based on the apostolic exhortation
Father Lorenzo: Now may the words from my mouth and the meditations from all our hearts be acceptable to God as a fragrant offering like our lives. Amen.
Please be seated. To give you a quick little recap, a reminder that today we are in part two of a three part sermon series on the joy of the gospel, the apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis about two years ago, that is important I think for all of us to really get a glimpse of and understand, because I know that not all of us were here last week and not everybody heard it online, I want to give you a quick little recap, if you will, and, also, because we tend to forget things, so always good to be reminded of things.
Last year, we looked at the fact that our faith is centered upon the joy that comes from the fact that Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, is the son of God, died, and was risen from the dead by God. Because that happened, because that is real, our entire lives are different. Everything has changed, and everything must change. The question for us each and every day is do we have Jesus burning in our hearts? Are we living our lives for Jesus?
Sisters and brothers, we live in a world that proclaims a culture of exclusion. It is a culture where we are unmoved by human suffering, and this happens because we often see it so much that it no longer affects us. God forbid we get to the day when we hear of another mass shooting, and it no longer even bothers us. These things are happening. We see the homeless on the street, and we no longer are bothered as much as the first time that we saw a homeless person on the street. These things happen. We become sort of deadened to it, because it happens so much, and it happens so much because of what our new fixation is, our fixation on prosperity. Our fixation that says I must always have the latest gadgets, the newest home, be advancing in my career, always moving up, always getting more. That is what will fulfill my life, society tells us. That's what at least thirty-five hundred to four thousand advertisements that we see a day on average tell us. If we just buy the right car, if we just buy the right beer, then everything will be okay.
The gospel tells us something completely different. The gospel says no. The only way that you can fill your heart is with the grace that God has given us and his love. That was proven to us by Jesus Christ, who lived on earth, died, and unlike ... Remember Peter, who said, "We know that David was a great king of our people, but come with me. I'll show you where he's buried." Jesus is risen from the dead, and so everything has to change. The gospel preaches not of a culture of exclusion, but a culture of encounter.
That's what we're focusing on this morning. We're going to talk a little bit about the art of accompanying people, being with people in a society that tells us that we should be focused only on ourselves.
Here's a story about me, and some of you probably have heard this if we've gone out to lunch, because I will tell this story as often as I can, because it's that traumatizing to me. I inadvertently happened to have served a summer in Haiti, and I say inadvertently not because we went out drinking one night, and I had one too many, and I woke up and, "How am I in Haiti?" No, but rather they were coming around seminary, inviting people to apply for this Haiti job, and I'm like, "I have absolutely zero interest in going to Haiti. However, learning how to interview and talking about my faith is something that I really want to do, because I'm going to be out of seminary soon. I have to apply for jobs. I probably should get some experience in it, so I'm going to do it just for that, and the odds of me getting picked to go to Haiti are really, really small, and I'm just going to be totally honest, because I have nothing to lose since I'm not going to Haiti." Did I make clear that I didn't really want to go to Haiti?
I went, and I interviewed, and I was like, "Let me tell you Haiti really needs," blah, blah, blah, and I was just probably a little too arrogant, and so God in his infinite wisdom to teach me humility, I get a call two weeks later. It was like, "Lorenzo, we discerned it, and we want you to go to Haiti." I'm like, "Oh, that's awesome. Yeah for Haiti." Okay, I can do this. No, I can't, so I went and I did the only reasonable thing. I met with my spiritual director and I said, "I need to tell them that I can't go to Haiti. I need to ... I need to not go to Haiti. I don't know how, but I just need to not go to Haiti." I'll never forget this. My spiritual director says to me, "If the only reason you're not going to Haiti is because you're scared, then you better get on the plane and go to Haiti." I'm like, "I hate you," because he was totally right. The only reason I didn't want to go to Haiti was because I was afraid of Haiti.
I once heard someone tell me ... I actually saw it on a TV show, and they were saying, "This is our comfort zone," and she drew this little box. She's like, "We all live in our comfort zone, but up here is where the magic happens. We live here, but up here is where life really happens, outside of our comfort zone," and so there's Lorenzo in Haiti, and the first week, I cannot ... I'm not sure ... Ninth level of hell. Is there a tenth level of hell in Dante's Inferno? It was, to me, coming from living in New York City and Chelsea at seminary, where everything's taken care of, where basically like in Hogwarts, it's awesome. I'm studying, talking theology all day. I'm in a country where I don't speak the language. I'm in a country where I'm talking bucket showers. On the days that we did have electricity, we had it for like two hours a day, and those were few days in between. My first week in Haiti was ... Well, it was bad. It was bad.
It got to that point that I smacked myself, or maybe it was one of those really cold showers from the bucket. I was like no, I'm here now. I might as well make the best of this, so I'm going to surrender to it. The rest of my time in Haiti is one of the most transformative times that I've ever had in my life. Once I was okay with living outside of my comfort zone, when I was up here, the magic did happen. It was there that I discovered that I could get along with people, even if we didn't speak the language. It was there that I discovered just how good Haitian beer is. It really is good, by the way. It was there that I discovered how wonderful it is to serve people with love, and how when you treat someone with concern and with care, they will treat you right back with that.
What was most amazing to me, that first week was hell. Second week was I'm the all good missionary out here in Haiti. I'm going to teach these people just how much God loves them. By the end of my time there, it was they who taught me how much God loves people.
Here's our life in the comfort zone. Here's where the magic happens. Many times to really accompany people, we need to be outside of our comfort zones. We need to be in situations where we perhaps may not have wanted to place ourselves, but in situations where someone might need us. I've never discovered this as much as after I become a priest and I wear my collar. I wear it on purpose when I'm traveling. A lot of my colleagues do not, but I wear it as a witness, not because I'm hoping to be bumped up to first class. Yet to happen. But I wear it as a witness that if someone wants to have a conversation about God, I'm there to have that conversation. More often than not, somebody will come up, and they'll begin that very gentle, odd little conversation, "Are you a priest?" You say, "Yeah," and then they're like, "Well ...," and then there comes the story.
It's sometimes uncomfortable. There are times when I just want to put on my little headphones and not listen to people, but it's part of who I am as a priest. I would, also, tell you that preaching doesn't just happen here at the pulpit. Preaching happens everywhere by all of us, and sometimes we even use words. Preaching happens in how we live our lives. Preaching happens when we are going down the street, and we stop to give someone a dollar, but we recognize their humanity in them, and we say, "Here's a dollar, and could I get your name so I can pray for you? So I can add you to my list of prayers," so that they recognize that we are seeing them not just as a problem that we're trying to solve with a dollar, but as someone who is deserving of our love, someone who is deserving of our prayers.
Last summer, as you'll recall on the news, thousands of undocumented immigrant children came to this country, and we gave them everything but a warm welcome in this country, and many of them are still here, going through the process, and we have a program here in the Diocese called [Companero 00:10:52], and I happen to have ... I'm like a big brother or a mentor to one of the younger kids, and what this kid has lived by the age of seventeen, it's beyond the pale of what anyone should have to live, and to think about the fact that then they arrived here, and we didn't welcome them, whatever you did for the least of me. We didn't welcome them with open arms, but rather, we put them in jail, and now they're out, and they're trying to make their life happen, and all we can do is be with them and accompany them.
You see, friends, many people, also, who appear to be successful and happy, are really searching for something more in their lives. They are really searching for that thing that's actually going to fulfill the need that they think all these other things are going to, and so those times when you come out at work, and you say you're a Christian, you're making yourself available to those people who want to have a conversation, and if you pay attention, you will start to notice when it is that people want to talk about God. You'll know when it is that people need to talk about God. More often, they don't need you to respond. They just want you to listen. They just want someone who will be there for them, who will hear in a lot of times their pain, and who will walk that small path of their life together with them. Sometimes we just need to be ready to speak with them, to be there for them, even if it is outside of our comfort zone.
If we are living from the joy of the gospel, the joy that says that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God, died, and was risen, then we are called upon, our faith calls upon us to be those shining examples in the world, so that people can reach out to God. We are called to be the living body of Christ in the world.
People always complain about our churches, that they're dying. We can have that discussion at a time ... I don't believe they are, but they always say there are fewer and fewer people. That I will grant you, and you just need to change the church. You need to add more of this, or do more of that, and in all these things that I've heard, the one thing that they miss is to say the one thing that's unique that we have, which is Jesus.
As much as I love the breakfast and glory, you did an awesome job in making the breakfast this morning, and there will be some available after for those of us who are here today. It's delicious chicken, and the cornbread, um, but as delicious as it is, there are restaurants who are better ... Not the glory, but there are restaurants who are better than the food we serve here. As good as we do with our food bank here on Friday, there are social agencies that are better at doing that work. The one thing we have, the one thing we offer, is Jesus Christ. We offer people an encounter with the risen Jesus. When they come here, if we do it right, we present an opportunity to do that, so that every day of our lives, we can have that encounter, and we can have that joy that comes from inside of us.
If you have the daily encounter with Christ, then you'll start to notice more these opportunities. These opportunities to be with someone, to accompany someone who needs someone to walk a little bit with them. You will notice these opportunities. They'll become more obvious to you, and God will provide you with exactly what you need to be there to accompany that person. All of this really is an invitation to live out our baptismal vows, to see Christ in every person on this earth, treating each one as we would like to be treated. Don't worry about the fact that there are twenty-five thousand homeless here in Los Angeles. If you can only help one ... Remember what Mother Teresa once said, "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest to you."
This is our life. We spend most of our time in our comfort zones, with the things we know well, and oftentimes where we want to put God. But more often than not, the magic does happen out here, because that's where we get to know a different version of God, a bigger God, who invites us to grow deeper in love with God, and so when we come to this table, we come to this table because we know that God invites us to this table, and God wants to give everything to us, just like he gave us Jesus of Nazareth, his only son.
Next week, in part three of our series, we will talk about, and the Pope is a very pragmatic person, so next week we will actually talk about the very practical advice about how to live out this life of joy. We've learned that it comes from Jesus. We've learned that it is about encountering other people. Now it's how do we make it part of our daily lives. I hope that you'll join us then. Amen.