[I'm preaching a retreat this weekend to the deacons of Pittsburgh and their wives. The theme is taken from one of the new dismissals at Mass: "Go and announce the gospel of the Lord." Below is the homily I'll be delivering at the final liturgy on Sunday.]
Boston’s Fenway Park has witnessed some great moments in sports history. But I don’t think anything can compare with what happened there five summers ago. If any of you were following on my blog on 4th of July, you saw what I’m about to describe. I posted the video of it.
The Red Sox were hosting Disability Awareness Night to honor and salute fans who might have some kind of handicap. The organizers selected a young man named Peter Rometti, who has autism, to sing the National Anthem. Well, it was clear from the first few notes that this was not Pavarotti. But he was enthusiastic, and gave his all. A few lines into it, he started to stutter. Then he started to laugh. And the crowd, listening, laughed, too. But they laughed with him, not at him. They clapped and cheered him on. And Peter pulled himself together and continued the song.
But then, something great happened. Something nobody quite expected. It started small. A couple of voices could be heard from the stands. They were singing with him. And very quickly those couple of voices became a couple dozen. And then a couple hundred. And then a couple thousand. Soon, the entire stadium was singing with him, and for him — 36-thousand people accompanying him, helping him, carrying him with their voices.
He made it to the end — the land of the free and the home of the brave!— and the crowd burst into cheers and applause. And Peter Rometti, the young man with autism, just beamed.
And in a matter of minutes, a crowd of people who had come to watch a baseball game became something more. They became a community. One of baseball’s most famous cathedrals became home to a congregation of believers. They believed that Peter Rometti could make it. And they helped him get there.
All of which, in a beautiful way, helps connect us to this gospel – and to what we’ve been talking about.
In the gospel, Jesus was sending his disciples out into the world. But we are reminded that he didn’t send them out alone. He sent them two by two. You can think of a lot of practical reasons for that. But some of it, I think, is not just practical. It is spiritual.
Here we are reminded that Christianity is not a solitary endeavor. Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am, too, Jesus said. Christianity requires a community. It demands collaboration. Partnership. A shared experience of prayer, and faith, and sacrifice, and worship, and belief. Love, after all, does not exist in a vacuum. You need another. Those disciples who embarked two by two into the world are the reason we are here, not two by two, but pew by pew, lifting our voices together in praise and thanksgiving.
In short, we are here to accompany one another, just as those thousands of strangers accompanied Peter Rometti in Fenway Park.
The last couple of days, we’ve talked about ways to proclaim the gospel of the Lord. And we have done this for one fundamental reason: Christianity isn’t meant to be kept to ourselves. We practice it, and live it, in the presence of God, and in the presence of others. It is about offering support. Sharing struggles and prayers and hope. It is about lifting our voices together to help one another—to offer help when the music becomes hard or the words escape us. We aren’t in this alone.
Which brings me to the other telling detail from this gospel. Jesus tells the apostles to take nothing for the journey. Except for just two things. Sandals. And a walking stick.
The point being: you are going places.
The gospel is meant to be lived on its feet — taken to others, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. It is to be taken beyond places that are flat, and safe and comfortable. It’s also to be taken where the terrain may be rough and the hills steep. The trip won’t necessarily be easy.
But it is one we all are asked to take.
Yet: we don’t have to go it alone.
So remember what Peter Remetti discovered on a warm summer night in Boston, when the words wouldn’t come. 36-thousand voices carried him. 36-thousand hearts uplifted him and saw that he arrived, safely and surely, at the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
As we leave from this place later today on our own journeys of faith, to return to our homes and families and jobs, we will meet on our way those who may have struggles of their own. Difficulties. Challenges. Setbacks. But remember that night in Fenway, and remember our calling. Remember that we are to be there for one another – as brother deacons, and as Christians — to serve and to love and to keep the music going.
Let us renew our commitment to make the good news of Jesus Christ our anthem.
I can’t think of a better way to “announce the gospel of the Lord.”