Bishop Jenky’s homily at Peoria Notre Dame, Feb. 20, 2019
This school is called Notre Dame. Two French words. The first means “our” and the second, “lady.” This is the school of Our Lady and in this school and in our diocese, we offer every kind of praise and honor to the mother of Christ.
Think about it. He whom the whole universe could not contain, God, was sheltered once in her womb. The Son of God, who sustains all things and beings, was nursed at her breast. Her face was the closest to our Savior, because everything human in him came from her. So we cannot give her enough honor.
But greater in dignity than her honor as a mother is her example as a disciple. Mary was the first to believe in Jesus Christ. She was the first to welcome the Lord into her life. He worked his first miracle at Cana of Galilee at her prayer-filled request. Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” Like a good mother, Mary didn’t pay that much attention to those words. She gave the best advice any disciple of Jesus could ever hear. She said, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary lived by faith and often did not understand what was happening. But the Gospel of Luke says what she didn’t understand she held in her heart. And on a terrible Good Friday, she drew close to the cross and the Lord, just before he died, gave us one of his last gifts. He said to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” And he said to Mary, “Behold your child.” Mary is the mother of believers. We are the body of Christ and she prays with us and for us.
There is a natural phenomenon called riptide. . . . I’ve experienced it once when I was a young priest swimming off the coast at Fort Lauderdale. I used to be a pretty good swimmer, but all of a sudden, I was not in charge. The current was carrying me out to sea. I panicked at that moment and started splashing around, but something reminded me of what I had read somewhere, that you should go limp and float. When the tide ebbs, get back to the shore.
I believe that Randy was pulled out to sea by a huge riptide. He was a strong man in every way, but in personal pain and great suffering, he could not handle that riptide. I say to you, with the authority of being a bishop and as your unworthy though I am chief teacher, that there was no sinful rebellion in Randy when he died. He was being pulled.
Think of the ways people die. Somebody may be diagnosed with heart disease. They go on a strict diet and take their pills. They work out. But sometimes, despite the burden of the illness and their efforts against it, they pass away. People die of cancer. Eating the right way, again, exercising – maybe going through chemo, radiation. Nonetheless, sometimes cancer wins. I believe — I believe — that Randy died of personal pain.
Everybody has been saying . . . that he was one of the strongest men we knew. He was in shape, but strong in other ways. You all have your own experiences of him. He was a leader, a great teacher and a leader. He not only served this Catholic high school, but he served in the public schools of Peoria and did, I am told, an exceptional job. He turned a couple schools around. Gifted as an educator.
This is a great school, but I really do believe he brought it to a new level, a higher level of excellence, of community, of friendship. He was always cheering you guys on. He wanted you to be your best academically, in sports and in your faith. And that is a gift you will carry with you the rest of your lives.
When a sad event happens at any school, it is the custom to invite in counselors to help people deal with their grief, to unpack their feelings. If you’re hurting it’s a good idea to talk to somebody. If you need help it’s a good thing to cry out for help. Many of the priests in the Peoria area will be available here in the gym after Mass and we have counselors available in the library and the cafeteria. If you need to talk to somebody today or in the future, please do it.
But recognize that the greatest teacher that ever was, the wisest counselor, the holiest priest, is here among us, as well. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation of God’s love, is here, truly present in our midst.
Think of the words of today’s Gospel. Lazarus and Martha and Mary were the Lord’s close friends. Fully human and fully divine, he enjoyed the company of people he knew and trusted. [When Lazarus died] He let out a scream of pain. Jesus was not ashamed to cry at the death of his good friend. Then he went to Bethany. Of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, Martha was kind of the lippy sister. She would take on the Lord a little bit earlier in the Gospel. Jesus asked her, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” And she gave kind of a straight answer: “I believe at the end of time and the judgment, the dead will rise.” That wasn’t a good enough answer for Jesus. He said, “Do you believe in me?” And she said, “I’ve come to believe in you.” And he said, “I am the life and the resurrection. Whoever believes in me, will never really die.” A relationship with Jesus Christ puts us in touch with endless power and ceaseless love.
Remember again you are Notre Dame. That is not this plot of land in Peoria. It is not this building. You are ND. You are in a school which has Our Lady as its patroness. So I ask you this morning, intentionally in your heart and life, imitate her. Follow Jesus. Believe in him. Bring him to everybody you meet. And through your tears and pain have a certain inner peace. Renew your strength in the Lord Jesus Christ. His love is eternal and his mercy is without end.