Fr. Al's Homily for the Children
This morning's sermon, I wish to speak about zeal for souls.
This zeal for souls is one of the outstanding characteristics of Jesus and each and every saint, as Jesus had this burning zeal for souls. If you truly wish to be like Jesus, you also must have a zeal for souls, a burning, driving, even obsessive zeal for souls.
Jesus came to earth primarily to save souls. The angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells Joseph the mission of Christ. "Do not be afraid Joseph to take Mary as your wife. She is with child but the child is of the Holy Spirit. Mary will have a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will save His people from sin." The name Jesus means Savior. Jesus is a Savior of souls. He comes to save the people from evil, from sin and the consequences of sin which is eternal death - hell.
Jesus expresses the same idea in another positive way when He says, "I have come that my sheep may have life and have it in abundance." This abundant life which Jesus comes to give His sheep is eternal life and eternal happiness. This is another way to express the same idea of saving souls. To save a soul is to give salvation, eternal life and eternal joy to a soul. This is eternal happiness to God.
Let me try to give you example so that you can grasp clearly this important idea. Recently, there was horrible earthquake in Baguio and we have read in the newspaper about people who are trapped in the rabble of earthquake - some for as long as ten days to thirteen days. We read this horrible story of a man who was almost buried alive as if in a tomb. He was covered by tons of cement, of steel and debris. He couldn't move. He was in pain because he was wounded and injured - no food, no drink, no companion, all alone in this dark hole, covered and buried by tons of cement and concrete.
This is similar to eternal death. Imagine living in this situation not for ten days or two weeks but forever, without end. You have an idea of what hell is all about. Jesus is the Savior, the Rescuer. The miners and the young soldiers, with great courage, entered this rabble and they saved many victims beneath these tons of cement and concrete at the risk of their very lives. Jesus, out of love for each of us, who, in a sense, is trapped by this weight of evil enters this rabble, saves, rescues and brings us out not into the rain, in the darkness, in the cold but into the light of God, this eternal joy of God. Jesus does this by sacrificing His own life, by shedding His own blood for us, the victims. This is what it means to save a soul. This is what it means to save someone from eternal death, to give Him salvation and eternal life.
Let me try to give you another example. There are many so-called street children in Manila. According to estimate, as high as 50,000. These children are very pitiful. They have no more homes. They live on the streets. They live by begging. They are malnourished and dirty. Many are sick. Suppose, out of pity for these children, we were to send out our buses on a bright sunny Sunday morning, round up all these children and bring them here. We give them a bath and clean clothes, have fun, games, sports and a birthday party all day. There is eating, drinking, laughing and singing. The children would be so happy and the in the evening, you put them on the buses and send them back to the streets from where they came.
We would be helping these children. It would be something good but in a very limited way, very inadequate because it is only for a day. We are all street children. This is not our home. We have no home. Our home is above, with God in heaven. Jesus has pity on us and He comes and gathers us. He brings us to God's home. He cleans us and we are happy being fresh, clean and fragrant. He puts new clothes on us, beautiful, white, comfortable clothes. He prepares a banquet, a fiesta with the angels and saints - laughing, singing, eating and drinking. It does not last for a day, or year, or a hundred years, or a thousand years. This fiesta of God lasts forever. It is eternal. This is what it means to save a soul, to bring him from the streets into this marvelous banquet of God, to enjoy this eternal fiesta of God which is called Heaven.
This is the ultimate purpose of our program. Why have we gone to so much trouble, endure so many hardship to establish this program? Why have we gathered you here? In the name of Jesus, we have gathered you to save your immortal soul. We want you to be happy. We want you to have joy and peace not just for a day, or year, or four years, or later when you go out into the world, or for forty or eighty years. We want you to have happiness forever. We want you to have life and have it in abundance. In Jesus and through Jesus, we wish to save your souls. This is the ultimate goal of our program. This zeal for souls is what motivates us. This is why we have started in Cebu. We will have our dedication this week. That is why we are expanding to Silang. This is why we are thinking perhaps even of a third country. We are impelled and driven by this zeal for souls which impelled and drove Jesus throughout His public life.
Jesus on the cross cried out, "I thirst." He thirsts for souls. This is a spiritual thirst. Jesus on the cross, in the Eucharist continues to utter the same cry, "I thirst. Give me to drink." We, out of love for Jesus, give Him to drink by giving Him immortal souls. Jesus constantly refers to His mission of saving souls and the importance of eternal life in His words in the Gospel, "What does it profit a man if he gained the whole world but loses his soul." Jesus says, "We must make every sacrifice to save our souls. If your hand causes you to lose your soul, or your eyes, cut off your hands, pluck out your eye." Make every sacrifice to save your soul, to gain eternal life.
If you cause another to lose his soul, it is better that you die and that you put a millstone about your neck and be cast into the sea. It is God's plan of salvation that we, His children cooperate and collaborate with Jesus in His greatest work imaginable of saving souls.
God can save souls by His own power but God in His mysterious plan needs us and wants us to cooperate or collaborate and work with Jesus. This is His plan of salvation.
Jesus in the Gospel says, "Without me, you can do nothing." The reverse is also true. "Without me, Jesus can do nothing." It's amazing but that is God's plan. Without me, Jesus is powerless to accomplish His mission of saving souls. That is why Jesus calls His apostles, "Come with Me. I will make you fishers of men." I need your help to save souls.
Let us save souls together. How do we save souls? How does Jesus save souls? Principally by three ways: by prayer, by shedding blood, and by teaching.
Jesus first of all prayed. He prayed for the souls whom He wished to save. He prayed in Nazareth for thirty years. He prayed in the desert for forty days. He prayed at night alone in the mountain. He prayed at dawn, in the garden, in the cross. He prays night and day in heaven. In the tabernacle, He prays for souls. In order to save souls, He prays in the Tabernacle. He offers His prayers to the Father.
Next, He sheds His blood. He sacrifices. He emphasizes the importance of this in the Gospel, "If you wish to come after Me, if you wish to save souls with Me," what must you do? "you must deny yourself and take up your cross each day and follow Me." Again, Jesus says, "Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit." You must shed your blood and die to obtain this fruit of salvation, to save souls.
St. Paul says the same, "Without the shedding of blood", writes St. Paul "there is no work of salvation." And again Paul says, "In the cross, in the shedding of blood, is salvation, life and resurrection." So the price of an immortal soul is very, very high. It is so precious in the eyes of God. The price is the blood of Jesus. But the blood of Jesus alone is not enough. According to the Plan and design of the Father, we must mingle our blood with the blood of Jesus if we wish to save souls. We must offer this mixture of the sacred blood of Jesus with our blood, with our prayers to the Father if we wish to save souls.
Then Jesus taught without ceasing, without resting. He taught people especially the poor how to save their souls. He taught them the way to God, the way to resist evil and do good. He never rested. He went from town to town. In one village, the people said to Him, "Rest, relax. Stay with us." He said, "No, I must go to all the villages of Palestine and there, too, I must teach the kingdom of God. I must preach how to save their souls. I cannot rest."
They said to Him again, "Get out of here. The king is seeking to arrest and kill you. It's dangerous." He said, "No. No matter how dangerous, today, tomorrow, I must go my way. I must continue to preach in order to save souls." He instructs His apostles and disciples to do the same. "The greatest in the kingdom of God," says Jesus, "is he who keeps my commandments and teaches others to do the same." "So, you must teach and preach. You will be my witnesses before men," says Jesus. "Go to the ends of the earth and teach all men all that I have taught you. My every instructions and commandments, you teach and preach."
So, these are the three ways that Jesus used to save souls: prayer, shedding of blood, preaching or teaching. We see the saints imitating Jesus in this way. For example, St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, went to his little village of Ars as a young priest and he saw the people who were so lukewarm and indifferent to salvation. In effect, they were losing their immortal souls. So, he was filled and driven by a holy zeal for souls. He prayed day and night before the tabernacle and cried out, "O my God, convert my people. Save their souls. If you wish, kill me. I'm willing to shed my blood." He did. He fasted! He went without sleep. He beat Himself.
He did terrible penances to save souls of his people. He preached and taught without ceasing. Every opportunity, he taught catechism to the children. He counselled his people, gave them instruction in the Church. He advised them in the confessional and finally after ten, fifteen years, his people were totally converted. They became very holy and model Christians.
People from all over the world came to see the Cure of Ars. He saved thousands and hundred thousands of souls and his method was the same of Jesus - prayer, sacrifice, and teaching. One day, the parish priest of a neighboring Church came to see the Cure of Ars and he complained about his people. He compared them to those of the parish of Cure of Ars and he said, "My people are so bad. They don't go to Mass. They don't pray. They don't go to confession. They don't receive the sacraments." The Cure of Ars simply smiled and said, "My friend, do you pray for them?" The priest could not answer. The Cure of Ars asked, "Do you sacrifice for them?" He could not answer.
If you don't pray and you do not sacrifice for them and all you do is teach them, you can't complain because your teaching and preaching is ineffective.
In conclusion, let us ask Jesus on the cross to fill us with this burning zeal for souls. "I have come to cast fire on the earth, what will I but that it will be kindled." Ask Jesus to put this fire, this burning zeal for souls in our hearts so that we may also thirst for souls. Remember: by saving the souls of others, you are saving you own soul. Saving souls, giving salvation is the greatest form of charity, the highest expression of love, and the noblest work which man is capable of love here on earth.