Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Blessing of St. Vincent Catholic Charities Chapel
Jan. 15, 2020
It is a pleasure and joy for me to bless this chapel this morning. Even as this building, which dates to 1959, has been thoroughly renovated and re-deployed in the service of the mission of Catholic Charities, so too this chapel has been renovated and, by today’s blessing, it too is, in a sense, being re-deployed in the service of the mission of Catholic Charities. For, it is here, in this sacred space, that the spark of the divine that is within us can be nurtured, so that we can better perceive, appreciate, and nurture the spark of the divine in those we serve.
Indeed, today’s Scripture readings shed a ray of divine light on the important role this chapel will play in the fulfillment of the mission of Catholic Charities. Let’s begin with the reading from the First Book of Samuel.
I Samuel 3:1-10; 19-20
That reading describes how Samuel, Israel’s first major prophet, received his call. As the reading opens we find the priest, Eli, and his assistant, Samuel, in the Temple. They are doing what more than a few people do in church – they are sleeping… But it’s not as though they were sleeping during a church service. Actually, they lived in the temple, near the Ark of the Covenant.
It was there, in the temple, in the quiet of the night, that Samuel received his calling to be a prophet. Like many of us, Samuel mistook the whispering voice of the divine to be a merely human voice – he thought that Eli had called him. Notice, though, how willing Samuel was to be at Eli’s service. Three times he thought he heard the voice of Eli and three times Samuel presented himself before Eli with the words, “Here I am” – words that indicate availability, a disposition to be of service. And isn’t this the same virtuous disposition we all strive to acquire in our calling to be of service to those who are in need? It’s a mindset that is acquired, deepened, and sustained by daily prayer.
But notice what happens next. After Eli was awakened a third time by Samuel, he discerns that the Lord is actually calling Samuel. In his wisdom, Eli gave young Samuel the best advice possible. He told him, “…if you are called, reply, ‘speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” Here we are brought to the heart of what prayer really is. We often think of prayer as words we say to God – and that is true enough – but the real heart of prayer is silence and stillness and listening – listening for the voice of the Lord, listening so as to discern what the Lord is asking of us. That is what Samuel did – he took Eli’s wise advice; when the Lord called to him again he said, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Then and only then did Samuel receive his call as a prophet.
It may be that we are wrestling with a personal challenge or it may be that we are grappling with the many challenges encountered in the course of our daily work and service. How wonderful to come into the sacred space for prayer – prayer that begins with the simple words of today’s Psalm Response, “Here am I, Lord: I come to do your will!”
It turns out that this is not only how Samuel prayed; it is also how Jesus himself prayed – as we see in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel. Notice what Jesus was doing as this Gospel passage opens: First, he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and then, amid the evening shadows, Jesus healed “all who were ill or possessed by demons.” In fact, we are told, “the whole town was gathered at the door.”
How readily we relate to Jesus’ ministry of healing! Indeed, the many programs of Catholic Charities are an extension of his ministry. In so many ways you strive to help people who are in the grip of addiction; whose lives are wounded by lack of economic or educational opportunity; those whose dignity has been affronted by homelessness and hunger; and this list of human need is nearly endless. Sometimes don’t you feel as though ‘the whole town is gathered at your door?’
Notice what Jesus did after he exercised his ministry of healing. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place where he prayed.” This, of course, is not the only time that Jesus did that. Jesus often withdrew for prayer to his heavenly Father – and sometimes spent the whole night, absorbed in prayer. Today’s Gospel makes it clear that people came crashing in on Jesus’ solitude, just as you might be pursued by your colleagues if you slip into this chapel to pray. More often than not, though, it is the distractions of life that pursue us when we pray. But like Jesus, we must persevere in prayer, listening as he did, to the voice of our heavenly Father and seeking to fulfill his will and purpose.
The Celebration of the Eucharist
Happily, we are not left solely to our own devices when it comes to prayer. It is not as though we are given examples of prayer and then simply told to go and do likewise. Rather, ‘the highest and best use’ of this chapel is to join our prayer to that of Jesus. This takes place in a most beautiful way in the celebration of the Eucharist – the Mass, in which we hear the Word of the Lord as it is proclaimed and preached, and in which that spark of divinity within us is nurtured and fanned into flame as, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we share in the banquet of Christ’s Sacrifice – his Death on the Cross by which we are saved from our sins and his glorious Resurrection by which our life is restored. The Eucharist, we are taught, is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ and thus it is also ‘the source and summit’ of our prayer and our service to others. And what a blessing to work in a place where Holy Mass is offered frequently.
In blessing this chapel and in dedicating this wonderfully renovated building, we are, in effect, asking anew for God’s blessing on the work of Catholic Charities, both here and throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore. We also ask today that we ourselves be blessed and renewed in the noble mission of fanning into flame the spark of the divine within – within ourselves and within those we are privileged to serve. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love.