Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Mass of the Holy Spirit for Chancery Staff – September 12, 2017
Thursday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time
We gather in prayer as many of us do every day – to give thanks to God for the gift of life – to pray for the needs of those we love – to ask for the guidance that we need to get from one day to the next with a sense of peace. … Today, we also come together in prayer as a Chancery staff to pray for the blessings of the Holy Spirit as we begin a new season of service to the people of God in our local Church.
To my staff – and to all who gather in prayer during this noontime celebration of Mass – this past month has been a challenging time for us all, hasn’t it? With the release of the report of the statewide Grand Jury one month ago, we have all been faced with the harsh reality of sin that stole the lives of the innocent, of broken trust, of betrayal – all of which lead to anger, disillusionment, hurt and pain.
For all of the suffering that has been endured by victims, their families, faithful parishioners throughout our eleven counties and devoted clergy who have had to bear the burden of guilt and shame, simply because of the work they do and the clothes they wear, you, our treasured staff have quietly endured your own pain during these sad days. Far from shielding you from the intensity of this moment in the life of our Church, your presence “on the block” has no doubt served to intensify the weight of the burden that we are all carrying as Catholics. … Yet, through it all, you have served the faithful who still look to you for help with dignity and grace. Today’s Gospel gives us a clue into how that posture might be possible.
Jesus offers one of the most radical yet practical lists of teachings that we can find throughout the scriptures that serves to help us – all of us – face life’s most challenging realities with hope.
When someone wrongs us, Jesus calls us to forgive. … When given the opportunity to win at another’s expense, Jesus asks us to be compassionate. …When someone does something we consider evil or sinful, Jesus insists that we neither judge nor condemn, but love just the same. … When we do something good for someone, Jesus warns us not to expect something in return. … Moreover, Jesus pleads with us to “absorb” whatever evil is done to us and not respond in kind, so that violence ends with us.
An easy Gospel to embrace? Far from it! It so clearly goes against the normal, human reaction to evil, hatred and pain. … Make no mistake about it; the gospel doesn’t call for tolerance of evil and injustice. Nor does it state that we aren’t responsible for our actions. We are! … However, what the Gospel does offer is a very practical lesson in how to end the cycle of hatred, bitterness and anger in our world.
Evil confronted by evil and hatred and pain only redounds to more evil, hatred and pain. The only and surest way, however, to end this cycle is for someone – you and me – to put a stop to the vicious cycles that so often consume our lives and to respond in a different way.
No doubt, many of us will respond to Jesus’ challenge “to love our enemies” by saying that it is simply too difficult to let go of the hurt and pain. There’s truth to such a statement. Sometimes we have to sit with the pain awhile. But eventually, for our own sake, we have to move forward. In this regard, we may need to be reminded that the love Jesus is talking about is not a feeling but a conscious way of life. In others words, while it may be impossible for us to feel love for an enemy, it is not impossible to act toward them in a certain way.
This is a tough Gospel for us to confront – especially at this moment in our lives as Catholics. And Jesus makes no promises that the love and forgiveness of our neighbor will result in their loving us or in modifying their behavior.
But he does promise that those who seek to love as God loves become like God! “Love your enemies. … Then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High.” In so doing, they – we – help to build the kingdom of God, even and particularly when that kingdom seems to have collapsed around us. … That task is incumbent upon every one of us now, more than ever.
And one more thing. When we seek to love as Jesus gives example, we’re given a taste of the true peace and consolation that we all seek in our journey of life.