What matters is where you will go and who you will become ...
On August 6, 2014, ISIS militants invaded northern Iraq, confiscating homes and businesses and beginning what would become a massive Christian genocide. Christians had to choose: pay heavy tax, convert to Islam or die. Countless people were slaughtered, many beheaded. Tens of thousands fled their homes, many with just the clothes on their backs, escaping into the desert.
Some of those who escaped were young men from a seminary in Quaraquosh. They managed to make their way to Lebanon, where they eventually resumed their studies at another seminary.
By the grace of God, last Saturday, March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, four of those young men were ordained deacons. In a few months they will become priests.
But Saturday’s ordination was something extraordinary. It didn’t take place in a cathedral or basilica. Instead, the men returned to Iraq.
At their request, they were ordained in a refugee camp.
A priest told Catholic News Agency: “They chose this church specifically because they wanted to be close to the people who suffer.” He added that it would be a sign of hope to the universal church. “Despite the difficulty,” he said, “there are vocations, youth, who give themselves for the Church, to serve the people of God. This is important in our times.”
One of the young men explained the location another way. It only made sense to be ordained in the camp, he said, because “we are refugees.”
Tonight, as we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood, and begin this sacred Triduum, I want you to remember those four men. They stand before the world as emissaries of hope. They are reminders of what this night and this Triduum are about: love and sacrifice, solidarity and suffering.
And this evening the words of that one seminarian should humble us all.
Because it is true: we are refugees. Every one of us.
The Church reminds us again and again that we are a pilgrim people. One of our most cherished prayers, “Hail, Holy Queen,” refers to our life on earth as “this, our exile.” We are in exile, adrift, raising our eyes to the place we yearn to be, the home where we long to be welcomed — like the Prodigal aching to be back with the father.
Yes: we are refugees.
And this gospel we just head reminds us of how far we have traveled.
Last September, when Pope Francis came to this country, he visited men at a prison in Philadelphia. He spoke to them about this very gospel passage. “Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths,” he said, “which leave their mark on us. … Jesus wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet, which hurt from travelling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn’t ask us where we have been; he doesn’t question us about what we have done. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust.”
The Holy Father explained: “Life means ‘getting our feet dirty’ from the dust-filled roads of life and history. All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey. The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand.”
This is where we find ourselves tonight.
This has even more meaning for our Elect. The men and women who have been going through RCIA are the ones who will have their feet washed tonight. So I want to speak to you now. This is a night of remembrance, when Christ said at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
He was speaking of that first Eucharist. But I say this to you: remember this, too.
Remember the love that brought this night into being.
Remember that God kneels before us and does what no one else wants to do. He shows us that he loves us and is with us, no matter what journey we have taken.
Remember this: You are close to the heart of the Church, a Church that has prayed for you, and prayed with you, a Church that has walked with you on your journey and that loves you. The Church this night kneels to remind you of what Christ did, what he still does — and what we are called to do for one another.
Remember this: You are apostles. You are followers of Christ. The dust of the road doesn’t matter. Where you have been doesn’t matter. What matters is where you will go and who you will become.
And finally, remember this: the Church will continue to walk with you on your journey.
Because it is who we are.
We are a pilgrim Church. We are all refugees. We seek sanctuary in a world where it is increasingly hard to find — where the dust of life is being caused by terror and hate.
Yet in the midst of this, we refugees are also reminded that our one refuge … is our God.
The God who gave us himself in the first Eucharist and who gives us himself again tonight.
The God who gave us himself as an example — not on a throne but on his knees.
The God who on Good Friday opened his arms between heaven and earth and gave everything … so that everything he had to give might finally be ours.
The God who suffers with us, walks with us, bleeds with us and hopes with us.
“I have given you a model,” Jesus said.
A model of humility. A model, in fact, of mercy.
On this wondrous night, let us hold this in our hearts.
We are refugees — and he is our refuge.