The following is a transcript of a sermon delivered on Sunday, February 2nd, 2003, at St. Bernadette's Church in Houston, Texas.

"Now, master, you may let your servant go in peace." These are the words of Simeon as he welcomes the Christ child into the Temple. They are not, however, our words this evening. No, with the loss of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia earlier this morning, we have anything but peace. That peace and joy that Simeon felt at this culminating moment of his faith life is not ours. Rather, we need to back up in his life to see where we are at.

We await consolation, just as Simeon, patiently and faithful, awaited the consolation of all of Israel. We are this Simeon. Indeed, as we specifically mourn the loss of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut to make it into space yet not return, I am certain that everyone in Israel is Simeon, literally waiting for the consolation of all Israel. And everyone in India may be Anna, waiting their consolation as they mourn the loss of their national heroine, Kalpana Chawla. And we, too, are Simeon, awaiting the consolation of our country and the consolation of those here in Houston most directly affected.

We are Simeon.and Simeon is a good person to be. For we see in Simeon the rewards of a faithful life. Simeon patiently awaited the Lord's coming; and he was ready when the Lord came. It is this patient faith of Simeon we want to make our own, as we wait patiently for the consolation of the Lord.

Indeed, this tragedy gives us an opportune time to reflect on the beauty of our faith and the strength it brings. As in the Letter to the Hebrews, our faith is in Jesus, who was of flesh and blood. He was tested by what he suffered; band he understands our trials. In Jesus the Christ, the light of the world, whose presence is symbolized in the Paschal Candle (I point to it in church), we have a savior who understands us, who was like us in all things but sin. He knows what we are going through and can commiserate. For truly, even Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. He weeps with us now.

Our faith is in Jesus, the one like us. In his sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection. In him, we have our hope of life eternal..that life does not end here..that we can all go home to God through him. And because of this hope, we have no need to fear death, for the devil, the deadly one, has been conquered. Such fear can paralyze us from doing anything. And, from what people have shared with me, these brave astronauts did not have this fear; rather, they pursued their dreams; they did not let the fear of death prevent them from achieving.

This is our faith. And it will bear fruit. Indeed, the good news I bring you is that our faith is bearing fruit right now. Earlier today, I went to Frenchie's restaurant to see how Frankie and Olga and Ana were doing. As many of you know, the NASA community gathers at Frenchie's for meals; the owners know them personally. Indeed, the walls of the restaurant are simply littered with the pictures of the missions and personal photos of the astronauts. STS-107 was no different. Their mission photo is there, as well as that of Rick Husband, the flight commander. And on his picture, Rick left us a testimony to his faith. A Bible citation under his name: Proverbs 3: 5-6. And here is what it said:

"Trust in the Lord with your whole heart, not in your own insight. Be mindful of him in all your ways, and he will make straight your paths."

Rick had a strong faith. And this faith bears fruit even now in his family. For I called one of our families who attended the launch of Columbia as guests of Rick. And they told me that they had heard from Rick's widow; she was shocked, yes, but she, too, gave testimony to her faith helping her deal with this horrific loss.

So, let us be good and faithful Simeons; let us be prayerful Annas. Let us be like Anna who dwelt in God's presence there in the Temple. Let us be like Simeon who was gifted with the Holy Spirit. For we too are gifted with that same Spirit, that Spirit we received at baptism. A Spirit that consoles, a Spirit that wipes out fear, a Spirit that gives hope, a Spirit that helps us to recognize, as Simeon did, Christ our Lord, and a Spirit that empowers us to be light to others, especially those who may grieve more deeply than we ourselves do.

Let us be patient and faithful. And we too will be rewarded as Simeon and Anna were. For, when we least expect it, as the prophet Malachi foretold, suddenly, the Lord whom we hoped for will enter the Temple. Our Lord will enter the temple of the hearts of his faithful people and give us his consolation and his peace.

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord God:
Lo, I am sending my messenger

to prepare the way before me;
and suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner's fire,
or like the fuller's lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 2:14-18

Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 2:22-40

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
"Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
--and you yourself a sword will pierce--
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

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