Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Do You See?

Kevin Becker

(Second Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on January 15, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 1: 29-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday 2017]

In today’s gospel story, John the Baptist sees what no one else sees.  Everybody else sees a young, Jewish rabbi walking toward John at the Jordan River.  Nothing extraordinary about that.  But John has a deeper perception; he “sees” something more.  John sees “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”!  John sees his Messiah; John sees his Savior.  In short, John sees God ALIVE and PRESENT and AT WORK in his cousin, Jesus.

Which brings us to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and a young man named Kevin Becker. 

Many of you know the story of Blessed Pier Giorgio, who’s become a great inspiration and role model to Catholic young people all over the world, especially in the last few decades.  Recent popes have often mentioned him and quoted him in their World Youth Day talks and homilies—and in other addresses they’ve given where lots of young people have been present.  Pier Giorgio was born in Turin, Italy in 1901, and died just 24 years later of polio—a disease that he probably contracted from the many sick people he visited and cared for during his relatively short life.  He came from a wealthy family (his father owned a newspaper), but he gave away most of what he had to the poor—even, sometimes, his bus money.  He was also a very athletic young man—a mountain climber, among other things.  And, of course, he was deeply devoted to prayer and the sacraments and his Catholic faith.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Now on to Kevin Becker.  In 2011, Kevin was a student at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.  He didn’t know any of this information about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; he didn’t even know Pier Giorgio’s name.  Then came the terrible day that year when he fell from the second floor of the house he was renting with two friends, two fellow college students.  He fractured his skull in five places and his brain was severely injured.  The doctors did emergency surgery immediately, but for nine days afterward he was completely unresponsive.  The doctors thought he probably wouldn’t live; and if he did somehow recover they said that in all likelihood he’d be severely handicapped for the rest of his life. 

Well, one of Kevin’s cousins suggested that the family begin praying to Blessed Pier Giorgio, asking for his intercession, because, as she put it, “He needs one more miracle to be canonized a saint.”  So the family did, and Kevin’s mother placed a picture of Pier Giorgio by her son’s hospital bed.

The next day, much to the surprise of everyone, Kevin opened his eyes for the first time since the accident.  Shortly thereafter he began to stand, speak and walk normally.  When he left the hospital and began his physical rehab, he discovered that he was miles ahead of the other people who were there with brain injuries—including those who had been in recovery for six months to a year.  When he was given some cognitive tests to determine how much brain damage he had experienced, he passed with flying colors.  In fact, the doctors told him it was like he had never been injured.

On the day after he came home from the hospital, he decided to take a walk with his mother, and during the course of that walk he told her about a strange, dreamlike experience that he had during the time he was unconscious.  Kevin said that, during this “dream,” he woke up in the house he shared with his friends, and he heard someone moving downstairs.  Kevin said it was unusual for one of the other guys to be downstairs first in the morning, because he was normally the first one up.  So he went down to investigate, and in the living room he found a young man—a young man he didn’t know.  He said, “Who are you?”  The man said, “I’m Giorgio, your new roommate.”  Kevin said, “That can’t be.  I already have two roommates, Nick and Joe.”  The stranger said, “You don’t have to worry about them for now.”

Kevin then spent the “day” with Giorgio, who, he said did everything possible to keep him in the house.  And that was difficult for Kevin, because he’s an athletic guy—an ardent soccer player—who hates to stay indoors.  But Kevin said that every time he tried to leave the house Giorgio would say to him, “You’re not ready to go out there yet.”

Kevin’s mother then said to her son, “Do you think you’d recognize this person if you saw a picture of him?”  Kevin said, “Yes.”  So she showed him the picture of Pier Giorgio that had been at his bedside (he hadn’t seen it in the hospital), and Kevin said, “Yes, that’s him.  That’s the guy in my dream.  That’s the guy who kept telling me not to leave the house.”

I read recently that the medical records of Kevin Becker’s case have been sent to Rome, to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  Perhaps it will be the miracle that results in Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati finally becoming Saint Pier Giorgio Frassati!

I certainly hope it is!

In today’s gospel story, John the Baptist sees what no one else sees: He sees God ALIVE and PRESENT and AT WORK in his cousin, Jesus. 

In the story I just told in this homily, what do you see?

  • ·         A mysterious case of spontaneous healing?
  •           An unexplained phenomenon that has a natural explanation that we just don’t understand yet—but someday will?
  • ·         A young man who got lucky?

Or do you see a God who is ALIVE and PRESENT and AT WORK in his world?

In this story, what do you see?

I’m not sure how you would answer that question, my brothers and sisters, but I can tell you with almost absolute certitude how John the Baptist would answer it.