Homily of Father Stefano: Holy Mass
Twenty three years ago, inside the heart of Elvira, a fire started to burn. She was a very happy Sister. She was not exhausted, nor was she sad with anxiety or depression. She was content where she was, like Moses, a man who was happy being a shepherd. God, however, begins to light a fire inside and wants to draw you closer to Him that you may walk. He makes you take off your sandals, and He lets you know that what is happening inside of you is something sacred. God said to Moses, “ It is not something of yours, but it is something of mine. It is not a fire that you have lit, but one that I have lit. It is not yours, but it is mine!” Take off your sandals and respect what God is placing in your heart. Do not put out the fire, but keep it close to you because it is something sacred.
Perhaps Moses did not understand, but he says a great thing, which is the same thing said by all the other people who have come to know this interior fire, that have remained overwhelmed, burned, but by a beautiful burning. It is not a fire that burns your skin but is a fire that lights up your heart, that makes you uncomfortable. It’s a fire that does not leave you in peace, or even better, a fire that gives you true peace…peace that makes you look honestly at yourself, that sets you on His path, that makes you restless to help people who are in slavery.
Moses says, “Here I am.” One day in Nazareth Mary said, “Here I am.” One day Elvira said inside of her heart, “Here I am.” Many of us who consecrated our lives to God, all of the priests who are present now, all of the Sisters, all of you parents, one day said to God, “Here I am.” You felt the fire burning in your hearts, the fire of love towards a man or a woman, towards the people of God, for the Church, for the poor, for youth, for everyone. “Here I am” are the greatest words a man can say, without understanding in his mind, but feeling a burning inside his heart that beats for a Love that has just been lit.
Where a woman or a man is able to say, “Here I am,” life is born, children, peace, and joy. Hope is born in the world. In the land of missions is born the dignity of man. In the parish the living presence of God is born, because there is someone who says, “Here I am.” Life is reborn. The desert blooms in abundance of flowers. The love of God returns to burn and humanity can finally feel it.
Moses says, “Here I am,” and God says, “ I am not a ghost, but the God of your father, your mother, Abraham, and Isaac. I am the God of Jacob.” God makes us enter into a story that He has been making with humanity from the very first day of creation: the infinite story of God’s love for men. It is a story written by men and women of all time, whom we will one day know in eternity. We will finally be able to thank all of those who have preceded us and who said “Here I am” to the God whose love we can experience today.
“I am the God of your father.” You enter into a story, a tradition, a life, which is the story of holiness, the story of His love for men that is transmitted through the “yes” of those whom He has chosen for love and to make others feel loved.
Then God says to Moses, “I have felt the misery of my people.” This fills my heart with joy when I think of the call of Elvira, our call, my call, and the call of my brother priests whom God has called in His great work, which is the Church, which is the love of God for the world. God has chosen us because He has heard your cry! We belong to Him; we also belong to you. We are God’s, and we are also yours. That Holy Ground before which we must take off our shoes is your life, guys and girls! It is your story. We are the Holy Ground of God.
God says to Moses, “Take off your sandals! Know that these people to whom I send you deserve the dignity of being My people.” Dear guys and girls of the Community, parents, you “stiff-necked” people, like the people of Israel who had a hard time obeying, just as we do at times, a poor people, torn and lacerated, who took three steps forward and two steps back, a people who fell down repeatedly into the same compromises, yet regarding them God says to Moses, “Take off your sandals before these people. Be clean in your service and charity, because I love these people.”
Guys and girls, we have just one thing to say to you with all of our joy, our lives, our blood, and also our poverty, with all of our mistakes, with the times when we get agitated and then have to ask your forgiveness--we have just one thing to say to you, one thing for which we are giving all of our life, risking with courage like Moses to leave his father, mother, security, normal human things. We want to tell you the greatest thing in the world: God loves us! God loves you! You are a people whom God loves immensely! I believe that there is a love that God has lit in the heart of Elvira and in all of those who have truly been called to be a part of this Community, a love that can’t be put out, even when you see our weaknesses and we see yours.
Every once in a while I think, “ Lord, why couldn’t you have called me for other people who understood immediately, or obeyed immediately, who didn’t need to have things repeated a thousand times? Yet when I dream of something beautiful, I always dream about all of you, like Moses, who at a certain point had when he had to struggle with God, on one hand was telling the people that they were hardheaded, and on the other hand, was saying to God, “ I can no longer do any other than live for these people whom you have given me.”
Guys and girls, we want to tell you with joy that we are with you and that we always will be. In our Community missions the first question that the children ask is, “How long are you staying with us? How long will you love us? How much time will you give to us?” I can say to all of you with joy, and I am sure that it goes for all of the priests who God has called for you, as well as all the consecrated Brothers and Sisters of the Community, that we want to give our lives to you. We want to tell you with all our hearts, “We will always be with you!” You will still see our weaknesses, and we will make many more mistakes. We are limited just like you, but the love which God has placed in our hearts is a love that we can’t extinguish, not even with our sin because it is a fire that belongs to God. Only the foolish think that the fire which God set aflame in these hills 23 years ago is a fire that was lit by us. Believe me, everyone who knows us sees our poverty very clearly, and either they understand that this is a work of God or they leave scandalized. It is so evident, to us more than anyone, that God has created something here that we can’t grasp with our minds. Like Moses says, “ But who am I? I, Moses who babbles, who is not even able to speak, who up until yesterday was a shepherd ….”
Likewise, when Sr. Elvira asked to open the Community, people said to her, “But who are you, you who have only peeled lots of potatoes and washed lots of pans? How can you help the youth, the drug addicts?” And it was all true, and exactly this is the sign of God. This is the sign that it is the hand of God. It is something that seems foolish for man, something that we cannot understand with our minds. Here we can truly see that God has put his hands into the pasta, because it is not something humanly possible!
How could Moses, a poor and weak man, go before a powerful pharaoh and free his people? How is it possible that a little Sister can “whip into shape” a bunch of drug addicts for 23 years, when no one else could do it? You, moms and dads, just think about it. Were you were able to drag your kids out of bed at six in the morning? In our 53 Community houses your kids jump out of bed at six in the morning, go into the chapel, and pray. We learn to love ourselves. We fall into compromises, but we learn to tell ourselves the truth, and this is the miracle and the work of God, because we are so incredibly weak and fragile and our poverties a so huge.
God says to Moses, God says to us, God said to Elvira, “Do not be afraid! I will be with you!” You just need to close your mouth and let your heart dance. God says to every single one of us, “Do not be afraid. I will be with you. You can come out of Egypt. You can get out of the years and years of drugs. You can rid yourself of the desperation that you had in your heart, because I am with you.” The same fire that Moses felt in his heart is the fire which entered into Nazareth and overturned the life of Mary. The fire of God is lit also in that little house in Nazareth and Mary says, “Here I am.” Like Moses she says, “But who am I! How is it possible that I, a young girl of 15 years, can give birth to the Son of God?” Try to think, how could it be humanly possible for a 15 year old girl to become the Mother of God? God says to her, “Mary I need you. I am in love with humanity and with you. I want to be born into the story.” Trembling, Mary says to God, “Here I am,” and God says to Mary, just like He had said to Moses, “Do not be afraid, Mary. The Holy Spirit will come down upon you. Look, this fire of my love has descended also upon the house of your cousin Elizabeth. She who was not able to bear children is now with child. Nothing is impossible with God.”
Nothing is impossible with God! Life can be born, also into an old and sterile life, like the life of Elizabeth, like our lives were when we entered Community. Nothing is impossible with God. He can make your life fertile, and He can bring forth life from a womb that has been sterile for many years.
I always like to think of this when reading the Gospel of today: the fire of God makes you run. Mary, after she had felt that fire of the Holy Spirit enter into her life, leaves her house in Nazareth and runs with haste towards the mountain. The joy that she has inside makes her run. The joy of the fire that set her life aflame made her risk everything and made her say those courageous words, “Here I am” that placed her in so much risk. But faith without risk is not faith, but mold.
Mary go to join Elizabeth. I think that Mary ran because she had the joy of taking to everyone the God whom she held in her womb. But it’s a run in the mountains. We know very well that the walk in faith that we are learning here in Community is not a downhill journey. The way of the Gospel is not comfortable or easy. It is a narrow road, but it is the road to freedom. The way of faith goes uphill, but it is a beautiful climb, a living one, that from the top of a mountain lays out a new horizon of life right before your eyes. Mary runs in the mountains. She runs because she is carrying Jesus, but I also believe that she runs because her faith had been confirmed—because the confirmation of faith always lies in the brother who is near to you.
You guys and girls are the confirmation of the faith that Elvira had. Looking at all of you, we believe that God has truly called us. Seeing what God has brought forth inside of all of you, whose wombs were much more sterile than that of Elizabeth, we believe that God has really passed through this Holy Ground. Mary runs and when she sees Elizabeth, who is pregnant, she says, “God is truly God. That “Here I am” which I have said is truly a “Here I am.” It gives me much joy to think that the brother or sister around me nourishes my faith.
This is the experience of Community. When we enter into Community, we are a mess, but the brother or sister who is near to us can give us faith, these brothers and sisters in whom we have clearly seen that God has worked something beautiful that has changed their countenance. That brother can help give us faith. He helps us to believe and to say, “I am like this, too.”
Mary, seeing Elizabeth and feeling the child whom she carried in her womb dance with joy, says, “ The God in whom I believe is truly God,” and so the celebration breaks out! The celebration breaks out precisely because of our meeting with God and our brothers and how we have been touched by the love of God. Mary is crazy with joy! Elizabeth doesn’t understand anything anymore! John the Baptist and Jesus are doing somersaults in the womb of their mothers. This embrace makes the universe explode! Wherever God passes, joy explodes, life explodes.
Just like the fire passed to Moses, to Nazareth, to Elizabeth, and to Mary, twenty-three years ago it passed here. It was ignited in the heart of Elvira and, through her, it is passing on to us. Like Moses, Mary, and Elizabeth, let us say to Jesus, “Here I am!” when we receive Him in the Eucharist. Let’s risk with courage in this journey of struggles and run in haste into the mountains. Let’s be in a hurry to love and to live, to pour out our lives fully.
The Mass of this evening wants to be a Magnificat: the Almighty has done great things here on via San Lorenzo 35. As one of the Psalms says, “The Lord raises the needy from the dust. He lifts the poor from the ash heap.” God has come down and gathered his most precious jewels: the lives of His children. He has gathered us and is cleansing us once again, to enable us to taste the beauty of being his children. The Almighty has done great things here.