We continue our Holy Week homilies this Good Friday with Fr. Jim Lies' homily given this afternoon at Christ the Teacher Chapel on the campus of the University of Portland. Fr. Lies is the Exeuctive Director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture.
The stories of our God’s entry into our world are poignantly told in the Scriptures during the Triduum and throughout the liturgical year. These shared stories are what make us a people. And we, each in our own ways and in our own families have stories of our own that mark us as a family and make us who we are.I heard one of our family’s stories at a family reunion a few years ago that surprised me – mostly because I had never heard it before.
In 1907, my grandfather was seven years old.He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, in the days when it was nothing more than a small town on the Western shores of Lake Michigan.One wintry day, my grandfather was walking with his older brother, my great uncle Leo, in the woods near their home. My uncle Leo was a healthy 17-year-old at the time and a popular high-school athlete.
Eventually, they came upon some friends of my grandfather who were skating on a pond, which, my Aunt Betty Lou will tell you, later became the site of the Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store. In any case, my grandfather and my uncle visited with the boys for a little while and then they walked on.
As they were walking away, they heard screams back at the pond. They went running back and found that one of the little boys had fallen through the ice.The other boys were either too small or too scared to get him out. My uncle Leo was able to crawl out onto the ice, reach for the kid, and he was able to yank him out of the icy water. Uncle Leo had saved the little boy's life. I suspect there was great rejoicing in that little town that night.
In a matter of days, however, my uncle developed a serious cold ... which developed into pneumonia. And within eight days of saving the little boy’s life my uncle Leo died of complications from pneumonia.
I don't know if that little boy ever understood what happened to him that day;or if he woke up the next morning – or every morning – thanking God that my uncle Leo happened along upon that winter’s day. Did he realize what it meant that someone gave his life for him? That he had been died for?Perhaps he eventually forgot … I don’t know.
The most striking thing about the story for me though was that it happened at all.That somewhere along the line there is in my family a story of such great heroism that it should not be forgotten.
Friends, we gather here today to hear again our most important story … to be reminded again that we have been plucked from the icy waters of death … saved from our own sinfulness and brokenness. God has given his life for us … we’ve been died-for.
I wonder, knowing it, do we find ourselves waking every day, thanking God for the life we’ve been given?Does it color our every waking moment, our every day? It ought to…
For if my Great Uncle Leo’s story is worth retelling, how much more is the saving power of God through Jesus worth retelling. It is for you and for me to tell it – indeed, proclaim it by our very lives.