Stories strengthen souls

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might: which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Luke 24:46-53

Jesus said to his disciples: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Sunday Homily

For those of you with children, how would you survive if you lost your children in a car accident? Or, what would we say to parents who have just lost their children? We’d love them, help them, and pray for them. We may even try to explain to them why God allows suffering.

Brothers, sisters, and guests, all those ways are good but there’s something more that only a few of us could do: Those of us who ourselves have lost children would be asked by God to share with them how He got us through our grief and pain.

Today, Jesus says in the Gospel, “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48), and part of witnessing includes sharing with other people what God has powerfully done in our lives. The Gospel says, “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:45-48).

He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, to remind them that God Himself chose to rescue us from suffering not by eliminating it, but by overcoming it through love. Jesus never gave into temptation; He loved His Father and us to the very end. What He also said was true: He would rise again! And He did! Because the disciples saw all this with their own eyes, they now need to witness to it. Why? Because the story of their experience with Jesus would touch the heart in ways abstract ideas wouldn’t. Stories are more real and practical for people. Stories strengthen souls.

Two weeks ago during Mass, we talked about devout conversations, where we ask questions of substance to give people an opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives—an act of love (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2019/05/19/5-types-of-questions-that-help-us-pay-attention-to-god/). After that Mass, some of you asked me such beautiful questions. For example, some people asked me, “What’s the best part of being a pastor here?” I said, “When people don’t fall asleep during the homily.” Just kidding. The best part is being able to contribute in a small but powerful way to people encountering Christ and then becoming saints. Have you had any devout conversations? I hope so.

  1. We’ve called this season Break the Silence because “You are witnesses of these things.” There are three things we want to say about this command: 1) “In a courtroom, a witness isn’t expected to argue the case, prove the truth, or press for a verdict; that is the job of attorneys. Witnesses simply report what happened to them or what they saw. Jesus said, ‘You will be my witnesses,’ not ‘You will be my attorney’” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 290). 2) The Greek word for ‘witness’ in this passage is ‘martyres,’ from which we get the English word, ‘martyr.’ So a martyr is someone who gives witness to Jesus by dying for Him. We may not be called to physically die for Jesus, but we’re called to die to our fear of sharing. 3) Jesus says today, “Thus it is written… that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Lk 24:46-47). So, we’re sharing not for our own glory, but so that people can repent, meaning change their lives, and that they can receive forgiveness of sins, meaning they come back to the Father and renew their relationship with Him.
  2. “He wants you to share your story with others. Sharing your testimony is an essential part of your mission on earth because it is unique. There is no other story just like yours, so only you can share it. If you don’t share it, it will be lost forever… Your personal testimony is more effective than a sermon, because unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a ‘satisfied customer,’ so they give you more credibility… Shared stories build a relational bridge that Jesus can walk across from your heart to theirs” (Warren, 290).
  3. In Faith Studies, we learn that witnessing is one of the six key elements needed for spiritual growth. In order for us to grow, we need to share! (We’ll talk about this more in two weeks). “People can argue with what you believe or disagree with Church teachings, but no one can argue with your personal experience” (Warren, 290). This is why St. Paul six times shared His testimony (Acts 22-26).

    Thank God St. Augustine wrote the first ever autobiography, The Confessions, because they have evangelized millions of souls. Thank God St. Therese’s superior asked her under obedience to write the story of her soul. Thank God our Mother Mary must have shared with St. Luke the story of how Jesus was conceived, because otherwise, we would never have known (Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 16).

    Jesus asks us to proclaim Him in every circumstance [Vision]. So, what we do is very simple: When we’re in conversations, bring Jesus into it. But not artificially! When we’re at the restaurant and ordering our food, you don’t say to the waiter, “Let me tell you a story.” No!

    • We bring Jesus into conversations in a natural way. We can always say, “God bless you.” I often say, “Praise God,” or “God is good,” because that’s natural for me now. I remember: Even the atheist Dave Rubin, when someone told him about a tragedy said, “God bless you,” because he felt that was the right thing to say! And, like I’ve said before (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2017/05/28/evangelization-is-the-best-way-to-love-our-neighbour/), we can always say, “I’ll pray for you”—everyone appreciates that, even people who don’t believe in God.
    • Has God done anything good in your life? Share that!
    • I know many of us are shy, maybe intimidated, but can we do it for Jesus and other people? If you’re afraid it’s going to sound weird, it’ll only sound weird if you’re weird! And sometimes people say, “Fr. Justin, I don’t feel called.” No, you’re called. I just called you. God’s grace is powerful—ask for it! It will help you! You’ll get it from the Eucharist.

    Every testimony that we’ve had has helped people, whether it’s about healing from abortion, surviving divorce, or not giving into suicidal temptations.

    I asked at the beginning how we’d survive if we lost our children in a car accident. Now I will share a testimony of such a tragedy by Geoff Moeller, who’s sitting over there and gave me permission to share his story:

    • “Early Saturday morning, Nov. 29, 2008, after my wife, Maria, our four sons and her mother left to pick up family before heading to the states, I went to work.

      At around 10 a.m., I received a cell phone call from Maria. The sound of her voice told me something was very wrong. She told me she had been in a car accident. Lorenzo was uninjured, but Andrew, Karl and Matthew were unconscious. Her mother and aunt were seriously injured too.

      I drove to Royal Columbian Hospital. Maria was sitting on a bed and holding Lorenzo who was a-year-and-a-half old and thankfully uninjured. Maria’s eyes were filled with fear and concern. She had an abrasion on her cheek.

      Making my way to the opposite side of the emergency ward, I saw nurses and doctors look away from my gaze. Andrew and Matthew were in beds next to each other intubated and unconscious. Karl had been flown to B.C. Children’s Hospital.

      The chief doctor approached me and identified himself. He was gentle but to the point. Matthew suffered a broken neck and it had taken 30 minutes to get his heart started again. His vital signs were failing even while on life support. He looked like he was sleeping. Andrew suffered major impact trauma to his lower face and bled from his brain. Only machines kept his heart working.

      I asked if either could recover at all. He looked directly into my eyes and shook his head. He then asked if Maria and I would consider organ donation. I responded yes. But first I asked for a priest and that one be sent to Karl also.

      Six priests visited my sons over the next 8 hours. Andrew and Matthew were anointed four times, confirmed and blessed once. Andrew and Matthew were relocated by ambulance to B.C. Children’s Hospital. I gently told Maria that Andrew and Matthew were not going to survive. She and her cousin cried loudly in each other’s arms. I drove Maria, Lorenzo, and her cousin to B.C. Children’s Hospital to see Karl. A series of tests were done to determine if any improvement had occurred in Andrew’s and Matthew’s condition. A second series of tests the next day confirmed the official time of death as 9 p.m. Saturday night.

      Karl lay in an induced coma, his head bandaged for a large laceration to the top rear of his head. Tubes protruded from his mouth. A brace covered his neck. Both legs were in casts. He suffered a spinal cord injury at chest level. His paralysis is permanent. He was brought out of the coma on Monday. Soon after, Maria and I told Karl that Andrew and Matthew had died.

      Looking back, I know the grace of God supported me. Even as I drove from Delta to Burnaby that Saturday morning and words were incapable of expressing my soul’s cry to God, there was resignation to His permissive will. Over the next hours and days, I KNEW in my soul that death was not the most terrible thing that could happen to my boys. I KNEW they were alive in Jesus and that I was called to witness to this truth without knowing why this was allowed to happen to them and to us.

      I had a simple devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament since I was young, but my relationship deepened as I took life’s troubles to Him through Our Lady and trusted Him to resolve them. And He did. Graces came to me when I needed to trust, even when things seemed almost hopeless. I learned about the sacrificial nature of love. I learned that I am responsible for improving myself before worrying about the failings of others. I learned that graces given me and growth toward God are to be used for others too.
      Once I responded to the Lord and began visiting Him regularly in the Blessed Sacrament, our time together became a necessity. At times, I pray the Rosary for many intentions, and often I plead with the Lord from my heart to be a better man, a good husband, a role model for my sons, and, most of all, to be the man the Father created me to be.

      The pain caused by the deaths of Andrew and Matthew and the paralysis of Karl brought me into a deeper relationship with Our Lord by recognizing the redemptive power of suffering offered for others. Often it seemed that other people I encountered after the accident needed to see these truths of the Faith actually lived out in someone’s life; people need to see that the Faith makes a difference, that it makes ALL the difference.

      The loss of my sons has also deepened my relationship with Our Lady, for she buried her Child too. And while she was able to see her risen Son before she died, it is faith in the Risen Lord that assures me I will see Andrew and Matthew again when God wills.

      Some people might think my prayer life would have very serious and sad overtones since the accident, but I would like to share an experience that disproves that.

      One day, at Mass, the priest elevated the Host at the consecration. There, in the Host, for the first and only time, I beheld the Lord Jesus as though on a throne, and He was smiling at me. The first impression I had was that He approved of my devotion toward Him, but there was more, almost a playfulness in His eyes, and suddenly He showed me my sons beside Him and they were so alive! 6-year-old Matthew jumped and danced and laughed around the Lord. 9-year-old Andrew, more reserved, stood smiling and staring at me as though to say, ‘I’m here with Jesus, Dad.’ The message was that if I wanted to spend time with my sons, I could do that every time I receive the Lord in Communion, because, when I receive Communion, I receive heaven as well. I will never forget the way the Lord tilted back His head and laughed at the happiness of Andrew and Matthew; He seemed happy to have given me this joy too. I pray my family’s story may help others trust in the love of God through all life’s joys and pains.”

    This is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection and the best kind of evangelization. We should praise Jesus for His power. I invite anyone here who’s struggling in faith to turn to Jesus. Trust in Him, believe in Him, and, if you’re ready, make a commitment to Him.

    • We thank Geoff for the courage and generosity to share. He’s a very private man but responded to my request to share this part of his story. I asked Him about the Eucharist because our community is centered on the Eucharist, and we’ll be opening our chapel on June 30, from where we will receive every grace.

    There is no other story of Jesus like yours, so only you can share it. Stories strengthen souls.

Posted: June 2, 2019

Fr. Justin Huang

 
Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.


Other Sunday Reflections

Advent is not only a time of promises and anticipation, but also a homecoming.
Make straight our crooked ways; recognize the blindspots of our lives and fill our spiritual valley with compassion and kindness; level our mountain of pride and self-centeredness; and in the… Continue Reading >
Recognizing and Deflecting Desolation
Mark wrote in his journal that things are a mess. This past month for him has been dark, and he’s keeping his wife at a distance. He’s not praying as… Continue Reading >
A New Fixed Star Is coming – An Apocalypse message from Jesus
Happy New Year! Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of a new liturgical year. What an extraordinary commencement we have with the readings for today. We are… Continue Reading >