The following homily was given by Monsignor William Belford, during the 8 AM Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on August 29, 2007.
It may seem strange to people that our Catholic Church would have a special day to celebrate “the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist.”
It is not that we are happy he lost his head at the behest of people who did not like his reproaches to their immoral lifestyle. Nor do the circumstances of a dancing girl, a scheming mother with a vendetta, and a drunken king who was afraid to lose face with his guests seem dignified enough for the death of a spiritual giant.
But very few of us get to pick the circumstances of our triumphs or our tragedies. God is in charge of things, and if he chooses to seem quiet or even asleep when we are calling to him, so be it. Amen. That is his will, and we have to struggle to accept it.
Evidently this happened to a very great person we all know, a spiritual giant who lived among us until her death ten years ago – Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
In a new book organized by the priest who worked with her and is promoting her cause to be formally called a saint of the Catholic Church, the spiritual struggles of Mother Teresa of Calcutta are laid out for all to see, in the form of many letters that she wrote over the years.
Saints may seem to the rest of us to be very serene people, without doubts, without worries, with a direct line to the Lord. It was known to some but not to everyone that while Mother Teresa experienced the love and presence of God early in her life, she did not have that same consolation for many years to come. Like many of us, she had to be faithful and do what she was called to do, even when it was hard and dark and she wondered why God was not making himself felt and known to her.
To some people who do not understand spiritual life, that seems like she was just pretending to believe in God and to have faith in him. But there is a long history of great saints and ordinary people too who have what is called “the dark night of the soul” when God seems far away and his consolations and sweetness are missing from our feelings.
That may be precisely when we are being purified and pulled towards the kingdom of heaven. If we persevere, if we stick with the program, if we stay part of the family of the Church, we will be saved. Like love itself, faith is a decision, not just a feeling. Lots of you today will do what is right, will show up for work, will take care of someone, will say your prayers, even if you don’t feel like doing so.
When you do that, you are in company of millions of holy people like John the Baptist and Mother Teresa of Calcutta – and one day you can count on being in their presence with all the other holy people who have loved and served God whether he seemed to be answering prayers or not.