During September 1984, now St. Pope John Paul II embarked upon an 11-day apostolic journey through Canada. Midway through that journey, on September 15th, the pope celebrated an afternoon Mass before hundreds of thousands of faithful at Downsview Air Base in Toronto. According to CBC archives, “People started coming during the night, and by dawn the lines went on and on and on.”
That morning, I remember waking up, feeling inspired, and thinking: “I need to go and see the pope in Toronto.” Then a senior in college, I decided to go. After crossing into Canada via the Blue Water Bridge, I made it into the metropolitan Toronto area several hours later. At some point, however, I realized that I had no idea where I was going and became concerned when it seemed as though nearly every exit was—closed! Eventually, I was downtown and lost. While stopped at a street corner, I rolled my window down, announced to a policeman that I was a college student from Detroit, and wondered if he could direct me to where the pope was going to be celebrating Mass. With a large grin on his face, he pointed to his right and said: “Park right here. The entrance is over there.”
After entering the air base, several hours were spent in cool, rainy, and muddy conditions. Nonetheless, I knew that God had called me there. Eventually, late in the afternoon, the pope’s military helicopter entered the airspace and there were jubilant cheers. After making his way over the massive crowd and landing, the pope disembarked, and began Mass. Hours later, although Mass had ended, the “experience” continued to ricochet within me. Looking back, it would prove to be a turning point in my life as a Christian. Since then, to the best of my ability, I’ve learned to trust the Holy Spirit and respond to that which I am being called.
I mention this story because our lives today, as we all know, are very busy. At so many levels, we are “programmed” to be here-and-there. Given this, at the end of our days, there is scant time remaining for what should be most important in our lives: our relationship with God.
This is sad, especially given our readings for this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Book of Wisdom (11:22-12:2) reminds us that the Lord created the entire universe—-including us! Why? Because He loves and preserves us; indeed, He sustains our every breath. And what is our response? In his Letter to the Thessalonians (1:11-2:2), St. Paul tells us: “Brothers and Sisters, we pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.”
Which brings us to our Gospel story and to what might be called that “Zacchaeus moment,” that moment in time when this Gospel figure was forever changed. In the Gospel of Luke, the evangelist reminds us that the town of Jericho was going to be “pass-through” terrain for Jesus. We might think of Jericho in a similar way that an airliner lifting off from New York bound for Los Angeles would think of, say, Michigan. On a clear day, passengers might look down and say: “There it is. The hand.” And pass over.
And so, to be noticed, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a Sycamore tree with the hope of seeing Jesus. Now, we don’t exactly know why he did this. But it is likely that he had heard of Jesus, what He was teaching, and began to compare Jesus’ teachings with the ways in which he was living out his own life. And so, Zacchaeus climbed the tree, took a high spot, and set his sights on Jesus. In doing so, something magnificent happened. Jesus noticed him and called out: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, I must stay at your house.”
And the rest was history.
To clarify, it was not that Jesus had suddenly altered His travel plans and decided to stay in the nearest house available; in this case, the home of Zacchaeus. But rather, it was that Jesus truly desired to stay with Zacchaeus. By doing so, it was though Jesus’ own heart came to rest within him. And Zacchaeus was forever changed. He now possessed a new heart, outlook, and perspective to which Jesus announced: “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
Given all of this, we might ask: When was our Zacchaeus moment? When did we allow the Lord full access into our hearts? When did we allow Him to live within us? Or, perhaps we’ve yet to experience such a moment. If this is the case, now is the time to ask.
At each Mass, after introductory rites, we first enter into the Liturgy of the Word. Immediately following, we enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Yes, this is when Jesus enters into our lives in the most intimate of ways.
How are we different? How are we changed? How has salvation come to our house?