Homily given by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
June 7, 2018
Today is a historic day for the Church of Northern Colorado as we gather in this cathedral church to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the death of Julia Greeley on this vigil of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her tomb is now in place and you can see it by the crucifix, and there is also the image of the Heart of Jesus on the tomb as a reminder to us of her deep devotion and love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is truly providential that she died on that solemnity and a revelation of the love of God for her and also for all who heeded her call for devotion to the Sacred Heart.
In our readings for this solemnity, in the first reading from Hosea, we hear the Lord revealing himself as a loving father. “Out of Egypt I called my son, … I … taught Ephraim to walk, … [I] took them in my arms. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks…. My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred” (Hos. 11, 1,3-4,8). And in that we hear the tenderness of God to all humanity. The God who has created every human being from the moment of conception in his image and likeness, who has given life and who has created us to reflect him.
As we hear in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, “In his image and likeness he created them, male and female he made them” (Gen. 1:26). And it is with great tenderness that the Lord desires to be intimate with every human being that they may come to know and to receive his love, and one can taste the tenderness and intimacy of God in the language that is used in the Book of Hosea. Have you sensed and received that type of love from the Father? Certainly, it was the love that Julia was deeply aware of in her own heart, by the way that she lived her life. She knew that she was loved by the Father. She knew herself as a beloved daughter of the Father.
The fact that she was known as the Angel of Charity shows that she was rooted in that love, and in her love, Christ himself was revealed. In the Gospel reading, we hear of the death of Jesus and the two who were crucified with him. But we also hear that Jesus was already dead and that when his side was pierced, blood and water immediately flowed out. And it is in the pierced heart of Jesus that the Church has always seen the total gift of self –the Lord reminds us in the Gospels and in his preaching that he has given his life for us, laid down his life for us. In the Eucharist: “This is my body given for you…. This is my blood poured out for you” (Lk. 22: 19-20). Jesus, who is true God and true man, reveals what true love looks like and what charity looks like. That it is deeply rooted in sacrifice, and it is deeply rooted in giving oneself completely to the Lord, no matter what the cost may be.
And we are told by John, that all of this testimony is given so that you also may come to believe, to put our faith in Jesus Christ, in the one alone who can forgive our sins and give to us eternal life. And it was precisely that faith that motivated Julia Greeley. It was her her deep faith in Jesus that helped her to take seriously the words, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And it was done without counting the cost. I remember, during the exhumation of her body, the person who was doing it, who would know, said this woman was filled with arthritis. No wonder it is noted she walked the way she walked. And she said her suffering and pain would have been constant. By bearing this arthritic pain, she shared in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, as she quietly went about delivering medicine, food, clothes, and other necessities to those who were poor and in need. As she did this, Julia never counted the cost. There is no testimony of her complaining about her arthritis. Nor did she complain about her suffering as she shuffled every First Friday of the month to all the firehouses to bring the pamphlets on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
She had a missionary spirit. She was not afraid to proclaim Christ, she was not afraid to invite others to come to know Jesus and his love for them, and she would go to firehouse after firehouse to make sure that they had the pamphlets. Once again in great humility and great simplicity. And we see that same humility in St. Paul. In his letter to the Ephesians, he refers to himself as the very least of all the holy ones, to whom this grace was given. And so too in the life of Julia, grace was given to her when one looks at that what she must have witnessed as a slave in seeing her mother beaten, in losing her own eye, and then being given freedom.
But in the midst of that, there appears in the testimonies about her no bitterness, no resentment, no seeking out of wanting people to feel sorry for her. Instead in her encounter with Jesus and in becoming Catholic, she realized the depths of God’s love for her, and it changed the whole meaning of her life, and she went about serving, she went about giving of herself, not thinking of her own comfort, not thinking of her own being, but fixing her eyes on the needs of others.
She loved as Jesus loved and understood the command of the Lord, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12) And St. Paul goes on, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his spirit in the inner self. And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones” (Eph 3: 14-18).
And it was precisely that grace that was given to Julia, that she so openly received within her own heart that she was strengthened with power through the spirit, and that Christ truly did dwell within her heart, for her heart was formed by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because she was open and receptive to that and put her faith in that. And that is why, in the midst of her arthritis, in the brokenness of the pain of her own body, she still carried a joyful spirit, because she knew the Love of Christ which surpassed all knowledge. Her life is a witness to grace, to the power of God and humility and the total gift of self.
And one can see, even though the amount of material we have on her life is minimal, one can see by the testimonies through and by the witness of what we do have, the depths of her faith and depths of charity and how she lived it out so beautifully through her life. And so as we continue with the celebration of the Eucharist this evening, I encourage you my sisters and brothers to reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to reflect on the life of Julia Greeley.
And first, what does Julia’s life teach you about holiness, about what it means to be a disciple, of what it means to follow and receive the tender mercy of the Lord, to know the power of God dwelling within you through the spirit, and that Christ desires to make your heart his home, as he made the heart of Julia his home?
Secondly, how does her life teach you what it means to be a missionary disciple? Remember she had none of the luxury of the day or what we have today. She walked everywhere even dragging her leg and limping, but she served no matter what the cost. She never sought out adulation, she never sought out appreciation, she never sought out power or recognition. She simply served. And what does that say to us in bringing others to encounter Christ and to know Christ? How many of us would go out on the First Friday of every month and maybe not go to firehouses, but go door to door inviting people to come to know the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to know the love of Jesus for them? She had no fear in doing that.
And finally, what does it say about our own encounter with Jesus Christ, with the tenderness and mercy of the Father, and what is the invitation in the reading of Hosea and the reading from the Gospel or Paul, what does it say to your heart today, and how is the Lord speaking to you. May we hear well the tenderness of the Father who loves us. “I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheek…. My heart is overwhelmed.” And the words of Paul, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named … that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.” (Eph. 3:14-17) May those words burn within our own heart as we lift our heart in gratitude to the Father for the gift of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the gift of his son to the world, and for the faithfulness of a former slave woman who was truly rooted and grounded in love. May we too be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ and filled with all the fullness of God.