If you are not a parishioner here or are a visitor, our parishioners have been doing a program here called Pray 40 Days every single day since the beginning of Lent. Every Sunday I ask them, “How many of you have done Pray 40 Days?
Okay, this is the last time I am going to ask our parishioners this question: how many of you have done Pray 40 Days? If you’ve done it raise your hand.” Alright give them a round of applause! 40 days! I’m so proud of you. They have done it 40 days straight, 15 minutes a day, every day of prayer and they’ve come to this wonderful end of Lent and Easter Sunday.
We spent Lent—40 days and 40 nights of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Now we celebrate and rejoice with Easter.
I have been sick the last week, so I’ve been really kind of miserable. Just to remind you again, I am Father Mike. Father Fred is the Pastor. We have a younger associate, Father Jeremy, who has only been ordained about two years.
For Christmas, Father Jeremy wanted doves. Well, he didn’t want them for Christmas. He just wanted doves. I surprised him for Christmas. He received two doves. It is the gift that keeps on giving, I have to tell you. Not only physically do they just keep having babies, but it’s just like story after story after story. They have already had a set of babies. We have already given a set of babies to his parents. Maybe my parents want the next set. We have another set of babies now.
As I mentioned, a couple of days ago I was really sick. I was trying to sleep in and rest and restore my energy for Easter and everything. My phone rang first thing in the morning. It’s not really first thing—it’s like 11:00 a.m. My phone rings, and I pick up the phone. It is Father Jeremy. He said, “Hey, man I need your help right now.” I said, “What? What?” He said, “Bird in the vent. I need your help.” I said, “What do you mean “bird in the vent?” He said, “The bird is in the vent. In the venting system of the house. I need your help.” I asked, “Does Father Fred know?” He said, “Not yet.” I said, “Okay. I’ll come help you.”
I went to Father Jeremy and he is just in a panicked state. I mean when he gets nervous about something, he’s all worked up. I said, “What happened?” He said, “I can’t find it! It is in the venting system.” I said, “Alright, we are going to pray to St. Anthony real quick. We are going to find it.” He said, “I already did that!” He said, “I already prayed to St. Anthony and I found him and then I lost him again.” I said, “What?!?” He said, “Yeah, I searched in my sitting room for an hour and I couldn’t find him.” Then he had to come back over here and rehearse for the Easter vigil. Afterward, he went back into his sitting room.
He said, “I looked for an hour. I prayed to St. Anthony. Then I looked in my bedroom and there he was. He’s sitting right in the middle of my bedroom floor. I went over to him. I went to grab him and he flew once. I grabbed him again and he flew this way. Then he flew into the register.” He had his grates open for some reason. I don’t know why. Father Jeremy is always exploring things. The grate was open in the register and the bird flew down. I said, “Well, where is he?” He said, “I don’t know. He is somewhere in the house.” I called my father who is an engineer. My dad can do anything. I tried to explain it to him, and he just laughed and said, “That thing is a goner—needle in a haystack.”
Well if you don’t know Father Jeremy by now, once he gets his mind set on something, you are just going to go along with it. So there I am sick as a dog, sitting on his floor, trying to listen for this bird. We pull out my phone and I’m videotaping through my phone with my flash and we can’t see it. We’re stomping up and down—you know, trying to get it to run. Then, we had this idea that maybe if we stick a shop-vac hose down the vent, we might be able to get it. We’re not going to kill it, but we’re just going to gently suck it up. “Well,” Father Jeremy said, “that might not be long enough.” So he gets a garden hose and we duct tape a garden hose to the shop vac, put it down, try to listen for it, and nothing happens. Then I said, “We need one of those gyroscope things. Maybe I should just go on Facebook—you never know what I can find on Facebook—right? ”
He went to Home Depot and got one of those plumbers’ gyroscopes with a flashlight. One hundred fifty dollars! He rented it. He brought it back and started feeding it down the rectory, down the venting system. Then all of a sudden you could see it in the middle of his bedroom floor. Over there is the bird, and it’s terrified. I said “We have to get it closer so we can get the vacuum tube to it.” I’m stomping on the floor trying to get the bird to run to where we need it to be. We finally got it near the edge. But you know how the vents are? You can’t really get your hand down and see it? We got the shop vac down there. We got the bird within inches of the shop vac. We turned on the vacuum and the bird took off and just ran down to the other end. Then all of a sudden we just hear flapping and it’s gone. Totally gone. Where do you think it went? Downstairs! Three flights, okay!?
We went downstairs into the basement and Father Jeremy (again, engineer, just knows everything, and he actually does) was insistent that two particular pipes led up to his room. So we took off the pipes. And poor Father Fred; I mean we’re banging and we’re screaming, and we’re vacuuming. We probed these two pipes with the lights and the bird is not there. Father Jeremy said, “Maybe it went into the heater.” He had this look of despair on his face. A look of total despair. And that was when I said “No, we are going to find him. We’re going to find him.”
I then had the idea to use my phone. We have done this before with birds. If you play the mating sounds of the birds, sometimes they respond. So again, poor Father Fred. I played the appropriate YouTube video in the ducts and the mating sounds of the birds are going throughout the entire rectory. Well, wouldn’t you know it, all of a sudden we heard a little chirping. “Chirp-chirp.” It was responding back to the call. It wasn’t in these two pipes—it was in the middle. Father Jeremy is just looking at it perplexed, like “Where do we start?” And I’m just like “I’m pulling this thing down.” I yanked down that section and we got the bird out. It came out right there. The baby bird is alive and well. And he’s flustered but he’s back in his cage.
I was thinking about this whole experience because it is not how I intended to spend Holy Saturday at all-spending four hours trying to find this bird. But the reality is that the bird kind of descended into hell. It descended into darkness. And so did Christ. He descended into hell. He did that so He could free us from sin and death. That is what we are celebrating on this Easter Sunday. The mystery that we have been freed from sin and death. That is what He did on Easter Sunday. When He rose from the dead, He freed us from sin and death. However, we are still in this struggle while we are here on Earth.
There are all these documentaries out about finding Jesus. There is a movie out right now called A Case for Christ. A really good movie, but they are trying to figure out if Christ actually existed in the world. Well first of all, He did exist. He is a real historical figure. Secondly, He rose from the dead and was witnessed in The Resurrection by hundreds of disciples. By thousands of disciples. He still continues to reveal Himself to us. Now here is the reality. We are still in this world, trapped in darkness and sin. The only one that can get us out is Christ. He can lead us through the darkness into the light. Imagine you are like that bird. You are discombobulated. You don’t know which floor you are on. You don’t know which way is up or down. Christ is the only one that can get us out. How do we hear His voice? How do we recognize His stomping? How do we know the light to follow?
I want to tell you something that I learned. I wish I would have known about this when I was younger, when I was in my high school and college years. I didn’t learn about it until I was deep into the spiritual life. St. Ignatius discovered this wonderful and profound notion: recognizing the difference in God’s voice and when He speaks to us and when Satan speaks to us. The truth is Satan is always trying to lure us. God is always trying to rescue us. We do believe and we are going to reaffirm one and renounce the other in the Profession of Faith. We are going to renounce Satan and renew our faith in Christ.
I want to give you St. Ignatius’ principles. The first thing he said is for someone who is leading a good and holy and moral life. Say they are going to Mass every Sunday. They have just done Pray 40 Days. They are praying every day. They are really devout in their life. They are living the sacramental life of the Church. For a person who is like that, the Holy Spirit, the voice of God, will always be a voice that brings about the gifts of the Holy Spirit; of peace, an increase of love, an increase of faith, of hope. It is really important for us to know this. When we hear those voices and we are living a good life, that voice is of God. The enemy speaks in a very different way. It is very jarring. The enemy of Sacraments, of praying every day.
The enemy will always bring about despair, discouragement, doubt, depression, guilt, and shame. All of that is from the enemy. If you are leading a good, holy, moral life and you hear any of those voices, renounce it. It is from the enemy. Now here is the interesting thing. For someone not leading a good and holy life, say not going to Mass or not receiving the Sacraments, this is what St. Ignatius calls a life of desolation. The voices change.
This is so interesting—no blame or judgment here—but it’s just a reality. For someone who is not going to Mass every Sunday or not receiving the Sacraments or has been away from the church, the voices change. All of a sudden, Satan speaks in a very calming way, a very soothing way, and a very encouraging way. You know he’s got you right where he wants you. He is going to say, “You are doing all right. Don’t worry. There are people who are worse off than you. You’re a good guy. Even though you don’t go to Church, you’re a good guy. You’re fine.” Then all of a sudden, what happens to the voice of God? The voice of God begins to be the voice that pricks you. God actually will use guilt or shame or anything that will disturb you and disquiet you and discomfort your soul because He wants you back. He wants you to return to Him. It is so important to know which life you are leading. Be honest, are you leading a life that is in union with Christ, and the Church, and the Sacraments? If you are, listen to that voice of peace. But if you are not, if you’re away from the Church, if you are away from the Sacraments, the voice of peace is not of God. It is the voice of guilt and shame that is actually the voice of God trying to get us back.
To go back to that story of the doves, we’re all enwrapped in darkness and sin. The only one that can lead us out of it is Christ. The only one that can lead us to everlasting life and light is Christ. I invite you think about where you are at in your spiritual life. It is so important to know which place you are, because then you will really discover the voice of God. Then I want you to think about making a resolution. At the end of a retreat, it is always a good thing to make a resolution. First, if you are not going to Mass or not receiving the Sacraments, I humbly offer you the resolution that maybe this is the time for you to do that. Resolve to come to Confession. Next Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. You can receive complete forgiveness of all your sins when you go to confession. It is an amazing Sunday that the Church has given to us. Maybe your resolution is to go to Confession. Or to return to Sunday Mass, or to get back in the habit.
But if you are leading this life, I encourage you to make a resolution to keep alive the joy of Easter. Think about making a resolution. You are done with prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Maybe you want to make a resolution to continue some kind of joyful prayer in your life. I was thinking about this for myself. I think my resolution is going to be after all the weekend Masses are done, to just walk with someone and talk about what happened at Mass. Almost like on the road to Emmaus when the disciples were walking and reflect on the great things that have happened. Maybe it’s just something else you want to do with your family every Sunday to really make Sundays a holy day. I encourage you to make some kind resolution to God.
Again, if you are in desolation, the only resolution really is to return to Confession and the Church. If you are in consolation and you are united with Christ make some resolution truly to live out the Easter mystery.
Ultimately that is what this day is about. It is about Christ coming into our darkness, descending into hell, freeing us from sin, error, and blindness so that we can ultimately live with Him, not only one day in heaven, but ultimately experience heaven on Earth, which is The Resurrection.