Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Sirach 44:1, 10-15; Matthew 13:16-17
July 26, 2018 

I am grateful for the presence of Father Jim O’Shea, the newly elected Provincial of the Passionist community, and so thankful to Father Richard Burke, Rector of Saint Ann’s Monastery and Shrine Basilica, Father Fran Landry, Pastor of the Saint Ann’s Parish, and all of the members of the Passionist community as well as to the friends and supporters of Saint Ann’s Monastery for making this incredible time of prayer and worship in honor of Saint Ann available to us all.  I am especially grateful to Father Michael Rowe and Father Donald Ware for preaching this year’s novena.  You have touched this community deeply and on its behalf, I thank you.

Just a little over three weeks ago, I returned from a trip to the US/Mexican border – a trip in which I was invited to join four other bishops representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I was humbled to have been asked to participate in a visit that placed me and my colleagues in the midst of a complicated, challenging and heartbreaking situation.

We visited three unique facilities that each, in its own way, highlighted the human struggle and pain faced by so many refugees looking to our land as a place of hope and promise:  a processing center on the border – the now infamous facility that we’ve all seen on TV with the chain link fences and children sleeping under Mylar blankets – a place that houses exhausted travelers just coming into our country;  Casa Padre – the former Walmart that we’ve also seen, that houses over 1,200 young boys from 10 to 17 who are separated from their parents or extended family members;  and a respite center run by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Brownsville from which refugees prepare to move into communities with family members and friends who are caring for them and sponsoring them.

The respite center, however, was the only place where we were quite free to engage the refugees.  There, families were together and much more hopeful about their future.  I will never forget speaking to a man whose name was Pedro.  He had traveled from Honduras and was on his way to Philadelphia with his family.  I asked him why he left his homeland.

Without missing a beat, he put his arm around his little girl who was sitting at his feet and pointed to his little boy who was playing with other children in the large space where we were gathered.  “I left to protect my family – my children.  The gangs make me pay rent on a house I own.  If I don’t pay, they will burn it down – or worse – they will rape my little girl or kill my son.”  Pedro paused and then shared these words.  “We have faith.  Thank God, we will now be OK.”

“We have faith.  Thank God, we will now be OK.”  …  My friends, as different as our experiences of life may be from that of Pedro and his family, there is something that makes us the same and that binds us together.  Faith.  …  And that, my friends, is what this novena and this Mass is all about: faith – faith in Jesus Christ and in the power of his life, suffering, death and resurrection.

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

Jesus speaks these words in this evening’s gospel from St. Matthew to his disciples following the parable of the farmer sowing seeds.  In that parable you might recall that some seeds fell on rocky ground – they sprouted quickly and then withered and died; some fell among thorn bushes that grew up and choked them; and some seeds fell upon good soil and brought forth a great harvest.

In telling the parable, Jesus affirms his disciples for providing an environment of fertile soil for the seeds of faith that God had planted.  He affirms them in their willingness to proclaim the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”  Jesus speaks these same words to you and to me this evening.

These days of prayer during this annual Novena to Saint Ann are a treasure beyond imaging for those of us who seek God in our lives.  …  Our faith is nurtured through hearing the voice of God speak to us from the scriptures and from the hearts of his preachers who have so powerfully broken open the Word of God to us these past nine days.  …  And our faith is strengthened as we gather with the Church – the people of God – and are given eyes to see the wonderful works of God revealed in the Eucharist and even in the earthen vessels of my life and yours.

Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus’ love which gives birth to and sustains our faith “comes down to us” – this very day – “through the memory of others – witnesses – and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church.  The Church is a Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith.”  …  And we learn that language from the good preachers of this novena  …  from Pedro  …  and from countless numbers of you who witness by your lives to the power and presence of God in our world and in our midst.

This annual gathering, my sisters and brothers, and every gathering of the Church at prayer is foundational to authentic faith.  It assures us of God’s love and reminds us that we are “never alone” …  through what we hear and see in Word, in Sacrament and in lives joined with our own – all made in the image and likeness of God.

Yet, the blessed reality of faith that guided Saint Ann and Saint Joachim and emerged in human history in singular fashion in the life of their daughter, the Virgin Mary, ought never be perceived as a panacea for all of life’s ills or difficulties.  While so many of us in life have experienced healings and the miraculous presence of God in our lives through the intercession of God’s saintly daughters and sons, to speak of faith more often than not also involves speaking of the reality of painful testing, of human weakness and suffering.

Once again, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, speaks to our struggling hearts.  “Faith,” he says, “is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps and suffices for the journey.  To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything.  Rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.  In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path (of suffering) with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see light within it.”

“Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

My sisters and brothers, open your ears and listen to the voice of God as he speaks to your heart and offers you a message of consolation and hope.  …  Look within yourselves.  See God walking with you even and particularly amid all of the hurts, the wounds, the brokenness, the guilt, the grief and pain that are yours.  …  But also, look beyond yourselves.  See in the Eucharist – the body and blood of Jesus – God’s love poured forth for you – for me – as we are – with the gifts of life, salvation and peace.  …  And see in this great assembly of believers – in each life represented here and in every faith-filled prayer that is offered – the countless numbers of ways in which God is present in our midst today, enabling us to embrace today and especially tomorrow with hope.

Remember these words of my friend Pedro:  “We have faith.  Thank God, we will now be OK.”

God bless you!