11/26/2017 – The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

“And Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in all his glory…’”

“When the Son of Man comes…”

Friday morning after I had spent time in prayer, as I do every morning, I was at my laptop working on this Sunday’s homily, hoping to finish it as I knew Saturday was going to be a very busy and full day.

About half way through, I heard my cell phone ringing in the other room. I jumped up to answer it thinking that it might be Bene Reece, our Steward for Pastoral Care, calling about an emergency anointing.

When I picked up the phone, it read Bill and Nancy Buthorn. Bill and Nancy are long time parishioners, Nancy is rooted here at Saint Michael since her birth. Bill and Nancy were married here. I’ve gotten to know them well as they have been involved in many different ministries throughout the years and we have grown close as friends.

Knowing that they are not early risers, I answered with an overly cheerful, “Good morning Nancy,” since she is usually the one who calls, trying to think of something humorous to say.

Instead there was a long silence. I could barely hear someone trying to speak when Bill forced out the words, “FJ, our son Andrew is dead.” I gasped and was about to respond thinking it must have been an auto accident when Bill continued, gasping for air and grasping for words, “He was murdered Thanksgiving night along with Candy, his girlfriend.”

“When the Son of Man comes…”

I almost dropped the phone in utter shock and horror. All I could say was, “Oh, Bill, I am so, so sorry.” I listened between tortured words, sobs and gasps for air and for meaning. It felt to me as if their hearts were being torn out of their chests as I heard Nancy sobbing in the background.

Bill and then Nancy and I talked for a while as best we could. Bill put it best when he said to me, “FJ there are not enough words in the English language to describe what is happening.”

When I got off the phone I texted their oldest son Jess who lives close by and asked if we could talk. He came over right away as he lives close. We hugged, talked, prayed and then planned to get him on a plane to Arizona as soon as possible so that he could be with his mom and dad.

“Andrew was my only brother, my best friend,” said Jess. “What am I going to do?”

“When the Son of Man comes…”

I kept in touch with Bill and Nancy and their family throughout the day. I also needed to call some of their close friends here in the parish. Each time I did, I cried, over and over again.

Praying once again early (this) Saturday morning, these words from our first reading soothed my aching heart:

“Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.”

As your pastor these past 20 years, I have been humbled, privileged and blessed to journey with so many of you in those times when it was cloudy and dark in your lives, when you felt like scattered sheep, frightened, afraid, lost, confused, hurting and helpless, when tragedies of all sorts shattered your hearts.

To be with you, to walk with you, to hurt, grieve, cry and eventually to emerge from the darkness with you, has been a grace and privilege I cannot fully express.

Fr. Cody, Deacon John and I were to begin a preaching series today and throughout Advent on the importance and meaning of hospitality here at St. Michael Parish. We want to highlight and challenge ourselves to the importance of being a radically welcoming community for one another and for new folks who walk through the doors of our parish home.

I will do that in the coming weeks but for now I simply want to say that it is in moments of tragedy and heartaches of all kinds that the virtue of hospitality is needed all the more.

At this moment in our parish life, will we allow our hearts to be stretched to welcome –

those next to us in the pew who hunger for hope as they struggle with whatever burden they may be carrying;

those who thirst for family or marital harmony and reconciliation;

those who feel a stranger because we don’t smile or say hello to them when they enter the pew or those who sit alone after Mass with a cup of coffee hoping someone will notice them;

those who feel naked because of an ugly divorce or who have a child with ADD or autism who squirms and talks at Mass and we turn and give that look;

those who are ill with sicknesses of body, mind or emotions that are often hidden or when mentioned are quickly pushed aside because they make us too uncomfortable to talk about;

those who are imprisoned physically or interiorly because of whatever their burden might be?

Will we embrace the call of the Good Shepherd to help give them rest, to shepherd one another with care and concern, and to be hospitable and welcoming in ways that we have yet been able to do? This is the call and the challenge of today’s Gospel.

It is now, today and every Sunday when the Son of Man comes into our midst. May we hear Jesus speaking to us and through us, “Whenever you did this to the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.”

Let us “be” Jesus to and for one another.