I won’t be preaching this weekend — I’m giving a retreat elsewhere — but here’s my homily from three years ago for the same Sunday. Dcn. G.
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s the President of CBS News was a colorful and very gifted man by the name of Richard Salant. By the time I’d arrived at CBS in the early ‘80s, he was long gone, but his leadership was legendary. And someone once shared with me a favorite Salant quote.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world,” he said. “Those who are there when I need them, and those who aren’t.”
If you wanted to put that in a religious context: Abraham was the first kind. Whenever God needed him, he was there.
When God called, he answered. “Here I am,” he said.
When God asked him to leave his homeland and family in his old age, and go into the wilderness, to a strange land, he went.
And when He asked him to sacrifice the person he loved most in the world, his beloved son, Abraham was even willing to do that.
His life is an astonishing chronicle of great faith and obedience. No matter what, he was ready for God – some translations even have him answering God’s call with just that one word, “Ready.” Abraham was ready, willing and able to place himself in the hands of the Almighty, and trust.
Do any of us have even half that much devotion, a quarter of that much trust?
How many of us are able to say to God, no matter what he asks, “Here I am”?
Does that idea even cross our minds?
These days, I think, that’s rare. But every now and then someone comes along whose generosity is truly inspiring, and moving. One of those, I think, was Eugene Patrick O’Grady.
Eugene O’Grady was a priest from Baltimore who volunteered for the army during World War II, just a few years after being ordained. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Many men didn’t make it off that beach. But Fr. O’Grady did.
In the days after D-Day, he spent hours writing letters to the families of those who had died. He didn’t have to. But he did. As someone said later, “No seminary teaches you how to do that.” It was just part of his nature.
He volunteered for any mission that he could, to be there for the soldiers. And he helped them write letters home that were always more optimistic, less fearful, than the reality of life at the front lines. He wanted to reassure families in America, give them less worry or anxiety. Again, it was part of his nature.
In November of 1944, after a long day in the battlefield, Fr. O’Grady headed back to the front lines to see if there were any wounded he’d missed. He was struck by shrapnel and died instantly.
I read his story in the Baltimore Sun a few years ago, when surviving family and friends gathered to dedicate a memorial chapel in his honor in Maryland. There’s now a Knights of Columbus chapter named for him, as well.
At the chapel dedication, a niece toasted him with an Irish proverb. “The work,” she said, “praises the man.”
It is work, I submit, that said again and again, “Here I am.” To soldiers. To their families. And to God.
Not all of us are called to be military chaplains and to live that kind of heroism. But there is another, quiet kind of heroism that comes from choosing to say, in our everyday lives, “Here I am.”
And Lent is a beautiful opportunity to do that.
We can all take time during this season of prayer and fasting and penance to say that, and to offer ourselves.
To a neighbor who is lonely…here I am.
To a soup kitchen needing volunteers or a charity needing help…here I am.
To a spouse you’ve taken for granted, or a child you’ve been too busy for…here I am.
To a God whom we’ve neglected, or a faith that we’ve overlooked, or a prayer life that we’ve let become stagnant…here I am.
Lent offers us a chance to remember what matters, to strip away what’s unimportant, and to once again make ourselves present.
And in that presence, we can place ourselves in the Divine Presence, trusting that He will use us as He wants.
That kind of faith made Abraham the father of great nation. And it led Jesus to a mountaintop, where – as the gospel reminds us today — he was transfigured. That mysterious moment was Christ’s own statement to the world of whom he was – another way of saying, “Here I am.”
He will say it to us again, in a few moments, when a piece of bread is elevated in the hands of the priest. We will look at that in awe and adoration.
And once more, Christ will declare, without speaking a word, “Here I am.”
Here I am. Offered. Sacrificed. Broken.
He offers to share himself and invites us — challenges us — to do the same. It is an invitation to change our hearts.
To be, in effect, transfigured.
And as the scripture told us on Ash Wednesday: now, Lent, is “the acceptable time” to make that happen.
This Lent, let us ask ourselves: when God calls, how will we respond?
What Richard Salant said all those years ago has a kernel of truth to it. There are two kinds of people: those who are there when they are needed, and those who aren’t.
Which will we be?
Image: “Abraham Slaying Isaac” by Chagall