Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
April 5th, 2014
Year A

When I was assigned to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield in 2009 the fire chief asked I if I would serve as their Catholic chaplain. After I got the OK from my pastor and Bishop, I accepted the appointment. Being a fire chaplain is something that I enjoy deeply. Even though I left West Springfield, I continue to serve the firefighters of West Springfield as best I can from Amherst. Being a fire chaplain I have seen some horrible things – damaged homes, raging fires, people in distress, deaths, etc. Firefighters go through a lot, no question about it. On Thursday of this past week I had the honor of representing, along with a handful of firefighters, including the chief, the West Springfield Fire Department at the funeral for FF Michael Kennedy. FF Kennedy lost his life battling the 9-alarm Beacon St fire in Boston just over a week ago. At this funeral I saw something I had not seen before as fire chaplain. As we processed out of Holy Name Church in West Roxbury I could see the funeral line up – the usual for a firefighter: the truck that would carry the casket, the flags, the bagpipers, members of the BFD, and the limos for the family. The only difference was the number of fellow firefighters from all over New England and beyond that lined the street in formation saluting their fallen brother. Dressed in their class-A uniforms with black bands on their badges… blue uniforms as far as the eye could see. It was a very moving tribute to a man that many of them didn’t even know. As I and the other priests there took our places next to members of the BFD, the men and women in uniform would nod to us priests and say: “thank you for being here, Father.”

When danger hits and tragedy strikes, most people run away from it. Not firefighters, they run toward it. I was told that Lt. Walsh and FF Kennedy were among the first to arrive at the Beacon St. fire and the first in the building. They were trying to control the blaze at its source, in the basement of the building. High winds, however, caused the fire grow and spread quite rapidly and they got trapped. They paid, what we call, the “ultimate sacrifice.” They went into the belly of the beast while the others on scene could get the people out. And they gave their lives for it. FF Kennedy was only 33 years old; he was my age. There was not one single firefighter there who wouldn’t think twice about trading places with him. I heard things like: “it should have been me” and “I wish I could take his place.” Needless to say, they would certainly go to die with him and for him.

These are the words of St. Thomas in the gospel today: “let us go to die with him.” This is an odd statement from the one we call “the doubter.” Why would he say something like this, so profound? It strikes me as odd. In order to understand it we have to get a better grasp of the mind of the Apostles at this juncture in their journey with Jesus. They were afraid of the Jews, which is why they are perplexed that Jesus wants to go back to Bethany. It is out love and mercy for His friend, Jesus urges the Apostles that they must go back. In spite of the fear, Thomas, the one who would show to be the weakest and most unbelieving of them all, proves to be the strongest. His expression of courage reminds us of the Last Supper in which Peter confesses that he too would go to die with the Lord.  While they all show to be weak during the course of bitter agony, they all would make good on their confession of courage. They stayed loyal to Jesus. They remained faithful to Him despite their personal weakness. It was if Thomas was saying to his companions: I’m willing to face this danger. I would rather die with Jesus then remain on earth without Him. He is perhaps not mindful of his frailty but shows great enthusiasm and courage.

Loyalty and faithfulness like this is part and parcel of our human nature. We are capable of it. We are capable of sacrifice. Firefighters, police, military personnel all prove that we human beings are willing and able to jump into harm’s way and offer our lives in sacrifice for the building up and safety of our community. Cardinal O’Malley made that clear in his remarks at the end of the funeral. Sacrifice is a necessary part of community. It brings people together and forges bonds of relationship and harmony because sacrifice, in this sense, is born from love. If we have the courage do it for each other, could we also have the courage do it for Jesus? Could we possibly have the same faithfulness and loyalty? But what are we dying for? What are we sacrificing? I’m reminded of the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans – found in our second reading: “if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” St. Paul reminds us that we are dying for Christ, that we are not living for this world but rather for heaven. This is power of the Spirit, this is what gives us the capacity to make sacrifices – to lay down our lives for something more, something better, this is what makes us Easter people. We lay down our lives in an earthly sense so that others may live. Jesus asks us to lay down our lives for Him, so sacrifice for Him for precisely the same reason – for life, for blessed life, for the life of grace, for the life of heaven.

As the pallbearers lifted FF Kennedy’s casket up onto the back of the fire engine for his last ride, I thought of the Lord, carrying His cross and walking His final steps to His death. As the process started to the cemetery, I thought of all the firefighters marching behind him, with the look on their faces: “let us go to die with him.” As Catholics, will we have the same courage to get behind the Lord, walk the road of Calvary with Him, carry our own crosses – will we have the courage to go and die with Him?


Fr. Jon Reardon

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.

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