Homily for November 18, 2012: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

[This Sunday, my parish is celebrating the closing of its centennial. Bishop DiMarzio will be on hand, along with several priests who have close associations with the parish, for a massive concelebrated Mass at 12:30.  Also in the mix: a horde of altar servers, plus drums, timpani and a full choir.  According to the program, the music includes "Gloria a Te," "The Church's One Foundation," "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past" and "The March of the Nobles." Meantime, here's my homily for the 5 p.m. vigil Mass.  I'll be doing an encore at 8:30 and 10 on Sunday.  -- DGK] 

Looking over these readings, as we celebrate this weekend our parish centennial, I was struck by a couple things.

First: this isn’t the joyful, hope-filled kind of reading you want for a parish celebration. It’s serious and it’s sobering.

But secondly: it’s a challenge to us. This gospel challenges us to remember that our time here is limited. It’s finite. We will be judged.

Just before this passage, Jesus describes the “tribulations” he referred to in detail – wars, suffering, persecution, false messiahs. Reflecting on this gospel, you can’t help but wonder: is the world being described by Mark our world today? Is our age the one that will see the stars fall from the sky?

I think every generation has probably asked that question.

And that brings me back to our parish centennial. When you consider those who came before us, you realize that every age has struggled with hardship and uncertainty, suffering and war.

Every generation has turned to God in prayer.

Certainly, that was true on November 24th 1912, when a few families gathered at Margaret Dealy’s house on Meteor Street in Forest Hills and prayed together the first Mass as this parish.

As we remember that event, and all that came after, we remember too that we are part of a great story — a story still unfolding, a story of faith and abiding hope.

It is a story of people of prayer.

One hundred Novembers ago, I imagine that the first parishioners prayed for things people have always prayed for: for comfort, for healing, for blessings. Their concerns weren’t that different from our own.

Then as now, they were praying in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. In October of 1912, just a few weeks before that first Mass, in the middle of brutal war tearing into the Balkans, two pilots did something no one had ever done before: they flew a small airplane over a railway station in Turkey, and hurled hand grenades to the ground. History doesn’t record how many were injured or killed. But it notes this sobering fact: it was the world’s first aerial bombing. It set the stage for a new kind of warfare, and everything that followed in that bloody century.

In Wisconsin, a New York saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot and wounded Teddy Roosevelt as he was about to give a speech in Milwaukee. Roosevelt survived. Schrank spent the rest of his life in mental hospital.

It was a confusing and disorienting time – and a time, too, of grief. In April, the Titanic went down in the Atlantic, taking with it 1500 men, women and children. For some New Yorkers, it would be a grim and sorrowful Thanksgiving.

This was the world that the first parishioners were living in. And so they did what people have always done in this parish. They prayed.

And our praying has never ceased.

We prayed through a Great Depression and two World Wars. We prayed through the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis. We prayed through strikes and walkouts, blackouts and riots. We prayed through Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Across the decades, we have prayed during moments of deep sorrow and great joy—through 100 Good Fridays and Easter Sundays.

We have come here for weddings and baptisms, first communions and confirmations, May crownings and Corpus Christi processions. How many candles have been lit, how many rosary beads have been counted, how many fingers have been dipped into the fonts of holy water by the front door? It’s impossible to know.

How many times has a priest stood at an altar in this church and raised in his hands the consecrated host?

How many times has the body of Christ been blessed, broken, shared? How many confessions have been heard, sins forgiven, tears wiped away?

We can’t know.  Like so many who came before us, we can’t know, either, what the future will bring, how many more days we have been given, or when the stars will fall. But this day, our hearts are full of joy. The gospel affirms this: the one star that matters – the North Star, Jesus Christ – will never fail, will never fall. He assures us: “My words will never pass away.” That is the great message that has uplifted and inspired so many here over the last 100 years here.

And so we hold onto that hope as we gaze toward the future. Across a hundred years, there have been more prayers in this parish than you can count. And that is our story. That is who we are.

We are people of prayer.

And so we continue to pray…

We pray for those first families who knelt in a living room on Meteor Street and prayed this church into being. We pray for Joseph McLaughlin, the first pastor, a priest whose spirit and vision and imagination infuse every corner of this parish property – from the church to the convent to the school. In the middle of a cow field in Queens, he dared to see something no one else imagined. He dared to see something beautiful.

We pray for those who passed through these doors, however briefly, and found solace and hope. We pray for those who ministered here, and who continue to minister here, those who are ordained and those who are not, those who strive every day to accomplish just one thing: the work of God.

We pray in thanksgiving to our patroness, our mother Mary: the one who stood by the cross, and who continues to stand with all of us, by all our crosses, amid all our struggles and hopes. She has kept so many of us under her mantle. I know. I speak from personal experience.

And we pray in gratitude for the gift we have been given – not just this parish, this building, these four walls. But the gift of faith. The psalm we sang a few moments ago says it all: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

Of all the legacies passed on to us, that is the greatest. And it is the one that will outlast us all – into the next century and beyond.

The gospel reminds us that nothing lasts forever. But the good works of those who came before us have endured. Let us offer our own good works and prayers for those who will follow us, echoing words that have been spoken countless times within these walls – prayed in hope, and thanksgiving, and love:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen. 


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