I’m preaching at the 8:30 Mass Sunday morning, and had prepared a homily already. But events of the last several hours have made me realize that this storm, and the remarkable outpouring of faith by pilgrims along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, demanded something else. Below is my revised homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This storm may be remembered as one of the biggest in New York history, but this morning, it should be remembered for another reason.
It prompted a remarkable and powerful witness of faith. It showed us, in a deeply humbling way, what it means to be the Body of Christ.
Friday, you’ll remember, they held the annual March for Life in Washington. The turnout this year was smaller, because of the weather, and many left the city early to try and avoid the blizzard. Among them were students and parishioners from the Midwest, heading home from DC on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They were from Omaha, Green Bay, Lincoln, Des Moines, and Dubuque, among other places— there were close to 500 people in all, piled onto dozens of buses snaking through the hills of Pennsylvania.
Most were young people, high school and college age, along with chaperones and several priests. They thought they had slipped out ahead of the storm.
But they were wrong.
At about 10 o’clock, Friday night, they got stuck in the snow on the turnpike, along with thousands of other travelers, about two hours east of Pittsburgh. They couldn’t move. The snow was falling, the drifts were rising, and any travel on the turnpike ground to a halt. They had to wait to be rescued.
And wait. And wait. And wait.
But as one of the pilgrims said, it gave them an opportunity to really practice what it means to be pro-life.
And so they did.
Seizing this opportunity to minister to others, they welcomed strangers onto their buses – travelers who were stranded or who had run out of gas and needed warmth or food. The students offered people water and a place to sleep. They helped clean off strangers’ cars.
And then: they prayed.
Saturday morning, as the snow continued to fall, and the snowplows were still hours away, they did something extraordinary. A group of kids poured out of the buses and began gathering the snow and ice outside, packing it into shape.
It looked like they were building a snowman. But they weren’t. They made an altar. Out of snow. Then they took tree branches and made a cross. They set up a sound system to play music, and then priests pulled on their vestments and set up a chalice and paten and hosts. Chaperones opened umbrellas to shelter them, and they stood on a hill along the side of the turnpike, the wind howling and the snow still falling, and there they all celebrated Mass together – hundreds of them, in parkas and scarves and snow boots, joined together in the greatest of prayers, in the most unlikely of places—but a place that for a short time became as solemn and sacred as a cathedral.
Anyone who saw that gathering of young people saw something beautiful.
Because they saw the Body of Christ—the Body of Christ that Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians today. And it is a Body full of the “glad tidings” Christ proclaimed in Luke’s gospel.
This is the Body of Christ. This is all of us, and the best of us. It is the Church proclaiming it is alive and growing, as it always has been. It is young and vibrant, and in love with the Lord.
And: It is in love with life—in every sense, pro-life.
It is unafraid to stand before cynics in Washington one day, and proclaim that all life is sacred.
It is proud to stand on the side of a road the next day, and offer glad tidings to those who come by—tidings that mean shelter, and comfort, and light.
And it is committed to standing before the world during a storm—united in prayer, united in faith, united in hope.
This is the Body of Christ.
This Sunday, as we prepare to receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, remember, too, this Body of Christ, young men and women like those in Pennsylvania, now spread around the world. Pray in thanksgiving for these Catholic Christians who remind us who we are and what we stand for.
Anyone who worries about the future of our Church needed only to see these young people, proclaiming our faith and living it out loud.
The Body of Christ?