Moments ago in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Matt Kuczora, C.S.C., with the Holy Chrism on his hands less than 24 hours old, preached the homily at his First Mass. Although Mass is still going, we have for you as part of our exclusive Ordination Week the text of his homily. In a few hours, on the ND Prayercast website, you will be able to watch Fr. Matt’s first Mass as well. It is clear that Fr. Matt will be a great priest for Holy Cross and for the Church!
We don’t see the beard, the loving smile or the patient eyes; we don’t see the wounded hands and side, but Christ touches us every day.
Easter can be a very profound time when we encounter Christ. Today we mark the next step of our newly baptized Christians in their journey out into the world. Last Saturday night, they felt the waters of forgiveness wash over their heads, and they heard their names called, baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Today they return with their white baptismal robes and celebrate as full members of the Church.
Yesterday, in this same Basilica, I was ordained a priest. During the Ordination, I felt Bishop Rhoades anoint my hands with the Chrism oil. As he did, I smelled its perfumed fragrance and later in the Mass I saw my brother priests gather and felt their reassuring touch on my head as they laid on their hands in an ancient sign of blessing.
As Catholics, we often experience our faith, our encounters with Grace, through our senses. Look around you. The murals and paintings of the Basilica we see; the beautiful Folk Choir music we hear and sing along to – all testify to that. We feel the warm hands of our neighbor at the sign of peace, and in the Eucharist, we taste the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We smell the aroma of fresh flowers … and sometimes the not so fresh smell of our neighbor who rushed out of the house before he could brush his teeth.
If then we Catholics experience our faith through sight, sound, taste and touch, the Apostle Thomas we read about in the Gospel, was no exception. Thomas asks to see the Lord, to touch His hands and side. When he gets his chance, Thomas is overwhelmed and exclaims in a burst of joy, “My Lord and my God!”
My Lord and my God. Our lives are often burdened by the heavy hand of illness or the bitter taste of disappointment, frustration and defeat. That is true. But Christ’s touch, our experience of His sacrifice and victory at Easter, and His gentle, healing touch in the sacraments – this assures us that we are loved, that we are special to Him. He assures us that after the Cross, after our suffering, there is light and joy and peace in Him. This Easter season we may very well be filled with a desire to say along with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Now this same Thomas is probably more famous for his doubt rather than his faith. He doubted that Christ had defeated death and risen to new life. And like the rest of the Apostles, he was filled with fear after the crucifixion and ashamed that he had abandoned Christ during his trial, torture and execution.
But despite all these disappointments, after experiencing Christ in that locked room, Thomas was so filled with zeal that he traveled to the ends of the earth, telling others what he felt and about the promise of forgiveness and eternal life that Christ brings. Thomas went on to do great things.
Last Christmas I had the privilege of seeing Thomas’ tomb – not near Galilee where he had spent most of his life or even in Rome, but on the eastern coast of India, in a town called Chennai, thousands of miles from Jerusalem, further from home than any other apostle. There, in India, Thomas preached the Gospel, healed the sick and comforted the lonely. In return he was chased, tortured and murdered. But in the process of his ministry he brought many people to Christ, and today thousands of Indian Catholics trace the roots of their faith back 2,000 years to him. And today his tomb is venerated by Christians, Muslims and Hindus alike.
Though Thomas doubted and was filled with fear and shame, he went on to do great things. My brothers and sisters, in Thomas we have an example for our lives. No matter how we may suffer and how we might fail or feel we have failed, Jesus rose from the dead on Easter to heal those failings, so that we like Thomas, can do great things.
Today, be very Catholic. Allow Christ to touch you through your senses. Listen to Christ’s voice in the words of our prayers. Taste the bread and wine that are His Body and Blood. See Him in your neighbor, both in the pews and then wherever you may go from here.
Christ says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” At the Mass we are fed at the table of the Word and the Altar. We experience Him in the Mass, not only to heal our broken hearts, but also to strengthen us to go out into the world, to live our lives well and do great things.
Now, our great things may be to leave our homes and preach the Gospel in foreign lands. Working at a parish in Mexico, I assure you, we could use all the help we can get! But leaving home or not, for all of us, the daily greatness we are called to is to live as good friends, forgiving spouses, loving parents, helpful children – brothers and sisters in Christ.
Of course this is no easy task, and so Christ has breathed the Holy Spirit on us as He did those first disciples, so that we might have His strength to accompany us on our journey. Through the Holy Spirit, through those we meet in our daily lives, through the Eucharist, Christ touches us every day. Thoughtful words, experiences of prayer, extending a helping hand to those who are oppressed and in need – these are the ways that Christ touches us, helping us experience Him and believe … though we do not see Him the way that the first disciples did. But blessed are we who have not seen, we, who feel His touch and believe.
Today we continue to celebrate Easter, the victory of Christ over the world and it’s death, its suffering and sin. As the John the Evangelist writes in the second reading, in our faith we are united with Christ and together we have conquered the world. We need not be afraid. “Peace be with you,” He says to us. May His peace rest upon us today and all the days of our lives.