Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Diocesan Teachers Institute – September 24, 2018
Exodus 3:1-15; Philippians 3:12-16; Luke 9:1-6
In today’s first reading from the Old Testament book of Exodus, we encounter Moses at a pivotal moment in his life’s journey. Unexpectedly, he finds himself in the presence of God who not only engages Moses but goes on to send him to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
A pretty tall order. And what is Moses’ reaction? … “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” … Moses doesn’t want to undertake the work. He doesn’t see himself equipped for the mission. And to be frank, he had a bit of baggage that would argue against this proposed leadership role. Recall that he killed an Egyptian. He was a fugitive on the run. And from the Hebrew perspective, he was too closely affiliated with the Egyptians. … But God prevailed – called him – and used him as an instrument to bring life and freedom to his chosen ones.
In today’s gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve to test the waters for their role in preaching the good news. And look at Jesus’ pick. One was a tax collector and the others were fishermen. Not individuals of great social standing. The tax collector was hated for obvious reasons. The fishermen were simple individuals with no education or eloquence. Hardly the ones you’d tap to build an organization from scratch. … And look at what Jesus had to endure with the twelve as their relationship progressed. One betrayed him. One denied him – three times. Two wanted to promote their own cause simply because they knew Jesus.
Yet, despite their obvious shortcomings leading to an unlikely success in the work that they were given – like Moses – the twelve engaged the mission of Jesus and were used by God as instruments of his life and love. … In fact, if you continue to read Saint Luke’s gospel, you will discover in the verses following today’s passage, that when the twelve returned from their premier preaching expedition, Jesus immediately used them to effect one of his greatest miracles – the feeding of five thousand.
Moses – the twelve – and countless numbers of individuals down through the ages – have all been used by God to nurture and sustain a people he calls as his own. That’s the way in which God has chosen to work in salvation history. The key for understanding the success of all of these unlikely disciples: their humility and their recognition of the radical need for God to take hold of their lives and to bring his plan to pass. … Recall the words of Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
I’d suggest, then, that in the particular roles that have been entrusted to us as teachers – administrators – counselors – coaches – Church leaders – we are Moses and the twelve today! We are the unlikely ones who have been called by God to this moment in the history of this portion of God’s Church. Attribute it to what you will – chance – good luck – or God’s providential plan – our presence here today is testimony to how God works mightily in our lives – even and more often than not through unexpected events, circumstances and individuals.
Who would have ever imagined that in 1825, when an Irish born missionary priest by the name of Father Jeremiah O’Flynn used his own savings to purchase property in Susquehanna County in order to build a Catholic Church that his efforts in planting the seeds of faith would, in turn, have set in motion a response on the part of believers that was so intense that it led to the founding of the Diocese of Scranton a mere 43 years later.
Who would have ever imagined the contribution of women religious from various congregations in the earliest days of the history of the Diocese of Scranton as they journeyed to unknown and undeveloped regions of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania to serve the mission of the Church? Led by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and joined over a short period of time by several other congregations of women religious, including the Sisters of Christian Charity, the Sisters of the Holy Child and the Sisters of Mercy, through the efforts of these dedicated women, schools were opened, the important responsibility of educating the young began – and the legacy upon which you serve was established.
The mission of the gospel – authentic discipleship – is not and has never been an easy task. From the gospel of Sunday – one week ago – we listened to these words of Jesus, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
This moment in the history of our Church – and particularly of our Diocese – arguably presents us with one of the heaviest crosses with which we’ve ever been confronted. Sadly, this is so because at the heart of the current crisis is something much different than those our Church has faced in its recent history. Today’s crisis has emerged not in relationship to a structure, policy or ritual that was changed or to a church or school building that was closed. No – what we face today is much worse. This moment is rooted in the very essence of the Church – the People of God made in God’s own image and likeness. The crisis we face tragically impacts lives destroyed by the sins of arrogance, selfishness and pride. It was created by shattered spirits and relationships torn asunder because of betrayal and broken trust.
A dreadful moment in our history – sadly, yes – but a moment that also speaks of hope – a moment open to redemption. … Wishful thinking on my part? No. … For the Christian, hope and redemption are inextricably woven into the very cross of Jesus.
Recall, as Jesus walked to his death, the words of Peter, one of those unlikely disciples who was closest to the Lord. “I do not know him.” … Words of betrayal. … Yet words that led to this later exchange between Peter and the risen Jesus. “Simon, son of John, do you love me? … Then feed my sheep.”
Like Peter, on the heels of one of the darkest hours of our history as a Church, we have all been given an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the sacred work that God has entrusted to our care. As unlikely and as ill equipped as we may see ourselves to be – at this moment, God has called all of us – and especially you – to nurture the lives of thousands of young people – to impart knowledge and values – and by the example of our lives, to give them a reason to hope.
Thank you for your willingness to embrace this moment and to serve the lives God gives to your care. May God give us the grace to allow ourselves to be used as his instruments and the wisdom to turn to him for help every step of our journey.