Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’” (Luke 24:36-37, 39)

Letter Writing 

April 22, 2012
Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:35-48 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“They bent over their school desks, 104 years ago, putting pencils to paper. Writing letters to God. Onto paper the students poured thoughts and prayers they hoped would ascend, like so many curling wisps of smoke, into the skies above turn-of-the-century Buffalo [New York].

“Their writings would remain hidden from view for more than a century. Now – long after the schoolchildren who wrote them grew old and went to their graves – the letters written by students at Corpus Christi School have been rediscovered. And, as parish lore had long purported, they were found hidden in the cross – the one that rose steeply into the sky atop the church's south tower.

“Parish members [were] delighted and humbled by the discovery. It's a display, they said, of long-ago faith. Of the kind of spirit that filled immigrant souls and built Buffalo from next to nothing into a strapping city.

“Today, [the letters] are unreadable. Over the decades, they turned into masses of paste-like, corrugated material, from the dampness and temperature changes inside the cross and cupola. When removed by construction workers recently, the copper cupola yielded handfuls of thick, wet, gluey material. A few pieces can still be made out as stationery.

“That discouraged Corpus Christi parishioners at first. But [they] have come to see the ruined letters as a blessing. They are going to replace them, in the cross that will be placed on the new cupola, with letters signed by the church's current flock. ‘You build buildings from brick and stone,’ said [the current pastor] ‘But this is spiritual brick.’

“Corpus Christi was founded in 1898 as a Polish-American parish, one of its earliest founders [being] Mother Colette Hilbert, a nun who was born in Poland, and who came to Buffalo to help start the parish. At Corpus Christi, Mother Colette founded a convent of Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. According to church lore, [she] was the woman who had the brainstorm of having the children write letters to be put into the copper cross. After the cross was raised into the sky, [the children’s letters] were forgotten. Or they entered parish lore – depending on whom you ask.

“And that's all that it was – a rumor; a story – until the day when workers from Weaver Construction of Buffalo removed the cross and south cupola from the church. The copper of the structure had deteriorated so much, up in the Buffalo skies for 104 years, that it was about as thin as heavy-duty tinfoil.

“Now the church's faithful are encouraging all parishioners to be part of the historic church's next century. New letters will be available for people to sign. [These] letters, along with some of the original 1907 letters, will be placed [inside] the new cross that will be erected on top of the repaired south tower.” (Excerpted from “The Buffalo News,” November 2, 2011)

The gospel passage we hear today recounts a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples. St. Luke writes, “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’” (Luke 24:36-37, 39)

Indeed, those terrified disciples knew for sure that Jesus had been killed. No doubt about it: he was dead as ever dead could be. What, then, was this? A ghost? But with smiling eyes and gentle smile, I can picture Jesus assuring his friends that they had nothing to fear. As a matter of fact, so real am I, says Jesus, that I’m hungry and want something to eat. And ghosts don’t eat! So believe that I am alive.

Still, though, even as the disciples shared a meal with Jesus, they could not comprehend what he had said to them, could not believe that he was truly dead and yet now truly alive. No doubt, they still thought of him as some unearthly specter.

The concept of resurrection from the dead was beyond comprehension for those first followers of Jesus. The very idea was irrational, nonsensical. They had yet to come to a place beyond reason and sense – they had yet to come to faith. And no less is it our challenge today.

When Corpus Christi’s century-old cupola and cross came down, a tomb was opened, ghosts were set free, and the hopes and dreams of a long-past generation filled the present with pride of past and renewed zest for living toward the future. A resurrection story for sure!

Indeed, the Easter season bids us welcome anew these spirits into our lives – the risen Jesus, surely – and also those many we’ve loved who have truly died and yet truly live. No longer bound by bodily constraints, they remain close to us as our next breath, whispering into our ears the hopes and dreams of generations past as they fill the present with renewed zest for living toward the future.



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