A. Father Carmen, Deacon Kendzierski, Brother Dan Longo, National President of OSIA, Sr. Frances Cipriotti, President of the OSIA Grand Lodge of Maryland, bear members, family, friends of the Order, parishioners, and dear friends in Christ:
B. I am grateful for the invitation to celebrate this memorial Mass in which we commend to the Lord the members of the Grand Lodge of Maryland who, during the past year, have gone home to the Lord. I feel a special connection to the Sons and Daughters of Italy because I am proud to claim Italian heritage myself and because I am so grateful for all the good work that the Order accomplishes – most notably promoting the Italian language, Italian history, culture, and food; offering scholarships for deserving young people and their families, supporting many worthy causes that benefit the wider community, assistance for those facing natural disasters, and so much more. Thank you also for being an integral part of St. Leo’s Parish and for keeping alive Little Italy as a vital part of the City of Baltimore. For this is for so much more, please accept my warmest gratitude.
II. Those Who Have Died
A. During this Mass, Brother Dan Longo will read the names of those members of the Sons of Italy who have gone home to the Lord during the past year. As you hear the names of those who have died, you will gratefully recall the friendship you shared with them in OSIA and you will also recall how they participated in the good works of the Order. And we will join together in asking that the Lord, in his merciful love, take them unto himself and give them the joy of everlasting life. We do this at Mass because the Mass renews the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross by which our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are unlocked for us. In every Mass, we share in the Christ’s redeeming love for us: a love which is stronger than sin and more powerful than death; a love which enables our prayers to reach the ears of our heavenly Father; a love which enables our prayers to support our deceased brothers and sisters… and so it could be said that your fraternity spans time and eternity, earth and heaven.
B. In praying for the beloved dead of the Sons of Italy, we cannot also help but remember that we are gathered on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 – and so we today we also remember those who died in New York, the Pentagon, as well as Shanksville, Pennsylvania on that unforgettably tragic day. We pray as well for the all the first responders – the firefighters, police, emergency medical teams – who died trying to save the lives of others or who died subsequently from the exposure to toxins. May their souls rest in peace, may their families be consoled, and may peace come to this very troubled world of ours – a world which, lately, seems more dangerous and troubled than ever.
C. As we gather up all these intentions on this particular Sunday of the Year, the Scripture readings speak to us about the mercies of God and they do so in a special jubilee year of mercy which Pope Francis provided for earlier this year. How consoling that we can commend our loved ones to a merciful God, a God who loves us tenderly, more than we could ever ask or imagine. Let us spend a moment reflecting on today’s Scriptures.
III. Book of Exodus
Let us begin with the consoling reading from the Book of Exodus. It might not seem so consoling at first, because, as it opens, we find that God is pretty upset with the Israelites for giving up the true faith. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites made themselves a molten calf, an idol, which they were worshipping. It seems God had reached the end of his patience with the Israelites, just as we sometimes wonder if God is reaching the end of his patience with us … but Moses intervenes and intercedes on their behalf. As we hear Moses imploring God for the Israelites, let us be reminded that Jesus is always pleading for us at the right hand of the Father; “You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us,” we often say at the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass. Even more than Moses, Jesus begs the Father of mercies to forgive us our sins.
IV. The Gospel Reading
A. The Gospel reading is all about God’s mercy. Here we find the Pharisees and scribes condemning Jesus because he welcomed sinners and ate with them. How consoled we should be, for we are the sinners whom Jesus seeks out. Indeed, this is the very reason why Jesus came into the world – he was sent by the Father to find us, to rescue us, to save us! That is why Jesus tells the story about the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep or the woman who searches her house for a lost coin. Just so, the Lord is searching for us, asking only that we open our heart to his mercy.
B. Of course, the grandest story of God’s mercy follows in today’s Gospel. It’s the story of the wayward son, who squandered his father’s inheritance, fell into abject poverty, and decided to return home as one of his father’s hired hands. He even rehearsed how he would confess his sins to the Father— but it turns out the Father was just waiting for him to come home. Jesus is telling us here how loving and merciful God the Father really is. No matter how far we stray or how lost we feel, God the Father is always right there waiting for us with open arms. We may feel sinful and unworthy of his love – but all we need to do is to make a move toward him – and he will run to meet us as his beloved sons and daughters. So like the prodigal son, let us make our move toward the Father – especially by making use of the sacrament of mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and unlike the older son who became angry when his young brother was welcomed home by their father – let us encourage one another in repenting of our sins, in living our faith, and in sharing more deeply in the Father’s love.
V. Illustration: St. Paul
A. Finally, in our second reading from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, St. Paul offers himself as “Exhibit A” as a subject of God’s mercy. Paul recalls his previous life when he persecuted the Christian community. In those days, Paul thought he was holier than God himself – he was arrogant! Yet, the grace of Christ reached him and changed his whole life! “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of this I am the foremost!” In effect, St. Paul is saying to us, “If Christ can save me, he can save anyone!” Paul is really taking away our excuses for not opening our hearts to the Lord’s mercy.
B. How grateful we should be that ours is a God of love and mercy and how consoled we should that we are commend our beloved dead into the arms of a merciful God. May they rest in peace and may God bless the Sons of Italy and bless us all – and keep us in love!