Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Light the Fire Youth Rally – 2017
Vigil mass for the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Paul
Have you ever heard of the “If-onlys?” … Sure you have. … You know them. We experience them all the time. … “If only I charged my phone before I left the house this morning.” … “If only I listened to what my parents told me.” … “If only I had the chance to take back what I said.”
Life is filled with situations and circumstances that we experience – and particularly choices and decisions that we make – that we often regret or wish we could change. Some of them are of little consequence and some of them affect us profoundly as we go through life.
And what do we do with these things that reflect our mistakes or miscalculations – our shortcomings – or often, our brokenness and sin? Since we can’t change the past or pretend that certain things just didn’t happen when they did, the best that we can do is accept them as a part of our lives – learn from them – and then get on with the task of living.
This bit of advice – which I not only share with you but offer for my own consideration all the time – takes on special meaning when we reflect upon it in light of the two saints we honor today on what I’ll term the Catholic Church’s “Founders Day.”
Peter and Paul – one called by Jesus by the Sea of Galilee and the other on the road to Damascus; one a fisherman and the other a scholar – are the founding apostles of the Church. We celebrate them today much like we celebrate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on the 4thof July. And we link them together because the two of them singlehandedly cemented the foundation of the Church and literally bet their lives on its future.
Peter and Paul both journeyed to Rome to take the message of Jesus to the center of civilization at that time in history. They both preached in Rome and died there as well – giving their lives for Jesus, who gave them life. Paul was buried beneath a splendid church that bears his name – Saint Paul’s Outside of the Walls of the city of Rome. Peter, of course, is buried under Saint Peter’s Basilica, where our Holy Father, Pope Francis, like his predecessors, now resides.
Yet, for all of the attention that we give to these two figures in our Church’s history – for all that they’ve taught us in our journey of faith by their words and example – at their core, they were simple men with very human qualities, characteristics and flaws.
They were men who undoubtedly regretted certain choices and decisions that they had made throughout their lives and who, on more than one occasion, likely expressed their own versions of the “if-onlys.” … I could imagine Peter thinking aloud: If only I had more of an education and wasn’t just a fisherman, I could do the Lord’s work do much more effectively. … If only I wasn’t so stubborn, I’d be able to get along better with people and be more convincing in my preaching. … If only I hadn’t denied the Lord as he walked to his death. … And Paul would probably offer these reflections: If only I wasn’t such a hot-head. … If only I hadn’t persecuted the followers of Jesus.
In spite of their likely regrets, the Lord nonetheless saw in Peter and Paul two men who – more than anything else – acknowledged their weaknesses and understood their need for and their dependence upon God – a posture that well prepared them to be used as the Lord’s instruments in the building up of his Church. … Peter was summoned by Jesus to go beyond his weakness and serve as the “rock” upon which the Church would rest. Paul was summoned to go beyond his fervor as a persecutor of the early Christian community to become the apostle to the Gentiles and author of a good portion of the entire New Testament.
My brothers and sisters, you and I are no different that Peter and Paul. Right now, through the power of Jesus at work within our lives and hearts, we’re being given the opportunity to become saints – believe it or not!
You see, what matters most is not our past with its regrets, mistakes and sin – but what we do with all that God continually gives to us now – today! For all of the potential and hope that resides within each of us through our Baptism, it would be well for us to remember that it matters less what we do with our lives as much as who we are and who we become as members of the Church and followers of Jesus. Our commitment to the truth – to the values that lie at the heart of the gospel and life of Jesus – and our recognition of the need for God in our lives will make all the difference in our world. They made a difference for Peter and Paul – and they will for us!
Regardless of our past and present struggles, every one of us – every day – is given the opportunity to do great things. … Every one of us – every day – is given the opportunity and the means to support the lives of fellow students, relatives, neighbors, friends who might be confronted with an injustice – because of how they look, how they speak, where they live, or what they don’t have. … Everyone of us – every day – is given the opportunity and the means to respect and treasure life – as Jesus did – especially through our concern for the poor, even if “poor” refers to the friend who is burdened with a poverty that emerges from his own lack of self worth. … And every one of us – every day – is given the opportunity to work for peace, even if the peace that we seek happens to be needed in the midst of our own family.
Some of you may recall that Pope Francis challenged young people like yourselves at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland last July to “leave a mark for good in the world” by using generously the gifts that God has given you. … The reality of all that we face – every day – in our lives, then, prompts a very important question. What are we going to do with the gifts that God has given to us?
Not sure about the question? … Then let’s go back to who and what we celebrate today in this Liturgy: Peter and Paul. … What was it that made a difference in their lives despite their own personal weaknesses and struggles? What was it that made them tick? … Jesus! … So, how can we regain their vision and leave our mark for good in the world with all of our faults and imperfections? … Jesus!
This great day of gathering with the young Church of Scranton will bless our lives with meaning and peace IF ONLY we keep Jesus at our center – just as he was for Peter and Paul. … That’s a thought to consider, not just at this moment, but every day and in every place and situation where God calls us to be.