, because without God we can do nothing. If a schoolmaster can say that Dante and Moliere and Goethe live with him, why can’t Christians say that Christ lives in us and we in Christ? Probably, most of us have at one time or other walked into a bank or an airline office to be told by the staff: “Sorry, you will have to wait; the computer system is down.” We can see that the computer terminals are there, some switched on. The screens are lit up; they may even perform some limited functions. However, we know they are quite helpless, because they are not connected to the “mainframe.” Like the computer terminals, we have to be plugged into Jesus, the mainframe, if we want to be of any use.[Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho.]

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

Not connected

A missionary in Africa lived in his central mission, which had a small electric plant to supply current for his Church and small rectory. Some natives from the outlying mission came to visit the padre. They noticed the electric light hanging from the ceiling of his living room. They watched wide-eyed as he turned on the little switch and the light came on. One of the visitors asked if he could have one of those bulbs. The priest thinking, he wanted it as a sort of trinket gave him a burned-out bulb. On his next visit to the outlying mission, the priest stopped at the hut of the man who had asked for the bulb. Imagine the priest’s surprise when he saw the bulb hanging from an ordinary string! He had to explain that one had to have electricity power and a wire to bring the current to the bulb. Without a connection there is no power!

In the Gospel of John we hear Jesus speaking of this same unity and intimacy, which should be part of our relationship with Jesus and with his Church. He illustrates this with a very earthy metaphor. “I am the true Vine and my Father is the Vine-grower. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne, quoted by Fr. Botelho.)

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.

The vineyard and the gardener

In First Things First, Roger Merrill relates the story of a busy man who decided to landscape his grounds. He contacted a talented woman with a doctorate in horticulture and experience in landscaping and expressed his desire to hire her to set a garden. But he emphasized to her the need to create a maintenance-free garden with automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices because he was too busy to spend much time on upkeep. But she said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, there’s no garden!”

In today’s Gospel Jesus asserts that he is the vine, we are the branches and his Heavenly Father is the gardener.

Believe because of the works I do.” 

When James W. Loucks, a bachelor and a veteran of the Civil War, died in 1934 at the Soldiers’ Home in Bath, New York, he bequeathed $200 to St. John’s Orphanage in Utica, New York, and $100 to the Sisters of St. Joseph at Little Falls, N.Y. His will also instructed the administrators of his estate, the Herkimer Co. Trust Co., to use the residue “for Masses for the repose of myself and my brother, Daniel.” Since the thrifty veteran had saved $10,000 from his humble employment as a farmer’s helper, road worker, and shoemaker, that meant that some $7,000 was to go for Mass offerings. Now, the president of the Herkimer Co. Trust Co. was puzzled about this last matter. He decided that the residue should be invested, and only the interest used for Masses. When this decision came to the attention of the bishop of Rochester, in whose diocese Mr. Loucks died, the bishop replied that Church law required that the whole sum should go for Masses. In fact, he felt obliged to take the case to court. Finally, three years later, the judge surrogate of Steuben County ruled that in this instance Church law took precedence over Civil law. As soon as the total residue was consigned to the bishop, he saw to it that, after this three-year wait, Masses finally began to be offered according to the old artilleryman’s intentions.

Who was James Loucks, whose dying wish was the celebration of several thousands of Masses? His religious history was most interesting, according to newsman James B. Hutchinson. Born to Protestant parents in 1844 at Manheim, Herkimer County N.Y., Jim enlisted in 1863 in Co. H. of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery. He saw action in the Pennsylvania campaigns of the Civil War from Cold Harbor on. Up to that time, he had had little or no contact with Catholics. But one thing that impressed him deeply as the war continued was the great work the Sisters of Charity were doing with the victims of the battlefield. If they are so caring, he thought, then the Church they represent must be a loving church. Then came the battle of Gettysburg – vast, bloody, frightening. In the midst of it, Jim vowed “If the Almighty God spares me in this war, I will become a Catholic! ” God did spare him, and he kept his pledge. When mustered out of service, he went to work on a farm near Little Falls, N.Y., where he approached Father James Ludden of St. Mary’s Church, Little Falls. Eventually received into the Church, he became an active Catholic; deeply religious and much given to reading and study of the faith. Between 1877 and 1885 he served as sexton of St. Mary’s. At the age of 69, he retired to the Soldiers’ Home at Bath. – Our words of praise for the Catholic Faith can often win others to join the Church. Even more persuasive than Catholic words, however, are Catholic deeds. It was the good deeds of the Sisters of Charity that moved Jim Loucks to become a Catholic. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord makes much the same point: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works I do.” Does our daily Christian life impress others to think well of our Church? (Father Robert F. McNamara).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.  L/21

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