HOMILY

First Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2021

Today’s gospel passage for this First Sunday of Advent taken from Saint Luke focuses our attention on the promised return of Christ at the end of time. Hence, its invitation – its challenge – “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Yet, for all of its focus on the end of this world as we know it, Luke includes this apocalyptic message in his gospel to serve as a source of consolation for those in the early Church who were suffering because of their faith. The conviction that the world would one day be transformed and that God’s people would reign with the risen Jesus in glory was meant to provide them with a horizon of hope against which they could interpret and accept their sufferings as well as to help them find meaning and purpose in their efforts to live as disciples of Jesus in the present.

In so many respects, the struggles, sufferings and hopes of the earliest members of the Church haven’t changed all that much, even with the passing of two millennia. Look at what we’re up against these days. We still have reasons to look for comfort and consolation in the midst of the turmoil of our world and the brokenness of our lives, don’t we.

While the gospel writer draws our attention to the coming of the Lord at the end of our material world, he clearly challenges us to have hope in the midst of the darkness that we so often experience – here and now! “Be vigilant!” Look for opportunities to encounter and serve the presence of the Lord when he comes!

Don’t underestimate for a minute the need for us to bring the gospel’s focus on the end-times into the present reality of our lives. I’m not suggesting that if we look carefully enough at the circumstances that are unfolding in our world, our nation, our Church and our lives that we’ll find convincing evidence of the fulfillment of end-times references in the scriptures.

What I am saying, however, is that life has a way of weaving end-times struggles into our experiences. Every time we gather for Mass, there is someone in our midst who is engaged in a battle that is beyond description, someone who is living a story of endurance and perseverance. You know who you are! Every time we come here, there are words from your life and mine that start to sound like the end-times.

Not sure what I mean?  What about these words:  “Coronavirus.“ … Alzheimer’s.”  …  “Opioids.”  …  “Unemployment.”  …  “Sexual abuse.”  …  “Suicide.”  …  “Hospice.”  …  “Depression.”

What I’m trying to say is that the signs and wonders referenced in the gospel on this First Sunday of Advent that point to the end-times don’t need to be explained or theologically spun. You already understand apocalyptic, end-times literature. You know it not because of the fact that you’re scripture scholars.  You know it because of life!

And what lies at the heart of our beliefs as Christians – as disciples of Jesus, whose coming we anticipate this Advent season?  …  “God so loved the world that he sent his only son into it – so that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  …  Because of his life, death and resurrection, Jesus walks with us, carries our crosses with us and leads us to life and peace.

So, when Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Stand up.  Raise your heads.  Your redemption is drawing near,” believe with all your hearts that his message is meant for us this day and that we are called to experience his presence now!

And Jesus is present – in the Word of God proclaimed – in the love and service that the members of the Christian community extend to the lives that God places in their midst – and in the Eucharist that we share.  “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”

As life unfolds in so many ways with its joys and opportunities, its pain and suffering, may our prayer at the beginning of this Advent-tide – and every day – be the simple prayer that concludes the Book of Revelation and that has consistently been proclaimed throughout this holy season:  “Come Lord Jesus.”  …  “Come and bring us your peace.”

 

HOMILY
Solemnity of Christ the King – November 21, 2021

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King brings another Church year to a close.  And not unlike the reflections that we often share as the calendar approaches December 31st, today is as good a day as any for us as faithful souls to reflect and to give thanks for having survived the many challenges that have confronted our world and our lives this past year and beyond.

Consider what we’ve faced individually and as a people for the last year and a half.  We continue to wage war with the coronavirus, even as it appears that we may be succeeding in our efforts to overcome this dreaded enemy.  …  During the course of the virus’ march around the world and into our lives, some of us have faced health challenges and even death.  …  As if a once-in-a-century pandemic were not enough, however, our country has been plagued by natural disasters:  wildfires in the west and hurricanes and floods in the south and east.  …  Earthquakes have devastated some of the poorest lands in the world.  …  And random mass shootings and violence have become so commonplace that they no longer garner the lead stories on the nightly news.

Yet – as is always the case – in the midst of evil, hatred, pain and suffering, the hope filled presence of selfless, loving hearts treasuring life and seeking to restore goodness always seem to emerge, don’t they?  Health care workers, first responders and law enforcement officers less concerned about their own safety than about the well-being of those they had been charged to protect, skilled medical professionals, patient and gifted counselors, compassionate volunteers and countless numbers of selfless, peaceful souls who treasure life and seek to alleviate suffering stand at the ready to respond in all sorts of ways to bring about healing, to foster hope and to rebuild lives.

There is a profound lesson found in so many of the struggles facing our world today – a lesson that we’ve heard many times before but so often forget.  For all of our abilities and creative efforts, evil, hatred, pain and suffering are still very much a part of our world and our lives, aren’t they?  But the good news is that they never win!  The power and presence of God is mightier than the darkest of moments.  Goodness and life always triumph.

The greatest force for goodness that gives us hope emerges within human hearts touched by God.  That’s where the kingdom of God is to be found.  It’s built not by deals among the power elite but by compassionate hands.  Christ reigns neither by influence nor wealth but through selfless lives of faith eager to serve, to nurture and preserve life, and to work for justice, love and peace.

Today’s gospel teaches us this reality, ironically, through its description of Jesus’ most humiliating moment:  his appearance before Pilate.  It is an extraordinary exchange, isn’t it?  While Pilate holds Jesus’ life in his hands, he has no idea what Jesus was talking about when he speaks about “truth” or a kingdom built of compassion, humility and justice.  That was well above Pilate’s pay grade.

Recall the words of Jesus from today’s gospel.  “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  …  Remember that the voice of Jesus, as spoken to us today, comes from the cross – the total sacrifice and gift of himself – given for our life and salvation.  …  A cross that saves.  …   And a cross that proclaims the truth as it lays the foundation blocks of the kingdom of God and teaches us how to live as authentic disciples in service to one another.

On this day in which we open our hearts to Christ our King, may we give thanks for having confronted and survived the countless numbers of challenges that have become a part of our personal stories especially during the past few years.  …   May we confidently place in God’s care the many prayers and intentions that we hold within our hearts, trusting in his love and compassionate will for our lives.  …  And may we entrust our lives to the truth of the life of Jesus, believing that in so doing, as Pope Francis has noted, “we will come to know God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful to others as the Father has been merciful with us.”

 

HOMILY
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass for those in Consecrated Life – November 7, 2021 

Today’s scripture readings, particularly the Old Testament passage from the Book of Kings and the gospel from Saint Mark, in their stories of two simple, poor widows and their willingness to let go of the little they had in order to respond to the needs of others, prompt all sorts of images, don’t they?

For me, the actions of these two widows, who trusted God enough to risk all that they had, take me back to stories that have lived in my family for years – stories about my great-grandparents who raised my dad after his mother died when he was just two years of age.  They were both poor immigrants from Poland, arriving in this country just prior to the turn of the last century, in the early 1900’s.

I recall my grandmother very well.  She lived into her 90’s and passed away when I was in high school.  When we would visit her, she would often talk about life during the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.  She and my grandfather operated a grocery store in their little neighborhood on the edge of Carbondale.  My grandmother would often recall how difficult life was during that period of time and how people would come into the store with very little or no money, hoping to purchase basic supplies to keep their families fed.

I vividly remember my grandmother stating that there was a rule that was to be followed by my dad and all the family who worked in the store.  If someone was unable to pay for food, you put their name on “the books.”  Many of you know that “the books” was a precursor to today’s credit cards – but with a lot more risk for the storeowner.  Nonetheless, no one was ever turned away.

You know the next part of the story.  As time went on and the Depression waned, some families that had outstanding bills fulfilled their obligations – and some, for all sorts of reasons, did not.  When my grandmother sold the store after my grandfather died, she was owed thousands of dollars.

Despite that loss of revenue, it needs to be said that my great-grandparents and their children and grandchildren whom they raised survived pretty well.  I sometimes wonder if they survived as they did – in some miraculous way – because they risked what they had in order to help feed their hungry neighbors who couldn’t pay for the food to feed their families.

My great-grandparents weren’t perfect people, but like some many of your parents and grandparents who lived in a different era, they understood very well what we often forget today.  Because of their simple faith and the recognition of their own poverty, they knew that the blessings of this world weren’t theirs to cling to or hoard.  They knew that what they were given in life came from the generous hand of God.  And they trusted that God would sustain them in life, regardless of how reckless they were in sharing what they had been given with those who had far less.

Look again at the two widows in today’s scripture passages.   Neither of them gave much at all.  One gave a cupful of water, a little flour and a bit of oil.  The other gave two small copper coins – something by today’s standards would amount to 1/40th of a penny.  Nevertheless, these two women are our teachers today.

Many of us tend to gauge our relationship with God by the things that we do, the things that we give, how reverently we say our prayers, and the work that we do to support our parish.  In today’s gospel, however, Jesus helps us put into perspective the relationship with God that we so often seek to measure.  The widow in today’s gospel is praised by Jesus not because of what she gave but because of who she was – a woman of faith who relied upon her God and trusted that God would walk with her in her life’s journey.

In short, greatness in the reign of God is not measured by what we have but by how authentically we embrace the great commandment to love God in our neighbor – regardless of who that neighbor might be.

During his historic visit to the United States six years ago, in a homily directed to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pope Francis reflected upon an American saint who life was so intimately woven into this corner of God’s kingdom – Saint Katharine Drexel.

When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII to encourage him to support the work of the missions, the Pope asked her pointedly: “What about you?  What are you going to do?”  …  “Those words,” Pope Francis asserted, “changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission.”

Each of us has to respond to that mission as authentically as we can – not by giving lip service to the teachings of the gospel – not by merely giving from our surplus resources of time and treasure – but with honesty, humility and the recognition of our brokenness and great need for God – by serving God’s great mission as a sign of our gratitude for all that God has given to us.

Today, after a two-year hiatus as a result of the pandemic that has enveloped our world, we gather in prayer to celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the Church.  We reflect upon women and men who have understood and embraced the Lord’s universal call to holiness and mission.  We join today with woman and men celebrating jubilees of 25, 50, 60, 70, 75 and 80 years in religious life.  Quite honestly, as I look at all of you who gather today in our cathedral – many of whom I’ve known for years and a few whom I’ve known since school days and as far back as my kindergarten experience, I can only conclude that most of you must have entered religious life when you were five!  You are amazing!  …  Collectively, our jubilarians represent 3,895 years of service to the Church in Consecrated Life.  What a blessing you all have been and continue to be for all!

My sisters and brothers, we celebrate your lives and we give thanks this day for your unique and singular contribution to the Church.  More than you likely realize or appreciate, you continually challenge us to trust in the mercy, love and forgiveness of God – something that many of us in the Church forget, all too often.  …  Your openness to listening to the needs of God’s people, to dialoguing with them and discerning how we can walk together as sisters and brothers is a sign of your deep appreciation of how the Church best responds to the needs of a suffering world since its earliest days.  …  And your willingness to engage and serve the people of God – especially in your commitment to work for justice for the marginalized: immigrants, the poor, and all those oppressed by far too many who deem themselves righteous – is a unique and powerful witness to the presence of God at work in our world – especially today.

Finally, what is so inspiring and hopeful about your lives is that all that you do in service of God’s people, you do far more often than not in quiet, simple, loving yet powerful ways – feeding, healing, teaching, praying and building the Kingdom of God.  …  So much of what you do looks so ordinary and so natural.  Yet, your commitment to mission gives life to the risen Jesus in our midst.

In his homily for the World Day of Consecrated Life last year, Pope Francis shared this beautiful words to those in consecrated life.  “We give thanks for you, dear brothers and sisters in consecrated life, simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good.  And so you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves.  Why did you do this?  Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind.  Religious life is this vision.  It means seeing what really matters in life.  It means welcoming the Lord’s gift with open arms.  This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands.  The consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: “Everything is gift, all is grace”.

My sisters and brothers in Consecrated Life, thank you for opening your lives to the gift and blessings of God’s grace.  …  Thank you for challenging us to put our trust in the God who has filled your lives with hope.  …  Thank you for inviting us to lift our eyes beyond the overwhelming events of our lives to embrace the simple, life giving way of Jesus.  …  And thank you for reminding us of the treasure that is ours when we live not so much for ourselves, but for Christ, in service of our sisters and brothers.

 

Previous 2021 Homilies from Bishop Bambera

 

Most Holy Trinity Parish, Cresco November 6, 2021

All Souls’ Day Mass November 2, 2021

Catholic Men’s Conference October 30, 2021

Opening of Synod Mass October 17, 2021

Respect Life Mass October 3, 2021

Installation of Acolytes October 2, 2021

Diocesan Teachers Institute September 27, 2021

Hispanic Heritage Month Mass September 25, 2021

Saint Patrick’s Parade Day Mass September 18, 2021

Mass of the Holy Spirit for Chancery Staff September 16, 2021

Saint Joseph’s Church, Rileyville 150th Anniversary August 22, 2021

Solemnity Of The Assumption,  August 15, 2021

Closing of Saint Ann’s Novena July 26, 2021

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly July 25, 2021

Mass of Remembrance July 15, 2021

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time June 27, 2021

Ordination to the Priesthood June 26, 2021

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time B June 20, 2021

Catholic Women’s Conference June 19, 2021

Wedding Anniversary Mass June 6, 2021

Pentecost Sunday May 23, 2021

Mother’s Day Adoption Mass May 9, 2021

3rd Sunday of Easter April 18, 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter April 11, 2021

Day of Atonement and Healing – April 8, 2021

Easter April 4, 2021

Good Friday April 2, 2021

Chrism Mass March 30, 2021

Palm Sunday March 28, 2021

Solemnity of Saint Joseph March 19, 2021

St. Patrick’s Day Mass March 17, 2021

4th Sunday of Lent March 14, 2021

3rd Sunday of Lent, Holy Cross Parish, Olyphant – Blessed Sacrament Parish, Throop March 7, 2021

2nd Sunday of Lent, St. Leo’s Parish, Ashley  February 28, 2021

Rite of Election February 21, 2021

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021

Mass for those with Developmental Disabilities February 14, 2021

World Day of the Sick February 10, 2020

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time January 24, 2021

Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life January 22, 2021

Baptism of the Lord January 10, 2021

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord January 3, 2021