Father Abbot John Braganza, OSB, the head of Westminster Abbey monastery in Mission, BC, one of our most respected and holy priests in the diocese, and an inspiration for me, once told me how he was struggling with teaching a young high school seminarian. He tried everything he could think of to get through to him, but nothing seemed to work. He tried different teaching methods, and was determined to be patient and give him Jesus’ love. Having helped Fr. Abbot teach physical education to the high school seminarians, I knew how hard he tried, going the extra mile, and how he was deeply concerned to help people grow.
And so I was amazed: even a holy priest is wondering if he’s doing any good. We all sometimes have doubts if we’re helping the people we love. I myself have gone through it: I try so hard in different ministries, but sometimes there’s no effect. “What am I doing wrong?” I ask myself. Parents go through the same thing: you love your children so much but when they don’t get it, we’re distressed.
God the Father wants to teach us today that, with His help, we can touch the people around us and have a great effect on their lives. He says in the first reading, “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob… I will give you as a light to the nations” (Is 49:6). For us Christians, it’s too small for us to have a little effect on the people in our lives; God wants us to have a great effect on everyone we meet! And the way to do that is to become a saint: St. Paul says in the second reading that we’re called to be saints, and saints touch everyone they meet.
Let me give you an example. This is Gianna. She was born in 1922 in Milan, Italy, the tenth of thirteen children, and she was already close to God from her youth. She went to medical school and became a doctor when she was 25. That same year, she met her future husband, Pietro. Five years later, they started dating and got married a year after, when she was 32. They had four children in seven years. But she died a week after her fourth child was born from a tumor in her uterus.
Here’s the thing: she lived an ordinary life as a wife, mother and doctor, but she is a canonized saint. She had natural emotions like all of us: she wrote to Pietro once, “I haven’t told you yet, but I have always been very sensitive and eager for affection.” Her son remembers her liking to drive fast, and loving skiing and hiking as a family. Another time she admitted to feeling down because she missed her husband. She said her first three children were her treasures, but also her handfuls, and she was a working mother.
It’s a gift from God that we have actual video footage of her. Most of the time we have writings and stories of saints but don’t know what they looked like; but now we have photos and even videos. In this video, we’ll see her husband, who was still alive in 2004 when this documentary was filmed, share the last moments of St. Gianna’s life.
After she died, the people who went to pay their respects increased more and more. St. Gianna’s sister, Virginia, said, “There was never so many Easter confessions as in these days;” many men shared that they felt a need to go to Confession before seeing her body.
Now, how is it that someone who lived such an ordinary life, had such an extraordinary impact? It’s because she was filled with Jesus; she always loved Jesus. Even as a 15-year old, she said, “I make note of doing all for Jesus. I offer him all my work, all my disappointments and sufferings… I wish to die rather than to commit mortal sin,” in other words, she never wanted to hurt the one she loved; she would rather die than do so. And so, when she was dying, she said repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you.”
Our ability to help other people is proportionate to how much Jesus is in us, because He’s the one who helps people, not us. When St. Mother Teresa would smile at people, it always impacted them; people always said they were touched by her presence and smile. Why? Because Jesus was smiling through her. When I smile, it’s more Fr. Justin than Jesus, and so it has less impact. One reason why we’re not able to help people in the ordinary things we do is because we’re too full of ourselves and not of Jesus. St. Gianna could impact people while cleaning the house, when talking to them, or when working at the medical clinic because she was full of Jesus.
To encounter Jesus and to fill ourselves with Him is why we do what we do here at St. Anthony’s. The reason Sunday Mass is so important to us is because it’s our weekly bread: to fill ourselves with Him and then give Him to everyone. We’re using the Mass Journals so we can listen to Jesus’ voice; Alpha is an amazing way to re-encounter Jesus and go deeper in the most important truths of our faith; the Faith Studies are ways to develop our relationship with God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and grow as Catholics; we’re launching a Bible study on Mar. 2 where we’ll understand the whole Bible in seven Thursdays.
We’re two weeks into 2017. Is there any concrete way in which we’re going to grow closer to Jesus this year?
When Fr. Abbot told the story about the boy he was trying to help, he ended by saying that the boy came back years later and told him what an impact he had on him! But the impact came from Jesus.
We’re called to be saints, i.e., people completely filled with Jesus. And when we’re filled with Jesus, we can touch everyone, even in ordinary things.