Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 15, 2012 by Father Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The gospel today, while certainly being first and foremost, the description of a change in substance directly foreshadowing the Holy Eucharist, the change of bread and wine into Our Lord’s Body and Blood, also has a pertinent connection to the experience, I believe, of the past few days. At the Mass, some water is dropped into the wine representing our transformation in Christ from the natural to the supernatural. So the wine represents, even before the consecration, the Divinity of Christ, and the water represents our humanity.
In the gospel, Our Lord changes the water into wine to show us both His power and His desire to change that which is natural or of the earth into that which is worthy of heaven, that which is of Himself. As applied to the sorrows of this week, Christ wants to change the water of human and natural grief into something that will bring us all one step closer to heaven. Jesus wills once again, to transform the water into wine, the sorrow that focuses on death into the sorrow that will please God for heaven.
We can illustrate this intention by focusing for a moment on the 8th station of the cross, the meeting of Our Lord with the women of Jerusalem. Biblical exegesis have pointed out that Our Lord, while not displeased with the sadness expressed by those women who wanted to console Him as He was going to death, He wanted to elevate their sorrow and better direct it because their grief was too natural, was too much on one level and not enough directed to their own salvation in recognizing that Christ was doing this specifically for us. That’s why Our Lord says, “Do not grieve for Me, grieve for yourselves”. So, Our Lord was changing water into wine. Jesus told them not to weep for Him, again, but to weep for themselves. In other words, use My passion as a means to better understand your sins which have made my suffering necessary, in order that your sorrow may be completed by contrition.
That especially when it seems so premature is a reminder to all of us that as unfair as death may seem, it is not God who caused death, but rather, as Wisdom says, “the envy of the devil through which he was able to bring about the fall of our first parents”. He succeeded in stealing from Adam and Eve and therefore all of us that privilege, not right, to live and never die. We all die. And it is because of sin, which none of us can claim to be exempt from. Some try to forget death, others run away from it or do whatever they can to try to forestall it. But it comes all the same. Rather than simply seeing death as a punishment for sin, we should remember that God wants to use that as the final means of reparation for our sins in union with Christ’s suffering on the cross, so that our last act will be meritorious, and we know that we are judged by God in finality in the state in which we die in. So, death itself is a means, as long as it is not an end in and of itself, for redemption.
A few things to say here. And I think I‘ll maybe be more thorough at the 10 o‘clock Mass when the Condons are here. But, again, going with the theme that death is a means to an end, it must seem for the children, especially, it is so unfair how this can happen, how can it be that their mother, only 42 years old — I mean, I met Sharon when she was younger than I am now and how is it possible just like that she can be taken. The way I look at it, I think the way the Church looks at it, is when God gives these kinds of sufferings back to back to back like this, I mean, it didn‘t start with Sharon‘s death. It didn‘t start with Linda‘s death. It didn‘t start with the cancer. Sharon had lost a baby the year before. She had lost a number of children, and so God all along was giving sufferings to this family, I think, very directly, very specifically. That is not a sign of condemnation, it is not a sign of God abandoning the family, but rather it is a sign of God’s provincial providential love. God does not treat his saints nicely. He treats his saints with gall, obviously lovingly, but as the Scripture says, “God chastises those whom he loves. You see the Holy Family. Was Our Lady free of sufferings. I don’t think so. Was St. Joseph. No. They had more of a lot in sufferings than anybody else. Objectively speaking, physically speaking, maybe there are those in certain ways that have suffered more. And even that, it is probably highly unlikely. But the point is, because they were so holy, every sin, everything that they would behold that was wrong wounded them more deeply than anybody else. So they were constantly in suffering, even in the midst of their joys.
I think there is a very direct connection between the family in Lisieux, the Martin family, Now, we think about the fact that their mother died when she was maybe about forty. She, like Sharon, went on a pilgrimage in order to find out if it was God’s will to heal her. Mrs. Martin went to Lourdes, dipped herself in the water, and was not cured. She said, Okay, God’s will is to take me. Sharon goes to see the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, and she comes back and what does she hear when she gets back, not long after that. The bone scan comes in and the cancer had spread all throughout her body. Talk about a symbol of what was to come, God saying, No. It is My Will for you to die. And there are any number of reason we can come up with there. But Sharon, not missing a beat, to show that she had truly accepted it — some of you know this already — I have said this to some of you. Sharon, when she heard, you know, that the doctor was saying how disappointed he was because he thought that this new chemo was actually going to work better than it did. She said, “Oh, I know what we can do. Just take out all my bones and call me pancake lady”. And the doctors didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when she said that. And she had different ways of dealing with this. Like, people would ask her how she was doing, “Oh, I’m dying”. And she was very matter of fact about it.
It is funny, I always used to remember anytime she would start like going off on something and she would start saying this, that or the other thing, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I think”, and she would just start going off, and then she says, “Isn’t that right, Father?” Yes, Sharon. (Father laughing) She was very much one who just on a very natural level, we will miss very much. There only ever was, only ever will be one Sharon Condon. But, kind of getting back to the point of the sermon, look at the ages of the children. Little Therese was four years old when her mother died. The other girls ranged between six and about sixteen or something like that. Very similar to the other children. Maybe the Condon children are a little bit older, but we want to really encourage them to use, really make use of and turn to the Martin family. Even though only one of them was canonized, there is a very good chance that they are all in heaven. And they know very specifically the sufferings that this family is going through now and will go through. Just as with the Martins, this was a means to salvation. Some families this could have crushed. Some families this would have led away from God. But this particular family, what happened? They all used it, including little Therese, to become great saints. That is something that should really hopefully encourage them to bear this, and to recognize that God sends the cross to those who He loves. And I think it also may be a sign, just as in the Martin family, that all of them had vocations. I don’t say that all of the Condon family have vocations to either the priesthood or religious life. But I think a number of them do. I think maybe half of them do. You can already see it, even at this stage.
When God is going to give that kind of gift to a number of those in the family, it doesn’t come cheap. So, I think this is a means, for Him to plant them in the Cross. I mean, think of this. What is their Lent going to be like this year. What an opportunity to be drawn to the Mystical Cross. Now, for some of them it might be a little bit too soon for that. For some them it might be too difficult at this time, especially for the younger ones. Poor Cassie is right in between, at the age 13 to lose your mother, it is probably for her going to be the worst of all of them. All of them will have it difficult, but I really felt for her, I think, more than any of them that day.
But, anyway, one of the things that really got to me a bit, and, by the way, as you might imagine, this was in my 10 years almost in the priesthood, this was the most difficult experience I have ever had. I was told by somebody, You are going to have the cross and very soon. And my response was, Good. I need that. You know, we all need that. We can forget Christ very easily if things are going too nicely. Well, I didn’t have to wait long. That was about a week or two ago at most. But this was quite difficult. It’s just one of those things where it just comes over you all of a sudden like a wave. You are doing fine, and then, boom, it hits you again, you know. She’s gone. (Father overcome with grief for a moment.)
One of the things that really moved me was the recognition that I had the privilege of being there. As difficult as it was, the privilege to be in the same room with Sharon when her soul left her body. And to think about what was happening in the room at that time. Chris, and I think the other girls were just entering the room. But what happens when the soul leaves the body. Right at that moment in the very place where death happens, the judgment happens. So literally Christ Himself was there. Literally, not figuratively, not spiritually, Our Lord and Savior was there in the room judging her, as was Our Lady comforting and encouraging her, her guardian angel and the devil. They were all there at the same time.
Now, I told the girls and Chris that we do have hope that it is possible she was able to go directly to heaven. Now, we are not in the business of canonizing anybody. We know that. I don’t need to tell you that. But Sharon did receive the Apostolic Pardon, and I do believe that given that the only time the Apostolic Pardon would not work is if there is attachment to sin. I think the cancer pretty much helped her to detach herself from anything that would have been a problem. So, it is very possible, even though we cannot say definitively that at that moment when the soul left the body, Christ said to her, “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and enter your reward.” Now it is also possible that she — maybe if it was only a partial indulgence, not plenary, for whatever reason, that she would have had to go to purgatory for a time. But even — I am going to try to stress this with the children and with Chris — now, in order to help change the water into wine, the regular natural sufferings to a supernatural suffering, think about, what would it be like, either of those two — we’re not going to assume that there was a possibility of hell. I really don’t even think that is much of a possibility at all. I mean, she was so provided for at death, she made a very good confession not long before death. I can attest to that. I think there is really no doubt that one way or another she made it. But even if let’s say she went to purgatory, imagine at the time of death, imagine being judged by Jesus Christ, and imagine for a second, now her knowing for a fact that even though she is going to suffer for a time, imagine what it would be like for us, like St. Francis, incidentally, to know she was going to haven. The peace of that knowledge, that great joy, that great comfort which makes purgatory infinitely different than hell, that knowledge that I am saved and I cannot be lost. That is something for us to envy.
If anybody should be saying, It’s not fair, it’s not fair for us who have to remain, that Sharon is so much closer, at least, to heaven, and where are we? We might have to be here, we may not die when we are 40, we may die when we are 80. So that is something to be pitied more than it is to be rejoiced in. The purpose of this life is to get to the next life. So, Sharon dying when she did in one sense really is a blessing. Who knows what would have happened in the next 30 or 40 years if she hadn’t have died. Maybe God saw something that we did not and decided to take her when He did. He knew from all eternity the very moment He was going to choose, that he chose for her. And He knows the moment in which we are all going to die as well.
Let us also take the possibility, for a second, of Sharon having gone directly to heaven. Imagine her experience, leaving the body and entering into the joy of Our Lord. You know, with this Christmastime we tend to listen to a lot of Christmas carols from some of our favorite groups, choral groups. And we can think about, Wow, we can really blast it up with surround sound, 20 to 50 singers, human singers, some the best in the world, and how that sounds to be hearing The First Noel or In Dulci Jubilo, or some of these other great, great hymns, Joy to the World. We know how much comfort that give to us. Well, imagine Sharon leaving her body, entering into the heavenly cohort where there are not 20 to 50, but literally a gazillion angels, many more angels than there are humans. And they are all singing with the voices of angels each in their own state, in their own place, the glories of God. For us, the pain of separation from Sharon is not easy, and it will not ever become easy. But at the same time, think about for her, imagine if she did go directly to heaven, what is her experience now?
You know, for whatever reasons, the words are not coming as easily today as they did when I was preparing this, maybe because it’s like 8:30 in the morning, I don’t know. But it is something we really have to consider, see the other side of this. Not to be stuck in death, but recognize that death itself, there is a purpose to it. And for her now, to be where she is, no matter where she is, is a much greater blessing than to have had to stay here, as many blessings as there are here. It is something in one sense really to be envied.
I’m sorry that right now I can’t seem to say more. Maybe at the 10 o’clock I will.
Maybe one thing I want to leave you with on a different note here is that, you know, we just finished the Epiphany and we want to, in the time that we do have left, recognizing that, as in the case with Sharon, two years ago it looked like she was going to be alive 50 more years, but here she is gone, it can happen to any of us very soon, even today. The attitude that we want to have, coming to Mass, being at Mass, and leaving Mass. I won’t go on a long time with this. But think about the Magi, how joyful, how longingly they made haste to follow the star to be there to witness the Christ Child and His Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. I mentioned In Dulci Jubilo by Bach, and we think of those words in that hymn, O, that we were there, and if you think about all the different characters there. You can also think about Sharon, now, if she is in heaven, thinking now the character she is there then, in that case. She is beholding both the infant birth and the crucifixion, everything all together, this great conglomeration.
But for us, we need to think about, in the meantime, about the Magi, about the Crèche. Think about their desire, the longing, how devout they were when they were there, how they prostrate themselves, and how, leaving, they went by a different way, they were never the same after that. And if they could go back the next day to do it all over again, how much they would have done it. They would have come back every single day their whole lives if that was what they were given to do. And, yet, we have something even greater than they. How much we are to be pitied any time we miss the Holy Mass through our neglect. When we, through lack of desire, through ignorance of soul, which, again, leads to that death because of sin that we were talking about in the beginning, how much we are to be pitied, and what the Magi must think of us when they, if they could, would be here. We have something greater than what they did. They would have received Holy Communion every single day. They would have come back over and over and over again. But we who get so immersed in the world in our occupations, how much we are to be pitied. So we want, today, in the spirit of the Magi, just as the Condon family will pray to the Martins, to obtain that necessary grace to suffer well and change their water into wine.
So we want the water of natural desires to turn into the wine of supernatural. We want to long each and every day to come to Mass. And it is a gift that we can acquire. Some cannot make it for whatever reason. But every single time we can, we must.
So, just as at the end of Mass, Ite missa est, Go, the Mass is ended, we go by a different way than we came, just like the Magi. So let us beg pardon for our ungratefulness and being so unmoved, and maybe as a result of that having too natural of a sorrow when we have someone who we loved who has died. The two will go hand in hand here. The more we assist at the Mass, the more we prepare ourselves before Mass, the more devoutly we recognize Christ’s presence right here just as present as He was in the Crèche, and the more longing for holiness we have when we receive Him, and then go and know that He is with us the whole time, the more that we do this, the more, again, that that water will be changed into wine. Those natural desires that we cannot ever seem to get over, we never seem to have purified and elevated, will all of a sudden begin to be worthy of heaven.
So, let that be our prayer today, what we can do for Sharon more than anything else, is to assist at the Mass, each Mass, as if it is our first, our last, and our only Mass. To receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament with as great love and fervor as is possible, to thank specifically, Our Mother, for her cooperation, Christ’s mother and Our Mother, and in doing so, obtain again that grace to be able, if Sharon should be, for instance, in purgatory, to get her out. And that is something we can continue to show our love for her by doing that. And if she is there already in heaven, again, we have so many loved ones who may not be so fortunate. So that is what I want to leave you with today.
There are certain other things I wish I could have said maybe a little bit better, but at least I want to leave you with something today to help us in effect to become saints. Everything centers upon the Mass. Our joys, our sorrows, our glories, everything centers upon what we do right here. This should be the center of our day every day, whether or not physically we can get here.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.