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Response To This Priceless Gift – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily December 18, 2022

“We continue our Homily series the Kerygma, the Proclamation of the Good News, The Gospel. It’s meant to answer three questions that we all have, why am I here? Where am I going and how do I get there? The book we are basing this series on is from Fr. John Ricardo, and he summarizes the charisma in four words created, captured, rescued and response. He said, If you know the meaning of those four words, you know the biblical meaning of them, then you know the Gospel. The first Sunday, we talked about created the beauty and the immensity of creation. And you and I believe it or not, yes, you and I are the exalted creatures of God’s creation. Hard to believe, but looking around at each other I know, but we are. We are. That’s the Good News. The bad news was the next week- we’ve been captured, became enslaved to sin by exercising freedom and rebelling against God, we became subjects of the kingdom of darkness with no hope whatsoever, eternal destruction awaited. Last week- what God did in response to that, he wanted his world back, so He rescued us in love, beyond all telling. He went into battle for us. He becomes our savior. Today we talk about rescued. All that took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the Prophet, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel which means God is with us.’ Yes, God is with us. He entered our condition, space and time took on a human body, endured all things except sin, and suffered and died for us. He became flesh to rescue us from hopelessness and doom. On Christmas, you hear the passage. The people who walk in darkness that was us has seen a great light. Those words mean something in Scripture. They’re just not sentiments for cards. They have profound truth and meaning.

This week, the fourth Sunday of Advent, our topic is response. How should I respond to what God has done by rescuing me from the reign of sin and death? Only by understanding the other utter hopelessness we had before Jesus and appreciating the immensity of the gift that we receive by being rescued can we truly understand what Jesus has done for us. So how should I respond? Imagine for a moment do a little imagination here that you’re a young person and you’re involved in some sort of tragic and deadly situation. Someone, maybe a stranger, intervened in a heroic way, putting their own life at risk, but their actions were successful and saved you from certain death. And now, years later, after you’ve grown up, you’re married, you have a beautiful family. How might you respond if you met that person, the one who saved you and your youth? What would your response be? In the movie Saving Private Ryan, if any of you have seen that, it starts with an elderly James Ryan once the young private but now an old man is in Normandy visiting the grave of a one Captain Miller, who was responsible for saving Private Ryan’s life back in World War II. The now senior Ryan recalled the battlefield scene decades earlier on a bridge in France. When Captain Miller lost his life saving the young Private Ryan, he recalled Captain Miller’s last word. Captain Miller pulled a young, private cloth and said, “James, earn this.” Ryan pulled back and the two men looked directly in each other’s eyes. “Earn it!’ Miller says. And with that, he breathed his last. In the final scene from that movie we see now the aged, once Private Ryan, now Mr. Ryan kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave. And he says this, he says, ‘Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope it was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.’ From James Ryan’s heartfelt words, we know that he had thought every day about what Miller said to him on that bridge. He had tried to make his entire life a response to the heroism and sacrificial love that Captain Miller had displayed. You might ask love? Was that love? Was Captain Miller’s action in that war battlefield love? I think so. Jesus tells us ‘No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ John 15:13. Private Ryan’s response was one man’s response to being rescued from certain death. Rescued by a brave army officer who gave his life so that someone he didn’t even know very well might live.

What should your response be? What should my response be to being rescued from certain eternal destruction to being rescued from the kingdom of darkness to being saved and now having hope of eternal life, eternal life sharing in the very glory of God? Is our response like Ryan’s not letting a day go by without thinking about what God has done for us in Jesus, our rescuer? But unlike the response given by Private Ryan to Captain Miller, we cannot earn what our rescuer has done. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is no good we can do to save ourselves. Our salvation is a gift, an unmerited, freely given gift. A gift that saved us from destruction and affords opportunity for eternal blessing and bliss. Some might ask, ‘Why would God do this for me? For us?’ Look around. We seem so ungrateful so often. We seem so self-absorbed. Sin abounds. Why would God humble himself, take on human form, suffer and die for me? For you and me, our Lord not only suffer and died, but he went on to defeat Satan by neutralizing the devil’s greatest weapon, death, destroying it from the inside out. He entered into death to destroy its hold. Why would God do that for you or me for so many disobedient creatures? The answer- that’s what love does. That’s what love does. In God’s eyes you were worth the trouble. You were worth the trouble of the cross. It’s a good definition of love. If I love you, that means you’re worth the trouble. You’re worth the trouble. God proves as the love for us that while we’re still sinners Christ died for us, Romans 5:8. We didn’t have to somehow get it right. While we were sinners in the midst of our sin and rebellion, as we were nailing him to the cross, he died for us. For by grace you have been saved through faith and it’s not your own doing, it’s the gift of God, not the result of work so that you may not boast, Ephesians 2. So how shall I respond to such a gift? What should my life look like? Can I honestly say, as Private Ryan did to Captain Miller, every day I think about what you did for me. Do we think every day about what Jesus has done for us, or has his rescue of us taken for granted? Are we more concerned about getting to breakfast after this Mass than we are thanking Jesus for what he’s done?

Now, some might ask, if my rescue has been freely given, an unmerited gift, what does it matter how I respond? Does my response even matter? Absolutely it does. Jesus died for all, but not all will receive salvation. Just like love, it can be offered, but it only bears fruit in one’s life when that love is received. Our response definitely matters. Our response is actually twofold- first, a personal response from me to God for my good, but second- a collective response, a missionary response of sorts for me, too, and for the good of others.

Personal Worship

So let’s look at our first, our first response. Personal worship. First thing. A directing of our time and energy. To show honor and reverence and devotion to God. We worship God for who He is. He is God and we are not. Nothing else in life, nothing else in life, not your family, not your job, not anything warrants the reverence and devotion that God deserves. It’s a matter of justice. He is God because God is the source and the means of eternal life and happiness, he sustains us and being this very moment, we should honor and love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. And Jesus even gives us that commandment- worship. We worship God for who He is.

Praise & Thanks

Second, we get praise and thanks. We worship God for who He is, but we give praise and thanks to God for what He has done. It’s our natural response or should be our natural response, or maybe supernatural response to what God has done for us. Our prayer is not about, we sometimes think we have to let God know what’s going on. Our prayer is not about communicating information to God. He already knows what we need before we ever even ask. He knows it before we know. Rather, our prayer should have a healthy dose of gratitude of thanksgiving, of praise. The sinner praying the Psalms, especially those that are our praise songs, that’s what that’s how Jesus prayed. He praised the Father for all that God has done. I remember before I was a priest when I would do my post communion ritual, when I would go back to my seat, now I have to clean vessels and all that stuff, but before I was a priest, I had time when I went back to my seat to pray because the Lord Jesus himself, the God of all creation, was within me, at least for a few moments before the, the substance or the the bread dissolved, he was in me, actually- body, blood, soul and divinity, present truly. And I remember my, I remember that Eucharist meant Thanksgiving, so I would always go through this imagination ritual. And as I got back to my seat, I would begin to recall all of the blessings of my life going back to my childhood, going back to playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, to Christmases, to, to things in school and in camping out with friends, high school parties and fun and all this, all the blessings, all the joys of my life. I would try to bring them to mind. And then I would remember- what have I ever done to deserve even one of these? Nothing. I’ve never done one thing in my life to deserve even one of those blessings and yet I’ve received so many, it would often bring me to tears. I suggest you do that. I need to do that more. It’s hard to do when I’m cleaning the chalice, but I need to do that. Reminds us to give praise and thanks to God for the gift that He’s given.


Third response- and this is a hard one, surrender, surrender. We may not like that word because it implies giving up control and especially in our modern world, especially here in Johnson County we are control freaks my friends. We are. And we don’t like to give up that control, but surrender really means entrusting ourselves our whole life to God, putting it in his hands. You can even call it faith. To entrust your life to God is to have faith in Him. The catechism speaks of faith says, ‘By faith man completely submits his intellect and will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the Revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, The Author of Revelation, the Obedience of Faith. The Obedience of Faith. The author of this book we’re reading says that he thinks there’s two kind of conversions, an intellectual one, yes, Jesus is the son of God. Yes, I believe the scriptures. That’s often when we make maybe earlier in life, that’s good. But the more difficult one is the surrendering of our will. Hmm. Thy will be done, not mine, thy will be done in my life. Maybe we’re still working on that some of us. Such submission, such entrusting one’s life to God, such faith demands a daily recommitment. Father Ricardo recounts an episode where someone once asked a priest, ‘When did you decide to become a priest?’ Now, this priest had been ordained 25 years ago, but his response to that question was, ‘This morning, because, in fact, every morning when I get up, I have to recommit to being a priest.’ Mom says, Come on, you have to get out of bed. Why? Because you’re the priest. You have to go to Mass. And you know that in marriage that every day demands a recommitting because there’s many forces that would pull you away from that commitment, sin being one.

So the personal response to being rescued is worship, praise, thanksgiving and surrender and trusting one’s life to God, but God also wants you to spread his rescue mission to partner with him in casting nets, to draw others to this Good News, what God offers us and the great commission- he says, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Just think of that statement- all power in heaven on earth has been given to me, Jesus says. ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Behold you’re not doing this alone. I am with you until the end of the age. God wants your help, my help to get his world back. He wants us to be collaborators with him. He wants you to respond to his love. He wants me to respond to his love, but also to share that love with all whom we encounter, to help others answer the questions, the pressing questions that everybody has, whether they admit it or not. Why am I here? Where am I going and how do I get there? Each of you, in your own way, in your own present environment, either among family or friends or work, or your social groups or your neighbors, or even in your incapacity. Those you are homebound and can’t be with us but are with us every week, even you in your situation, how can you proclaim the gospel? How can you share how you’ve been so marvelously created, but how freedom brought rebellion and brought you capture, you became captured and enslaved to sin and death and how God in His unimaginable love rescued you and now how your whole life is a response to this priceless gift?

Created, captured, rescued and response- as Father Ricardo said, ‘If you know the meaning of those four words, you know the Gospel. Heralds of the Gospel take these four words and use them to tell God’s story each in a different way. None of you will tell that story in the same way. You will all tell it differently, but will have those four parts share that story with your children, with your spouse, with your friends, with your neighbors, with your coworkers, with everyone you encounter no matter what your role. You might be a judge sending these people to death or to prison. Somehow share that news that their own actions are not who they are that God loves them and wants more from them. Share the Gospel. Be focused on these four essential elements- created, captured, rescued and our response. That’s the framework. You can do this. God is with you. How will you share the gospel?”