This Sunday Mass is much different than my last Sunday Mass. Seven days ago I was one of 100 priests at Mass, in a converted conference room with 6,200 people. On this last day of Christmas I would like to give you one last gift by telling you about my trip to Orlando for the FOCUS conference.
I joked this week that a simple sign if our success was that of the 100 of our SDSU students who went, none of them came back with a tan. The talks and prayer times were so well done that our students did not escape to the beach or pool aside from the free time. But what about more personal things?
One of my favorite things is witnessing all the conversion that goes on in their hearts. Especially in confession. On Friday evening, we were to have a special night of prayer, praise and worship, and confessions. The schedule had it running from 9-11pm, so after dinner and a rosary, I went back to my room to nap and then pray a holy hour. Well, my nap got interrupted by a bag of peanut M&M's. There went my nap time. Was tempted to do a half nap and then half a prayer hour.
Thankfully God reminded me to grab a whole prayer hour instead. In my prayer, I was very tired but felt a great love growing inside. I knew Jesus living in me and my priesthood and I knew he wanted to heal souls. So I began to quietly pray for each of my students by name, praying with a father's love that God would bring healing, conversion and peace to them. As I walked over to where we were to hear confessions, I was excited for what God would do. In my heart was the thought: "Jesus desires to make all things new through your priesthood."
Did he ever! I began hearing confessions a little before 9pm. The next two hours flew by and soon enough the sounds of praise and worship began to subside but the people kept coming to Jesus in confession. Finally the line reached an end. I heard my last confession and looked at my watch. 12:40am. Over three hours! I stood up to take off my priestly stole when a voice said: "Father, can you hear one more? It will be a long one." I answered, "Yes, if you don't mind a goofy priest." I finished at 1am.
Around 120 priests heard almost four hours of confession. What were those people seeking? They were seeking Jesus Christ. They weren't seeking me, Andrew, they weren't seeking some of the famous preachers who were there, they weren't seeking the bishops who were hearing confessions as well. They were seeking Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel today we hear the Father speaking, "This is my beloved Son." The Father was speaking that over His priests down in Orlando and the students heard that voice and sought Jesus. They were asking Jesus to stand in the middle of the heaviest parts of their life. That night, we priests were less than perfect but more than flesh and bone.
That is everyday as a priest. On Friday I was touring the Dykhouse Student Athlete Center with a football coach. We met some of our Catholic players in the locker room. "Father," one of them said, "maybe you could bless the tunnel?" He wasn't asking me, he was really asking Jesus Christ to stand in the center of the most important part of his life.
On these feast of the Baptism of the Lord we recall that Jesus was baptized for two reasons. First, he wanted to stand with us as sinners. Like he still does today when we make our confession to a priest. Second, he wanted to bless and sanctify all waters so that you and I could be baptized to carry his presence within us so that through your baptized soul, Jesus Christ can be present in the midst of the world. You who are baptized are less than perfect but you are more than flesh and blood.
On the day of your own baptism, you received the spirit of Jesus Christ. You received the Holy Spirit and the Father’s voice proclaimed: “This is my beloved Son.” The more that you hear and understand the truth of his words, the more the world will be blessed and sanctified. Let me explain.
On the last night of the FOCUS Conference a group of students went to “Downtown Disney,” where they found a folksinger at an Irish bar. They closed down the bar in an unusual way. They weren’t drunk but they were drinking. They were joyful in each other’s company as well as their new friends, the musicians. Soon, the students were playing the musician’s guitar, singing and loving life. The power of Jesus Christ was having an effect. Jesus Christ was present in their hearts and, just as important, they were listening to him. These students knew they were less than perfect but more than flesh and bone.
Soon, the students were praying with and praying over the musician’s girlfriend as she talked about her life, her hopes, and her dreams. But she wasn’t just talking to anyone, she was talking to Jesus Christ living within the baptized soul of those students. We finish today the Christmas season seeing the final Christmas gift. The greatest gift is Christ, born of the flesh in a cave. The final gift is Christ born in your baptized soul if only you would welcome and learn to hear the Father’s voice: This is my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”