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Homily: Feast of St. Francis de Sales Mass by Kevin Nadolski, OSFS

by Kristin Laudenslager Jan 25, 2019
2019 Feast Week Homily

Kevin Nadolski, OSFS
January 24, 2019: Feast of St. Francis de Sales Mass: DSU


As one of the newest Oblates on our campus,
I would like, once again, to introduce myself. 
I am Kevin Nadolski, I have been an Oblate for 30 years. 
I work here as the VP for mission and have taught TH 109
and now ED 475. 
Perhaps most important of all,
I am a proud member of Pod 4. 
Coming to know the DeSales University community
has been a sheer delight. 
Our campus is beautiful,
there is a commitment to care for others
that is sincere and authentic, and
our students, faculty, and staff are warm and friendly
—even the non-Eagles fans are kind to me.

I do find one other seemingly small behavior that is so ubiquitous
that is just remarkable.  
It seems to me that no matter where I am on campus,
what building I enter or leave,
that someone is always ready to hold the door for me. 
I have no idea where the door-holding habit started,
but I really like it. 
In fact, it is inspiring. 
And, for our homily on this Feast of St. Francis de Sales,
I would like for us to reflect on three ways
that holding is a central Salesian action,
especially as we find it here in Center Valley,
hardly the city of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount,
but truly a gathering of people
whose lives are zesty like flavorful salt
and bright like the light of the gospel.

Holding:
We hold our doors. 
We hold our tongues. 
And, we hold our breaths.

First, that door holding. 
Sure, it’s a polite gesture, but I am beginning to see it
more as a metaphor-in-action. 
When we hold the door for someone,
frequently with a smile or nod or
maybe a few short words of greeting,
we are basically saying,
“You are welcomed here.” 
“You belong.” 
“I may not know you, but I accept you, and I will respect you.”

And, then there are those on the receiving end of our kindness. 
They may be richly in need of some anonymous kindness,
whether they just learned of a bad grade,
woke up in a bad mood,
or just got burned or betrayed or dumped
by someone important in their life. 
In our DeSales community,
holding a door and letting someone hold it for us
are simple ways to put into action
our oft-repeated exhortation: “Be who you are and be it well.”
 
In his inauguration address back in April,
Fr. Jim as the new president introduced us
to an important Salesian theme of unidiverse:
That we are one in our diversity
because God created us all. 
He even began his State of the University address yesterday
with St. Paul’s words that inform that message. 
Yes, we are one in our diversity,
but we cannot be too quick to forget our diversity
or take it for granted. 
Where we are different, we grow in respect. 
When we don’t understand each other, we stop to dialogue. 
When we disagree, we pause in humility. 
But, where our core values are threatened,
we speak clarity with charity
to express the power of the Gospel that calls us
to honor the dignity of our neighbors and
defend them because we open doors for our neighbors. 
During this time of national turmoil and church crisis,
we are struggling to be led. 
Here at DeSales, a leading example is a simple one:
Open doors and open hearts. 
May this continue to ignite
an ethic of hospitality in our University,
church, and national communities
to build God’s Kingdom of peace and justice here,
for hereafter all are welcome in heaven.
 
Second, we hold our tongues. 
Pope Francis issued his suggested list of 10 New Year’s resolutions,
just a few weeks ago. 
#1 consists all of two words: Don’t gossip. 
One of our Oblate leaders once said that our tongues
can be weapons of mass destruction. 
It is true:
We have the power to do violence to another
just by what we say. 
We can harm a reputation, shower shame on a person,
or force someone into a bit of isolation
by the words we choose to speak. 

I sense we are all familiar
with St. Francis de Sales’ tremendous insistence
on the virtue of gentleness. 
Yes, it was because Jesus said in Matthew 11:29,
“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.” 
But, it was also because our patron was living in a time
when Christians were violently attacking
and killing each other over their Christian beliefs. 
DeSales was beyond incredulous; he was horrified. 
Thus, he essentially launched a campaign of gentleness
that has grown into a spirituality that we now try to live. 
Yes, we are Christians, and yes, we are Salesian,
and yes, we stand committed to living Jesus
as we speak the truth with gentleness
and use our words wisely and with care. 
Whether in our homes, our dorm room, classrooms,
conference tables, in emails and texts, or on social media,
what is the quality of our words? 
Are we giving life to others or pinching their psyches
or harming their lives with our jabs and stabs?

In our learning community,
how we communicate can dictate how we relate. 
Reflecting on a new study From a Nation at Risk to a Nation of Hope,
        
NYTimes columnist David Brooks last week wrote
about relationship quality in education,
asserting that a defining question for any school or company
is the state of the emotional relationships (1/17/19). 
He concluded by wondering if we could ask this question
about our U.S. Congress. 
At the heart of our Catholic, Salesian mission
is how well we treat each other. 
May our words reflect the beauty of our door-holding actions.  

Finally, we hold our breath. 
As adult children of God,
we stand in awe of the abundance of gifts we have been given. 
From our lives here in this first world nation,
where we eat well, have access to healthcare,
warm shelter, a strong education,
and friends and family to love us, we yearn for little. 
We gather today at this Thanksgiving table to say thank you to God
for these blessings and ask for the grace
to share them with others to fortify the lives of those
who do not have such abundance. 
At DeSales, our commitment to service and attitudes of compassion
are rich and exemplary. 
So, we hold our breath, not as if we were under water,
but like we were gasping
because something has taken our breath away:
A beautiful scene,
the words of love and appreciation
from a friend or parent or romance partner,
or the utter mystery of experiencing the presence of God. 

When women prepare to give birth,
they are frequently trained in breathing. 
Breath gives life. 
In Genesis, it was a mighty wind, the breath of God, that created us. 
On the cross, Jesus hands over his spirit with his breath. 
Our breath can change us, too. 
May we stop, in prayer or reflection,
to experience the life-changing grace of God
that can lift us up to a new way of living
because we have felt God’s loving us. 

I conclude with the words of the first reading. 
In the Song of Songs, the author expresses divine love
as two lovers in glee-filled romance. 
As a young 17-year-old college student,
Francis de Sales wrote on this text in a theology class. 
He was taken with the words of verse four:
“I held him and I would not let him go.” 
In Latin, this is Tenui nec dimittam. 
They are the words emblazoned on every diploma
this university grants because it is the motto of our great school.
Yes, our God has taken hold of us and will never let go of us. 
May these words be emblazoned on our hearts
because we study, we work, and we love at DeSales University.

Happy Feast Day!