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I went to the post office to renew my passport. The lady who was working at the post office asked if I had the old passport and I did. “How old is it?” she asked. To show how dated it was, I turned to the page with my picture inside that was taken in 1983. She said, “Oh my, you were cute.” So my question is this: What happened? The reason I look the way I do now is that I ran a youth program in the parish in my early days as a priest. My hair turned grey and then it fell out. I also have a permanent blue dot on the palm of my hand because the kids were goofing around, and they stabbed my hand with a lead pencil.
The reason I am telling you this is because in the Book of Revelation there is a vision in which all of creation is praising God in heaven. One hundred and forty-four thousand saints all praying. If you do the math, it is twelve times twelve hundred. The twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel, which is another way of saying that the entire people of God are in heaven. The Book of Revelation mentions that every one of these saints possesses a distinctive mark on their bodies. So apparently a mark is required when you go to heaven.
So, when I die and St. Peter asks me to show why I belong to heaven, I will not give him the five distinguished awards I received for my work with youth in New Jersey. No, I will show him my receding hairline and the blue dot in the palm of my hand. When my father dies, he will show the calluses on his hands as a result of sixty plus years of carpentry work that supported his family. My brother will have a scar on his right butt for all the times they had to pull out his wallet to pay for sporting goods, tuition, and dental care for the kids. I know a religious sister who is going to heaven with black bags under her eyes for the sleepless nights for taking care of patients in Children’s Hospital. The Lord has marks on his resurrected body which are the holes in his hands and feet. So marks are deformities that we acquire in life when we make sacrifices for others. They are beautiful in heaven because they are signs that people benefited from us.
So how do you get these marks? The best person to answer that question is Jesus because he has the most beautiful and distinguished marks: the holes in his hands and feet. He got those marks when he was crucified. The reason he was killed is that he loved his enemies and prayed for his persecutors. He knows how to turn the other cheek when the soldier slapped him. He gave them his shirt after they took his coat. He was meek and humble, poor in spirit, a peacemaker, and he hungered and thirsted for justice. All the instructions he gave to us are ways to make sacrifices for others. No other person in history ever gave such instructions. That is why Jesus has how can help us get our marks.
When I first arrived at the parish many years ago as a young priest, the parents asked me to start up a youth group because there was nothing for the kids: no playground, no lake, no fishing, no horseback riding, nothing. So I said, “Okay, I guess.” Little did I know that when I was pulling out the pencil that was stuck in the palm of my hand, and hair was falling off my head, and saying “these kids are driving me crazy,” that I was making a mark.
A few years back, I got a Christmas card from one of the first members of the youth group. He sent me a picture of himself with his arm around his wife and three children standing in front of their beautiful new home. This is what he wrote in the card: “Thank you Fr. Peter. If you didn’t come when you did, this picture would never have happened.” Listen to Christ, and you will know how to make a difference to someone.Back to All Homilies