Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Third Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2018
Commemoration of the Founding of the Diocese of Scranton
My brothers and sisters, welcome to our Cathedral Church as we gather to celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent and the 150th anniversary of the founding of this local Church – the Diocese of Scranton.
It is with particular joy that I welcome on your behalf, His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Philadelphia, who joins us today for his first visit to the Diocese of Scranton. Archbishop Chaput, you honor the Church of Scranton by your presence and we are truly blessed to have you with us today to commemorate this historic moment in the life of our Diocese. Thank you.
I am also pleased to acknowledge the presence of Bishop Timlin, the 8th Bishop of Scranton; Bishop Dougherty, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus; and of course, priests, deacons, women and men in Consecrated Life; and you, my brothers and sisters representing our 120 parishes and 20 schools who are this wonderful local Church.
A wise old teacher was once asked by a student: Who has been your greatest teacher. To the surprise of many, the old sage responded: “Water. … Water has been my greatest teacher in life.”
Water, he went on to explain, is yielding but all conquering. Water extinguishes fire, or, finding itself defeated by flame, escapes as steam and then reforms as water. Water washes away soft earth, but when confronted by rock, seeks a way around it. Water has the strength to corrode iron until it crumbles to dust. Water gives way to obstacles with deceptive humility, yet no power can prevent it from following its destined course to the sea. While water can be destructive, when respected, it refreshes, it heals and it nurtures life.
Our scripture readings today on this Third Sunday of Lent, the Sprinkling Rite at the beginning of today’s Mass, and all that lies at the heart of what we celebrate as a local Church this day also remind us of the nurturing, refreshing and life-giving power of water – specifically, the waters that flow into our lives through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Today’s Gospel has long had a special place in baptismal catechesis. The woman of Samaria approached Jacob’s well searching for water – something to drink. In so doing, however, she encountered Jesus, who satisfied the far deeper thirsts of her life.
As a Samaritan – as a woman in her society, and having had five husbands – she clearly lived on the margins of life, from the perspective of many, including Jesus’ disciples. Yet, with kindness and respect, Jesus invited her into the life of God. In this encounter, the Samaritan woman confronted her own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. Realizing the depth of God’s love for her, she was changed and returned to her people, proclaiming all that she had seen and heard.
Recall again the words of Jesus spoken in today’s gospel, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” From the “water” that is Christ – the waters of Baptism – we too, like the Samaritan woman, are given the means to satisfy our thirst for meaning and purpose, for hope and resurrection. And like her, we who seek to live out our Baptisms authentically are also sent forth by the Lord Jesus.
My friends, the story of the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well two thousand years ago is our story and the story of hundreds of thousands of Catholics who have been a part of the Diocese of Scranton over the course of its 150-year history.
As we reflect upon this milestone anniversary, let’s recall what we celebrate in having been established as a Diocese. A Diocese is, first and foremost, a portion of the entire people of God, entrusted to a bishop for him to shepherd with the cooperation of the presbyterate, so that, gathered in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative.
Let me repeat. … The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is present and at work in our corner of God’s kingdom – in our 11 counties and 120 parishes. What this means, my brothers and sisters, is that in God’s great plan for salvation, our simple lives become that fertile soil in which the seed of God’s Holy Spirit – planted and nurtured – gives life to the Church of Jesus Christ.
We are one Church. For as different as we may be – and we are – we are all brothers and sisters – members of one body of Christ, drawn together in unity by the Holy Spirit.
We are a holy Church. … We are set apart for a purpose by and for God. We are not perfect but we are holy because we’ve all been given a share – through Baptism – in God’s life and holiness. We, in turn, give that holiness shape and form in the love that we extend to one another, reflecting how Jesus loved and served us to the end on the cross.
We are a catholic Church. … We are a universal Church in and through which we find the fullness of faith with nothing lacking for our life and salvation – a faith that we are called to proclaim to all.
And we are an apostolic Church. … The foundation of our lives as Christians is rooted in the living tradition of the Apostles, upon whom Jesus built his Church – from Peter to Francis. As such, our mission is the same as theirs: to proclaim Jesus Christ and to live his Gospel of mercy, love and service.
Brothers and sisters, it is my privilege as your shepherd to affirm that through the grace of God, the Church of Scranton – made of fragile, broken vessels like me and you – has and continues to give witness in so many ways to the power of Christ at work in his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Beginning just a few years after the founding of our nation, immigrants of many different ethnic backgrounds in search of a better life settled in the eleven counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania. They built churches, schools and religious communities as the centers around which their thirst for faith would be satisfied. But these, the first settlers of the Diocese of Scranton, also realized the importance of not merely constructing buildings of brick and mortar, but especially of passing their faith and spirit to those who followed – their children and grandchildren – new immigrants – converts to Catholicism – and countless others. Clergy, women and men religious, and lay faithful joined together in a common mission to insure that the people of this local Church – baptized into the life of Jesus – understood that it was their responsibility to not only embrace that life but to give it away in service of one another.
To be sure, many challenges have confronted the faithful of our Diocese for all of its 150 years and more – challenges that you and I know so very well – from the closure of beloved churches and schools – to the loss of temporal power and prestige – to shattered trust in church leaders – to the departure of countless numbers of believers from among our ranks. Yet, through the miracle of God at work among us, we continue to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, don’t we? We continue to celebrate the Eucharist – to treasure and respect the gift of life – to teach the faith – to welcome new immigrants – to comfort the grieving – to serve the poorest among us – and to find meaning and hope through our faith.
Recall the words of our vision for this great local Church that many of you helped me to craft a few years ago: “In a time and era in which so many of the Baptized are searching for ways to discover deeper meaning in their lives through faith and service to God’s people,” our mission as the People of God is “to live our faith fully, to share it freely with others, and to transform the world in Christ.” … And so it has always been and will be for the People of God.
Pope Francis has spoken often about the vital role of parishes – the building blocks of a diocese – where the Gospel is given life. “The Church,” the Holy Father said, “must have her doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support, … going out into the streets in service of the faithful and of the neediest in our midst. … Our parishes, animated by a missionary spirit, must be places where faith is communicated and charity is lived.”
My friends, the Holy Father’s words challenge us to look beyond ourselves and not merely focus upon our own individual journeys of faith. As baptized disciples of Jesus, we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. As such, we are responsible to care for the treasure of faith and to give its life to all.
And so, like the countless numbers of souls who have lived their faith in this local Church and have drawn strength and hope from their relationship with God – like the woman of Samaria – may we proclaim Jesus to all whom we encounter on our journey. … May we proclaim Jesus – through the faith that rests in our hearts – through the hope that enables us to move forward despite the crosses that rest upon our shoulders – and through the love that prompts us to serve the lives God weaves into our own each day.
Finally, may our prayer today around this table of the Lord be one of gratitude: gratitude for all that has been for 150 years and gratitude for all that will be through the grace and mercy of God. Amen.