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PreachMay 28, 2024
Photo by Marcus Aurelius, Pexels

A homily is a public speech, so it only makes sense to write it in public, says Scott VanDerveer, who mostly writes his homilies sitting at a long shared table in a coffee shop. “I love looking up at whoever’s in line at the cash register at that moment and thinking, ‘Would this guy, or would this woman care about what I’m saying at all; would this speak to their life at all?’” he says. “Or would they say, ‘Ugh, that’s so churchy?’”

The Rev. VanDerveer, a priest of the Diocese of Albany and the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Glens Falls, New York, joins “Preach” host Ricardo da Silva to discuss his homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often referred to as Corpus Christi.

In the season finale of Preach, we’re answering a resounding call from our listeners! Instead of our usual homily recorded exclusively for the podcast, we’re sharing one Scott delivered at his parish in June 2022, before a live congregation. Ricardo invites Scott to revisit the homily, two years later, to explore how it evolved from preparation to delivery and how he would refine it today. Scott also shares his tips for weaving parishioners’ personal stories into his homilies, revealing how he leverages his training as a journalist and uses the notes app on his cellphone, akin to how a reporter might use a notebook to capture inspiration on the go.

Scott also jokes about his retirement plans, imagining himself back behind the wheel of a school bus, a job he briefly held for a time after college. He quips, “I always tease my friends that priesthood is the second-best job I’ve ever had.”

Scripture readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C

First Reading: Genesis 14:18-20
Responsorial psalm: Psalm 110
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Gospel: Luke 9:11b-17

You can find the full text of the Scripture readings here.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C, by Scott VanDerveer

A father and his son got into a heated debate about a topic that they probably never should have talked about. You know how there are some issues that you probably just shouldn’t bring up at all because you’re not going to come to any kind of agreement and it’s just a little too much to risk the harmony of the relationship? Well, they went right to one of those topics and they had some very hard, hard words for each other.

The son moved out the next week, and there was a long period of time where that son and that father were not talking. And the father, being older and having the heart of a father, couldn’t bear it anymore. So he sent his daughter to be an ambassador, to go to her brother and to say, “Dad is really upset. He misses you so much. He’d rather have you in his life than be right about this argument. So, can you just come meet him halfway and agree to disagree?”

And the son, who was younger and had that fire of youth that makes you want to stand by your principles no matter what—he said, “I can’t meet dad halfway on this. I just think he’s so wrong. That way of thinking is so wrong. I can’t meet him halfway.”

So the daughter went back to the dad and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but he can’t meet you halfway. He said he can’t do it.”

And the father said, “Then tell him to come as far as he can. And I’ll go the rest of the way.”

That is what God is like: Come as far as you can and I’ll go the rest of the way.

Many people know, but some people don’t, that Muslims believe in the same God that we do. Allah is actually just the name for God, the God of Abraham, the same one that we worship.

They also believe in Jesus, but as you might know, they emphasize Muhammad. And it’s interesting that their belief is that God spoke to Muhammad very, very clearly, as one of the clearest of all messengers, so that we could fully understand who God is.

And this was one of the things that God said to Muhammad: “If someone comes closer to me by a hand’s breadth, I draw in arm’s length. If you come closer to me by a step, I’ll come a mile. If you come toward me walking, I’ll come running.”

So today, Corpus Christi, we celebrate one of the most beautiful aspects of who God is: that if we make the slightest gesture in the direction of God, God rushes toward us.

Now, the thing is part of love—and think about all the relationships in your life—a big part of loving someone is giving them freedom. A big part of loving someone is allowing them to do and be who God calls them to without your interference. And so if God is perfect love, that means God is very, very strict about giving us perfect freedom. So God is never gonna make us come. But when we make the tiniest step, the tiniest step, in God’s direction, God rushes toward us.

This Gospel that we just heard is exhausting to hear actually, if you think about it, because Jesus had been healing people all day long. I just can’t even imagine how exhausted he was with all of the healing and all of the teaching and all of the preaching in an age where there was no microphone, there wasn’t even a megaphone. How did he keep his voice up for all those hours?

And then, at the end of his preaching, he can see that the people are hungry and he tells the Apostles, “I want you to feed them.” Thousands of people! “I want you to feed them.” And they said, “We can’t come anywhere close to satisfying their hunger. That’s impossible.”

And Jesus said, “Then just go as far as you can, and I’ll go the rest of the way. Bring one little step, one little bit—your little bit of bread, your little leftover container with fish—bring that, and I’ll go the rest of the way.”

We still do that to this day. We make such a little movement toward God. Such a little movement. Here’s what we do.

God gives us 168 hours a week and here’s, here’s what we say here at Saint Mary’s and at all churches, we tell people, why don’t you come at 4:00 or at 8:30 or at 11:15, just one hour a week? And you know what we’ll do when you come, we’ll put out a dish of wafers and we’ll put out a little cruet of wine. And if we give God just that little bit and give God just an hour—not a week—just one hour of the 168 that we have, God comes in person and fills the bread and the wine. Comes and fills it up with divine life.

We make one tiny step at 4:00— we might even have to leave early, we’ve got our pocketbook when we come because we’ve got a plan somewhere, or somebody needs us—and God rushes the rest of the way. We make one step toward God, and God rushes out of heaven, to be right we are.

Jeff Chatterton and his family are here this week. You can see them filling the front pews.

They are here to celebrate his mom, their sister and beloved family member, Georgiana—Georgie. You remember Georgie? She was here every week. Sometimes on this side, but almost always right there. She was in the wheelchair. Do you remember that she would come here every week, her son, Jeff, pushing her in the wheelchair?

She had gotten a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s many years ago and she just passed away, just last month. And by the time we got to know her here, Alzheimer’s had already gone away with many, many of her personality traits, many of her gifts, many of her abilities. But every week, Jeff would drive from his home to Glens Falls, get his mom and bring her to church.

Interestingly, he’s not even Catholic, but he wanted to bring his mom to church. He didn’t bring her because he was Catholic. He brought her because she was, and he sat there and, you know, you might have noticed how Jeff would do it. Every song he would put the worship aid in front of her so she could sing. She hasn’t been able to sing or read in a long time. He would always bring his mom forward for Communion. He would bring her forward.

And that’s when it would happen. Georgie had very little she could give God, she didn’t have that much left to give. So she would just show up with her son, and she would just try, with what the disease had left her with, to try to just be there the whole time. And as soon as God saw that, God rushed right over to her and I would hold the host before her.

And Jeff will tell you, Georgie couldn’t understand much: She couldn’t understand directions she couldn’t follow. But when I said, the body of Christ, the “Amen” shined from her eyes and her mouth would open and we thought, oh no, oh no. What will happen now? You know what happened now. She and God smashed into each other and exploded in laughter and joy and tenderness. God said, Georgie, I know there’s so little you can do, so just open your mouth and I’ll come down from heaven the rest of the way.

I think all of us are being encouraged on this Corpus Christi to ask ourselves: Where in my life might I be able to take a step closer to God? Where am I maybe holding back a little bit? Maybe I don’t need to make a huge change in my life. A tiny step. Maybe I’m being called to just add a pause before bedtime every day. Maybe I’m being called to have a little time in the morning, maybe light a candle and sit with God for a few moments. Maybe I’m meant to come to church.

You know, we leave the church open during the week so that people can come during the day or after work and, and come be here in the quiet or come light a candle. Maybe that would be something to do. Maybe God is saying one step might be giving a donation to the Ukrainian Red Cross. Or maybe taking part in that program we talked about last week where we can adopt, sponsor a child at SMSA who wouldn’t be able to pay the tuition so that they can have a Catholic education next year. Maybe it’s to read one spiritual book a year. Some tiny step in that direction.

We hear from the Gospel that we’re always going to be tempted to believe that whatever we do, it’s not enough. They said, “Come on, what are you going to do with my leftover fish and my leftover bread from dinner. How are you going to do anything with this? What difference could my little bit make?”

But this is one of the most lovable things there is to know about God: You make one move in God’s direction, and God rushes all the way from heaven to meet you right there.

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