“Honoring God, Remembering Our Heroes, and Preserving the Soul of Our Culture”

Homily, Requiem Mass for the Forgotten
March 15, 2024; Epiphany Parish, Miami, FL
Readings: Lam 3:17-26; Ps 23; 2 Cor 5:1.6-10; Mt 25:31-46


Our purpose in coming together tonight – remembering those who have been forgotten, those who have been displaced, made homeless and have become invisible to society – makes it difficult to know where to begin.  There is so much suffering around the globe, and seemingly more and more intentionally inflicted suffering from protagonists of ideologies that seek to suppress our God-given freedom and destroy human dignity.

Perhaps even more concerning is the blindness to the plight of those suffering that sets in to those who are unaffected, especially blindness to the suffering right around us.  The danger for us is constantly there to become like those the king’s left in the famous scene of the final judgment our Lord paints for us in Matthew 25: they did not see him in the suffering; if they had, they would have helped.  That is, they only perceive a reason to help when they will get something out of it for themselves.  The ones on the right are those who helped for the sake of helping, for the good of the other without regard for what they got out of it.  These are the ones who know how to love and so are capable of the Kingdom of Heaven.

A Different Perspective

Yes, it is hard to know where to begin, but I suppose I have to begin somewhere.  So I will begin from a very personal place.  Last fall our Archdiocese hosted a prayer vigil for Jimmy Lai (and Cardinal Zen, as well as others suffering under the current regime in Hong Kong), to offer spiritual support and bring greater awareness to the tremendous suffering he is enduring for the sake of freedom in a very oppressive regime.  The people present signed cards with messages of love and support, and I mailed them to him with a letter of my own.  He wrote me back, and I actually was able to receive the letter.  It is my latest prized possession.  Here is what he said in that letter:

Suffering actually I am not, though in prison I am not free.  But only externally.  Prison is a place of simplicity and poverty, where desires and attachments are eliminated; it opens my heart to the voice of God.  ‘I live but no longer I, Christ lives in me.’  I take measure of my thought and action from within and obey no external constraints.  For God is within me[,] [I] no longer think and act according to external necessities and constraints; with essence and truth within, I can touch the infinite in the finite, unite myself with God who is within me.  I shall go on my life here in peace, [certain] of God[’s] hope and promise and have joy, praising God.

Mr. Lai chose to stay behind rather than flee to safety for the sake of the freedom of his people, or better yet, to be a living sign of their oppression.  What a difference one’s perspective is who suffers severe oppression for the sake of integrity of conscience.  All that is sacred is taken away: material possessions, contact with loved ones, comfort and conveniences, access to spiritual resources – especially confession and the Holy Eucharist – and most obviously the deprivation of freedom itself.  But for the spiritual person, the perspective is different: freedom is on the inside, and the greatest freedom of all no one can take away: the freedom that comes from integrity of conscience no matter the cost.

A Repeated Pattern

We see a pattern here that was set by our early ancestors in the faith.  Just listen again to the lament of those who have been stripped of all they considered sacred: “My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord.  The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me.”  Such deep lament, from the pit of chaos, brokenness, suffering and death.

The Book of Lamentations was written in one of the darkest periods of history of ancient Israel: the Babylonian captivity.  Jerusalem was sacked, the Temple destroyed, the people deported into exile, all that they held sacred violated, all that had value and meaning, even their very identity, taken from them.  Lamentations is a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem; it had, then, a very deep spiritual significance, beyond the temporal consequences of their home city being destroyed and having to wander homeless in a new land.  Their spiritual home was taken from them, too.  In a sense, the people returned to their state before the golden era of their history when they built Jerusalem into the glorious city it became.

In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks about the body as an earthly dwelling, in the form of a tent.  Think about what a tent is: it is a dwelling place, but one that is mobile.  It is the dwelling place of nomadic peoples.  Such were the Hebrews early in their history, wandering through the Sinai desert looking for their way to the Promised Land, and then after occupying it still living as a nomadic people until the establishment of their kingdom.  That is when they began to build buildings: homes to live in, palaces, and most of all, the Temple.  Now they set down permanent roots, but only to discover that, what they thought was permanent, was actually transitory, too.  For as a result of their infidelities to the Covenant, their repeated worship of pagan idols rather than the true God Who made that Covenant with them, their kingdom was invaded and all destroyed, and the people deported into exile.  They once again became a landless people, wandering about without a fixed homeland.  All that was sacred was taken away from them: their homes, their possessions, their land which is so inextricably linked with their very identity, and most of all the Temple, God’s very dwelling place.

Notice, though, that the lamenter finds reason to hope: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent….  Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; it is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord.”  A biblical lament always ends on a note of hope, because the true believer knows that God will never abandon His people forever, He will always be ready to welcome them back no matter how depraved they had become.  And so here, this darkest moment for God’s people gave way to a new light.  That is to say, it was through all of this pain and suffering that they came to redefine themselves, or better yet, more precisely define themselves, and discover anew what is of true and lasting value, that can never be taken away, that which is most sacred of all: the Torah. 

What Is Truly Sacred

The Law God gave to them through Moses on Mount Sinai was the revelation of His truth, of His will for them, the teaching from on high that shows us the path to happiness with Him.  The sacred city of Jerusalem was sacked, the Temple razed.  The Jewish people could no longer organize themselves around the cultic worship of the Temple, and so God’s Law became their central organizing principle.  And this, no one could take from them: the Law is permanent, immovable, and always available to those who love it and strive to live by it.

Thus it is that the deprivation of all that we used to consider important in life, and even sacred, reveals to us what is truly sacred and immovable.  We are alarmed at the growing injustices in the world, brutal repressions of governments fueled by godless ideologies in some parts of the world and a sort of secular fundamentalism taking possession of countries that used to pride themselves on being liberal democracies.  Some of us, and I include myself among them, thought that the world had learned the painfully hard lessons of atheistic totalitarian regimes that encompassed the globe in the last century.  But we see them in new but similar guises now in the 21st century, fueling a worldwide crisis of refugees fleeing their homelands to seek safety. 

So many of them are welcomed here to South Florida, coming as they do from places where they are made forgotten whether by totalitarian governments, poverty resulting from corruption, or natural disasters where resources for recovering a dignified living are near non-existent: Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and any number of other countries.  No matter how one analyzes this phenomenon, the cause always boils down to the same: a rejection of God.  The elimination of God in a society always results in untold suffering, and the oppression of the many by the few.  Our spiritual ancestors, the ancient Hebrew people, learned that lesson the hard way.  And it seems that humanity keeps having to learn that lesson over and over again, the hard way.


We rejoice, though, in what is truly sacred: God’s truth, and the peace that comes from following it in accordance with one’s rightly-formed conscience.  And we also see what results from those who act accordingly: they are the ones on the king’s right, who give selflessly of their material and spiritual blessings to alleviate the sufferings of others.  We seek to do that here: to remember, to make sure that our heroes are not forgotten, that the oppressed, destitute and homeless are not invisible, that the lonely find companionship and the fearful a loving embrace.

We dedicate the best that we have, then, to remember them: in art, music, poetry and theater, all of the art forms crafted by those whom God has blessed with talents to give Him glory and remember those who are dearest to Him.  And above all, to direct this toward the Church’s liturgy, the worship of the one, true God, the most sacred dignity that God has given to His human creation.

This is what forms the soul of a culture, which is why atheistic, totalitarian regimes always start by eliminating the priests, poets, philosophers, and artists of all forms.  We, instead, use these talents with which God has blessed His human creation to remember, and to honor Him.  We refuse to allow our society to become soulless.  We refuse to be robbed of what is most sacred, understanding that it can only be taken away from us if we allow it to be.


Let us, then, keep our eyes always fixed on Him, our Creator Who loves us into life, and into eternal life when we pass from this world to the next.  And let us keep alive the memory of His servants and our heroes, taking inspiration from them, and learning the lessons they teach us about truth, freedom and the sacred: true freedom is on the inside, God’s truth is immoveable, and the path to lasting joy lies in following that way.  And let us ask God for the help we need to likewise be teachers in word and example of the joy of all of the truth, beauty and goodness He has given to the world and entrusted to us.  May God grant us this grace.  Amen.