Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, January 02, 2009

“A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

“SOUL-SURFING” – January 11, 2009
The Baptism of the Lord
Mark 1:7-11
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Recent months have seen an increase in violence in India, religious and political extremists perpetrating attacks on those they deem adversaries because of their religious beliefs or political stance. While members of our Holy Cross community serving in India daily counter this deadly turmoil with courageous efforts at peacemaking, one of our confreres, Fr. Tony Kayala, CSC, serving on the faculty of St. Joseph’s College of Business Administration in Bangalore, communicated recently with the worldwide Holy Cross community of sisters, brothers and priests asking for prayers. Additionally, he included an article that appeared in the Hindustan Times and authored by Karan Thapar, a Hindu and a nationally known Indian TV interviewer. I quote from that article:

“It's as clear in my memory as if it happened yesterday. But, in fact, I first met [Scottish Mill Hill] Father Terry Gilfedder twenty five years ago. It was the late [London] summer of 1982 and Nisha and I were preparing for our marriage. As a Catholic, she wanted a proper church wedding and while I agreed, I was irritated by the need to meet the local parish priest for a set of three [meetings]. But there was no way out. The nearest church, St. Mary Magdalene's in Northumberland Avenue, would only marry Nisha to a non-Christian if this requirement was complied with.

“So, one Saturday in September, around 6 in the evening, Nisha and I knocked on Father Terry's door. He was sitting at his desk, his spectacles perched at the end of his nose. We settled into an old, well-worn leather sofa on the opposite side of the small room. Outside it was unusually warm, inside the atmosphere felt frosty. I was itching for a fight. ‘Sherry?’ [His] offer took me by surprise. ‘I don't know about you two, but I’m rather partial to the stuff.’ It was Tio Pepe, my favorite, but in those days a rarity in London. I found myself discussing the US Open Tennis, the Notting Hill Carnival, Rushdie's Midnight's Children — in fact, anything but our forthcoming marriage or what religion our unborn children would follow. Father Terry would top up our glasses and steer the conversation. He enjoyed an argument and held his own comfortably. The hour passed swiftly and enjoyably.

“Father Terry became a close friend. At a rehearsal, two nights before our wedding, he suggested one of the readings should be from the Bhagavad-Gita and asked me to choose. On the day when I revealed I had failed to pick a passage he slapped me on the back and laughed: ‘I knew that would happen so I've chosen something myself.’ It was from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. [At the wedding ceremony] he didn't pontificate. He spoke, as he put it, of ‘three little words’: I love you. It was a warm, simple, heart-felt message. More a fireside chat than a formal sermon. But it's stayed seared in my memory for a quarter century.

“Six years later, as Nisha lay dying with moments to go before the life support was switched off, Father Terry was at her bedside. He gave her the last sacrament but also encouraged [us] to whisper Hindu prayers in her ear. Then he stood beside me as the machines slowly, painfully, flickered to a close and Nisha's life ebbed away.

“Terry Gilfedder is the only priest I've known. I think of him each time I read of attacks on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka. I'm confident he would have found the words to heal bruised hearts. And, no doubt, his sherry would have helped!

“I'm sure there are Father Terrys in all faiths. Men of God but also caring, understanding human beings. Today, when we most need them, why are they silent?” (“A time for Father Terry,” Karan Thapar, Hindustan Times, October 11, 2008)

A nice story, surely, but is there something heroic here? Not really. And that’s just the point! While Terry Gilfedder was a Catholic priest, he was first just a really nice guy warmly welcoming a young couple who wished to be married. Before anything else, they were just three good people who wanted to forge a bond and celebrate a marriage. All three were anxious to put aside whatever might separate them to discover the common ground. And it was that simple, unpretentious desire alone that made more than a peace; it built a bridge that has endured a quarter century.

In the gospel passage we hear on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River after being baptized by John, “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11) Indeed, this was the doting voice of God the Father, creator of us all. As we celebrate today’s feast, also do we celebrate the loving bond between our Heavenly Father and all humanity. Made in the image and likeness of our creator, we stand today and hear echoed the very same words of adoption that first fell upon Jesus: “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Indeed, this loving affirmation falls upon the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, indeed, upon every human being, for together we share a common fatherhood in God the creator.

Fr. Terry Gilfedder knew this. And he lived this. Concludes Karan Thapar’s article: “[At the wedding ceremony] he spoke of three little words: I love you. It was a warm, simple, heart-felt message. More a fireside chat than a formal sermon. But it's stayed seared in my memory for a quarter century. I'm sure there are Father Terrys in all faiths. [People] of God but also caring, understanding human beings. Today, when we most need them, why are they silent?”

We are those caring, understanding human beings for whom India cries out. We are the very people for whom a wounded world waits. May our response be simple, powerful, communicating clearly what it means when we say those three little words: I love you.


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