Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Ash Wednesday – March 6, 2019 

In the first Preface of Lent, the Church reminds us that each year, God “gives us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed … as we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ.”

In some respects, the tone and tenor of this day, with its call to repentance, its somber colors, and the imposition of ashes which remind us of our human frailty and mortality hardly point to this moment as the beginning of a “joyful” season.  Yet, what lies at the heart of Lent is the substance of our hope and joy as Christians:  the paschal mystery – and the fact that we are redeemed – saved from our sins – by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In his Lenten message to the Church, Pope Francis recalls Saint Paul’s words in his second letter to the Church at Corinth.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

Therein is our hope and our reason for joy this day!  Rooted in Christ, there is no need for us to fear Lent.  Nor is it a season of grief and despair, despite the brokenness of our lives.  Yes, the path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness.  But it does so, as Pope Francis reminds us, so that we might “live fully the abundant grace of the paschal mystery.”

Recall the first words of scripture proclaimed every year in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday.  They are taken from the book of the Old Testament prophet Joel.  “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”  …  Return to the Lord and live your life fully as a new creation in Christ, not merely through gestures and religious practices – but by peering intensely into our hearts to insure that our spirit – the core of our being – is honest and pure and open to the transforming power and presence of God.

These words of the prophet Joel bring into stark focus the present moment in the life of our Church.  As members of Christ’s body on earth, we bear the marks of shame, anger, sorrow and guilt as a result of the sexual misconduct of clergy and cover-up by Church leaders.  How vital this season becomes for all of us, as we’re given the opportunity to join our woundedness, and especially the pain of those who have been abused, to the suffering of Jesus – who alone has the power to transform suffering and death into resurrection and life.

Saint Matthew, in today’s gospel, sets forth in practical terms the lifestyle that we are called to embrace as authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus.  Pray, fast, and give alms in support of the poor.  But do so certainly not because such behavior will make us appear to be righteous.  Do so simply because such acts for a Christian are the consequence of faithful lives rooted in Jesus, who teaches us how best to live.

On the First Sunday of Lent, we will again welcome catechumens into the ranks of the elect; those from our midst who have begun the journey of conversion and who will soon experience the saving power of Jesus in the Easter mysteries of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Their “yes” to the Lord’s call gives us hope and is meant to encourage us to recommit ourselves to the vows that were made at our own baptisms.  Their “yes” reminds us of where we need to look to find our true fulfillment in life.

And so, my friends, as we set forth on our Lenten journey, may we pray for the courage to confront the reality of our own broken and sinful hearts – to put aside whatever distracts us from our resolve to live authentically our relationship with God – to turn away from self-centeredness and fear – to selflessly serve the poor among us – and so, to open our lives to the love and grace of God, present in our midst – the one and only reason for joy during this sacred season.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Disabilities Mass – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 24, 2019

Sometime after the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States army, was visiting a friend’s farm in Kentucky.  The family took the retired general to the remains of what had once been a massive, grand old tree in the front of their house.  The wife of Lee’s friend was still very upset.  She cried bitterly that the tree’s limbs and trunk had been damaged by artillery fire from the northern army.  She looked to Lee for some words condemning the hated Union forces or at the very least, some sympathy for the loss of her beautiful tree.

After a brief period of silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget about it.  …  Cut it down.  It’s the only way that you’ll ever be able to let go of the anger and get on with life.”

Today’s gospel from Saint Luke’s sermon on the plain is among the most radical yet practical teachings of Jesus.  What he asks of us is quite different from how our world has taught us to act or society expects us to respond to evil and hatred.

When someone wrongs you, Jesus says, forgive them.  …  When given the opportunity to win at another person’s expense, Jesus expects us to be compassionate.  …  When someone does something we consider to be sinful or evil, Jesus insists that we neither judge nor condemn but love that person just the same.  …  When we do something good for someone, Jesus warns us not to expect something in return.  …  And Jesus pleads with us to absorb whatever evil is done to us and not respond in kind, so that the cycle of violence that so often is perpetuated in an endless manner can end with us.  …  In other words, “cut down the tree, forget about it and get on with life!”

Anyone of us, faced with the mistreatment that Jesus describes in today’s gospel, might very well be inclined to question the practicality of his words.  “Love your enemies, pray for and do god to those who hurt or hate you?  Jesus needs to live in the real world!”

To be sure, Jesus’ recommended responses to such situations are not our natural inclinations when hurt or hated.  Nonetheless, Jesus very much lived in the “real world.”  He chose not to spit when spit upon, nor curse when cursed, nor resist arrest.  He reattached the slave’s ear that Peter cut off.

While unrealistic from our perspective, from God’s perspective, Jesus’ way is our salvation.  His words actually reflect how God treats us when we become enemies by rejecting God’s ways.  …  In other words, “Do unto others as God does unto you” and treat them with forgiveness, mercy and love.

Some time ago, Pope Francis greeted hundreds of people with disabilities during an audience in the Vatican and shared these words, “The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live in it.  It becomes better when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.  …  Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face — at times painfully — frailty and illness, both our own and those of others.  And for Jesus,” he said, “the sick and the weak, those cast aside by society, are precisely the ones he loves most.”

What powerful lessons from Pope Francis and from the Word of God proclaimed this morning!  They surely are worthy of our consideration this day as we gather in prayer to celebrate our faith in the enduring love of God – a love that is seen most vividly in the powerful example of the lives of so many of you, our sisters and brothers with developmental disabilities.  More than you realize, your unwavering trust in God and your example of acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude and selfless love and mercy provide us all with priceless lessons for how best to live as disciples of Jesus.

This treasured moment of prayer sends a powerful message to the world in which we live.  Our presence together at this Mass is a blessed reminder that we are all a part of God’s plan.  Each of us is treasured by God, for being just the way we are.  And each of us is well-equipped for the ministry of service in the Church.

My friends, thank God that we belong to a Church that reminds us that God’s criteria for fitting in is vastly different from the world’s.  And thank God for our cherished brothers and sisters with disabilities who give us a glimpse of what it truly means to fulfill today’s gospel mandate of Jesus when he says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  …  For beyond a doubt, you best teach us how to be merciful, how to love generously, how to forgive and how to bless our world with God’s peace!

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
World Day of the Sick with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
February 11, 2019
Isaiah 53:1-5,10-11; James 5:13-16; Matthew 10:7-15 

What a special gathering this is in our cathedral today – a moment of prayer that has the power to touch our lives profoundly.  …  And why?  …  Because Jesus is among us.  …  And your very presence here today reflects the great message of the scriptures that teach us so powerfully of the how God works in our world and how he responds to us in our pain and suffering.

Consider with me this moment of prayer.  …  Some of you are here today because you join us every day for the noon time mass in our Cathedral.  …  Most of you are here because of what we celebrate this day in union with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and with Catholics from around the world – the World Day of the Sick – a day on which we offer special prayers for those who are burdened physically or emotionally with diminished health and also a day when we pray for those who serve and care for the sick.  …  And all of us, in gathering for this Mass, are called to a deeper understanding and expression of our faith through our encounter with God.

We bring to this moment a hope and prayer for something more – for something better – for an end to pain – for healing – don’t we?  …  It hardly warrants being said that all of us seek a life of peace, free from pain – free to engage our world as we choose, unencumbered by disabilities or restrictions of time and space.  None of us want to see those we love and care for burdened in any way.  None of us want to suffer.  …  Neither did Jesus.  The very night before he died, he prayed that the cross might pass him by.

And yet we know so very well from our faith that it didn’t.  Jesus accepted the cross as a part of his Father’s will.  He carried it.  And through the power and mercy of God, that which was an instrument of Jesus’ torture and death gave way to life and resurrection.

When Jesus embraced the cross, illness and suffering were not removed from the human experience.  Rather, by taking them upon himself, Jesus transformed them and gave them new meaning.  Through Jesus’ resurrection, the agony of the cross gave way to God’s triumph over sin and death.  As such, for us as Christians, our suffering and pain no longer have the final word.  Instead, through faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection, his selfless, redeeming love envelops us and gives us hope.

Today’s gospel passage from Saint Matthew finds Jesus commissioning the twelve apostles and sending them forth to proclaim the good news of salvation.  “As you go,” Jesus instructed, “make this proclamation:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.  Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.’”

Pope Francis chose this passage for today’s mass.  Focusing particularly upon Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to give generously, without counting the cost, the Holy Father notes that the joy of generous giving, rooted in Jesus’ very example and gift of himself on the cross, is a barometer of the health of a Christian.

Whether we ourselves are burdened with sickness or we find ourselves as care givers to those who suffer, Pope Francis reminds us that “each of us is poor, needy and destitute.  When we are born, we require the care of our parents to survive, and at every stage of life we remain in some way dependent on the help of others.  …  A frank acknowledgment of this truth,” he states, “keeps us humble and spurs us to practice solidarity with one another as an essential virtue in life.  …  We should not fear, then to acknowledge these limitations … for in so doing, God comes to our aid and grants us gifts beyond our imagining.”

In turn, the Holy Father affirms that both those who provide for the sick as well as those who receive their generous care are all in a position to fulfill the gospel mandate to give generously from what they have received.

Pope Francis holds up for our consideration this day the joyful figure of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom he describes as a model of charity who made visible God’s love for the poor and the sick.  “Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, of those unborn and those abandoned and discarded … especially those who suffer.”

In short, the message of the day gospel and the heart of all that Jesus has called us to embrace as his followers is that we reflect his life in our own.  …  Whether we are sick and touch others by our willingness to endure suffering with dignity and faith – or – we are those who spend time with the sick and care for them in their needs, in going outside of ourselves through our faithful example and loving service, we give life to the words of Jesus, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

My sisters and brothers, through Jesus’ example of selfless love, we find the pattern for our life’s journey.  …  Through his cross and resurrection we discover the path to salvation.  …  And through the wonderful Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, every one of us who approaches it with faith and hope are promised a share in Jesus’ healing love.  …  Some of us may experience a physical healing.  …  All of us will encounter the Lord Jesus who promises to touch our spirits and give us peace.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
1st Annual Women’s Conference
May 23, 2018 

What an incredible gathering – what a great day to celebrate our faith in Jesus – what a powerful sign your presence is to our world as we resolve to live that faith as disciples of Jesus.

So often, you’ve heard me speak of the gospel mandate given to all of the baptized to embrace the gifts that God has given to us and to build the Church.  You’ve heard me say repeatedly that the responsibility to evangelize is not solely the work of bishops or priests or deacons or faithful religious.  No – the work of evangelization is the task of every person who professes faith in Jesus – every soul who seeks to live as a disciple – a follower of the Lord.  …  This conference is a powerful example of what lies at the heart of the gospel mandate that I shared with you a moment ago.  …  This conference – quite simply – is an example of what we are all called to do and to be as Christians.   …  This conference is not about being passive observers but engaged Christians in the midst of a world that so often diminishes the values of the gospel message.  …  This conference is evidence of the Church ALIVE and filled with hope – even and especially in the midst of our broken world!

Thank you for your courageous witness – for your desire to refresh your faith – and for your commitment to living the good news of Jesus.

Some time ago, I read the following observation in a newspaper column that offered a critique about life these days for some in America.  “The trick to happy living these days is to quit trying to keep up.  There is simply too much to keep up with and people who try end up weeping because they still haven’t gotten the iPhone 8, can no longer tell the difference between a Lexus and an Infiniti, and their friend’s vacation pictures posted on Facebook seem far more interesting than their own.  …  It’s a glorious time to be alive in our great country, but the glories come at us so relentlessly, so multitudinously, that they will finish us off unless we ration the intake.”

In other words, while we live in a wonderful land, it’s fair to say that we often become so self-absorbed and preoccupied with pursuing and maintaining a life-style that we can miss out on life itself.  Today’s gospel, taken from a very different era and culture than our own, is a perfect reminder of that fact.

In today’s gospel, it is obvious that Luke the evangelist understands something about human psychology as he invites us into the world of Martha and Mary as they host Jesus in their home.  Let’s take a closer look.

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, this gospel passage used to bother me.  We find Martha breaking her back to get the food ready and to serve the guests who have gathered in her home while her sister, Mary, is content to set aside all of the details of hospitality and simply listen to Jesus teach and speak about God.  And when Martha finally says something to Jesus about her sister, Jesus defends Mary’s decision of opting out of the work.  …  For those of us who are type A and love to run around doing things, the best of us are probably wondering what is going on with Jesus and these two sisters!

The gospel passage becomes even more confusing when we situate it within the broader context of Luke’s gospel.  Just a few verses prior to today’s passage, a lawyer asks Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In response, Jesus asks the man what is written in the Law?  The response is not dissimilar to our second reading today from the first letter of John:  “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole strength and your whole mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus then goes on to explain who fits the category of “neighbor,” as he relates one of the most beautiful of all the gospel parables:  the tale of the compassionate Samaritan – the good Samaritan.  You know the story well.  A traveler falls prey to robbers, who strip, beat and leave the man for dead.  A priest and a Levite – two righteous, holy men – ignore the beaten man.  Maybe they said a prayer for him – who knows.  It’s a Samaritan, however, – an unclean man from the perspective of the Jewish priest and Levite – a man who lives on the peripheries of life – who stops to care for the burdened man – who literally serves him and helps to nurse him back to health.

Do you see the tension between these two consecutive gospel passages?  In one, Jesus praises the Samaritan who goes out of his way to serve a stranger.  In the other, Jesus is critical of Martha, who seems to be working so very hard to serve and to provide hospitality to Jesus.

I would suggest that the key to resolving the tension between these two passages and for understanding today’s gospel story in particular is found more in Martha’s personal character rather than in her willingness to work hard to provide hospitality for Jesus.  Martha’s anxiety in providing for her guests is understandable.  What isn’t acceptable to Jesus, however, is her self-absorption.  Martha’s self-preoccupation and resentment led her to break the rules of hospitality far more than her sister did, going so far as to attempt to ask Jesus to intervene in a family rivalry.  In many respects Martha was just as self-consumed as were the priest and Levite who refused to do a thing for the poor man who fell prey to robbers on the road to Jericho.  …  Martha was focused on herself.  Mary was focused upon her guest.

Therein we come face to face with what is required for authentic discipleship and holiness:  Love – selfless, sacrificial love.  …  Recall again the words chosen for today’s second reading from the first letter of John.  “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

At the heart of the cross, in and through which God’s love for us is most clearly revealed, we see nothing short of total selflessness in the gift and service of Jesus offered for the sake of the lives entrusted to his care.  For those of us who seek to be faithful disciples, then, Jesus’ pattern of love must be our pattern as well.  There are no exceptions or rationalizations.  That’s why, for as much as we have a soft spot in our hearts for Martha, Jesus called her to something more.  He called her to a deeper sense of holiness and mission.  Yes, serve – but serve for the sake of your neighbor and not just yourself.

In his recent exhortation, Rejoice and be glad: On the call to holiness in today’s world, Pope Francis talked about our desire to grow in holiness and to refresh our faith.  In his own way and in his own words, he speaks to all of us today.  Listen to his words and let them touch your hearts and spirits.

“To be hold does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious.  We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend time in prayer.  That is not the case.  We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.  Are you called to the consecrated life?  Be holy by living out your commitment with joy.  Are you married?  Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church.  Do you work for a living?  Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.  Are you a parent or grandparent?  Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.  Are you in a position of authority?  Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.  …  Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness.  Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation.”

Pope Francis goes on, “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.  …  We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service … so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes.  In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

My sisters and brothers, for all that you bring to this moment of prayer – for all of the challenges of life that distract you from the path to holiness that you seek to embrace – for all of the hope that rests within your hearts as you seek to deepen your faith – for the selfless love that you so generously seek to pour into the lives that God has entrusted to your care – know of this great promise that comes to us from Word of God proclaimed this day.  “If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”       Amen!

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Light the Fire Youth Rally – 2018
Jeremiah 1:1,4-10; Romans 8:31b, 35, 37-39; Matthew 28:16-20  

This is a pretty awesome gathering of young people, isn’t it?  …  Of course it is.  However, you might call it awesome for a very different reason than I might call it awesome.  …  You might call this moment awesome because you’re here celebrating your faith with your friends and hundreds of other young people from the eleven counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania that make up the Diocese of Scranton.  …  I call it awesome because I see in all of you the Church – very much alive and vibrant.  …  I call it awesome because of something that I learned eight years ago at the very first Light the Fire Youth Rally that I ever attended.  Let me tell you about that.

A young woman came up to me following the mass and she said to me, “Bishop Bambera – thanks for being with us.  It means a lot to have you here.  But can I tell you something about your homily that bothered me?”  I said, “Sure.”  The young woman went on to remind me that I called the young people who were gathered for the Mass the “future of the Church.”  She went on to very respectfully say to me, “Yes, Bishop, we are the future of the Church.  But we’re also very much a part of the Church right now.” 

I’ve never forgotten those words – and I never will.  You very much are the Church.  And all of the Church – young and old – have reason to hope because of your love, your commitment to serve and because of your faith in Jesus!  …  The key to that hope is that you – and all of us – need to care for the gift of faith and continually give it a voice – a heart – and life!

Today’s gospel is taken from Saint Matthew.  You might find it a bit familiar.  It is often proclaimed on Ascension Thursday.  As the risen Jesus is about to leave this world and ascend into the heavens, he addressed his disciples with these words:  Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.

There are two very important messages that Jesus offers as he prepares to leave this world:

The first message of Jesus is a message of hope and encouragement.  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.”  No matter how life unfolds, with its joys and disappointments, its challenges and fears, know that you never go through life alone.  “I am with you always.”

The second message is a call to action.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  Jesus gives us the assurance of his presence – not only to give us peace and consolation – but to equip us for mission – to equip us to do the work of God in our world and throughout our lives – to help us be the Church!  So teach the world about Jesus.  Show them who Jesus is with your love and service.

These words of hope and responsibility are words – more than any – that I hope you sear into your hearts throughout your entire lives.  God walks with us always – and calls us to build his Church by providing the same hope and encouragement that we’ve received to others.

Some of you may know that the Diocese of Scranton is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year.  We’re 150 years old!  …  That’s even a few years older than me!  …  And we’re celebrating this anniversary because countless numbers of faithful people down through the ages have made Jesus’ words of hope and responsibility an integral part of their lives – just like you and I resolve to do today.

Essentially, we’re here today because people like you and me believed with all their hearts that Jesus was with them – loving them and helping them face each day with hope.  …  We’re here today also because those same people realized that because of Jesus pledge to walk with them, they had a responsibility to share the good news of his life and love with others.  …  Simply put, because of such committed lives, the message of the gospel – the good news of Jesus – was brought to this portion of Pennsylvania and, in time, the Diocese of Scranton was founded 150 years ago.

Let me put this in some perspective.  In 1793, just seventeen years after the founding of the United States – a French colony was established on the banks of the Susquehanna River between Wyalusing and Towanda.  Within that colony, was found the first verifiable presence of the Catholic faith in what is now the Diocese of Scranton.

Thirty-two years later in 1825, an Irish born missionary priest by the name of Father Jeremiah O’Flynn used his own savings to purchase property where the first Catholic church within the territory of what we now know as the Diocese of Scranton would be built.  The church, placed under the patronage of Saint Augustine, was erected at Silver Lake in Susquehanna County.  Mass is still celebrated in that church today!  …  Who’s here from Bradford or Susquehanna Counties?

From the time that Father O’Flynn first settled in Susquehanna County, the Church in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania began to grow steadily.  It was served by missionary priests from the Diocese of Philadelphia and several religious congregations.  Religious sisters also came to this area.  They cared for the poor and the sick and they especially helped to establish Catholic schools and parish religious education programs to educate young people yourselves and to help them grow in their faith.  Finally, 150 years ago, Pope Pius IX established the Church situated in the 11 counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania as the Diocese of Scranton.

And all of that, my brothers and sisters, was possible ONLY because of what we learned from Saint Matthew’s gospel that I referenced a few minutes ago.  …  We are here today, celebrating our faith, first, because the risen Jesus is with us!  …  And the Church has grown and continues to give hope and life to countless numbers of people because faithful souls like your great, great grandparents and many others were so touched by Jesus that they, in turn, shared their faith and love with others.

So that’s how we got to this day in our history as a Diocese.  …  But it prompts a question.  …  Where do we go from here?  …  How does the Church continue to grow and flourish?

I think you know the answer.  It’s pretty simple.  …  It’s found, once again, in those words from Saint Matthew’s gospel.  …  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.”  …  Jesus is here!  We have all we need!  …  But remember that there are other words in that gospel that we all need to embrace as well.  …  “Make disciples of all nations.”  …  If the Church is to grow, you and I have a responsibility to make that happen.

So, what about you?  What are you going to do to build the Church of Jesus?  …  What are you going to do to ensure that the life, ministry, love and service that are a part of this local Church today continue for 150 more years?  …  Every one of us who has ever believed in or felt the presence of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts has a role to play in the building up of the Church.

Some time ago, Pope Francis told a large gathering of young people like you to seek “the grace to be annoying.”  Listen to his words.  “There are backseat Christians, right?  Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal.  Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church – the grace to go out to the outskirts of life.  The Church has so much need of this!  Not only in distant lands, …  but in our cities, they need this proclamation of Jesus Christ.  So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of apostolic zeal.  …  And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord.  Onwards, as the Lord says to Saint Paul, ‘take courage.’”

So, my friends, “take courage.”  Give the risen Jesus room in your hearts.  …  Share the good news of Jesus – today – through your love and service of the people God places in your lives.  …  And continue to be the Church for years to come!

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!

Charismatic Conference – August 4, 2018
Feast of Saint John Vianney 

Today’s gospel presents us with a rather sobering story that may seem strangely out of place in a gathering like what we experience during these days of praise and thanksgiving.

Our attention in hearing this passage is likely focused upon John the Baptist and the unsettling and rather cavalier manner in which King Herod responds to the unbelievable request of Herodias and her daughter.  As a token of appreciation for the delightful dance performance of the young woman, Herod swears to “give her whatever she asks for.”  At the coaxing of her mother, she requests the “head of John the Baptist.”  Yet, as outrageous as the request and its consequences may have been, we ought not lose sight of the context for this scripture passage.

Herod is actually reflecting upon Jesus and the impact that he is having upon many of the people who reside in the territory over which he rules.  He wonders if this rabbi from Nazareth – this healer and worker of wonders – is actually John the Baptist, come back to life.  …  Herod’s musing about Jesus, his concern about Jesus’ relationship with the people whom Herod was oppressing, and his peculiar conclusions about Jesus’ relationship with John all lead to a flashback about how John died.

A major theme, then, in Saint Matthew’s story of John’s death is its function as a preview of Jesus’ eventual death.  Both John and Jesus are eventually rejected by political rulers and executed without cause and without legal formality being observed.  …  The task of burying each is left to their followers.  …  As John went, so Jesus will go.  …  And for many of the earliest Christians who would face opposition for their beliefs, the example given by John and Jesus would have been quite sobering.

In short, the fate of faithful prophets and their disciples who proclaimed the reign of God is well known and, more often than not, tragic.  …  Their stories begin long before John and Jesus, taking us back to Jeremiah, who speaks in our first reading today of the plots of many who sought to take his life in response to the truth that he proclaimed.  …  And their stories reach forward from the time of Jesus, through the centuries and into our very own day and age, don’t they?

I’d suggest, my sisters and brothers, that the stories of faithful prophets and their followers continue to be proclaimed whenever individuals exhibit a personal courage that leads them to be faithful to principles rooted in the truth of the Gospel message.  Such courage and fidelity is what we refer to as the cost of discipleship!

And we all would like to believe that we are willing to embrace that cost of discipleship and pay the price for the life and resurrection, the love and mercy that Jesus pours into our hearts, wouldn’t we?  …  But sometimes – even for the best of us – it’s not that easy, is it?  …  You know every bit as well as I, that while it takes little effort to proclaim who we are as a people in this great auditorium, it’s quite another thing to assert all that we believe and hold true when we leave through its doors.

Let’s be honest about it.  If I challenged us to stand up for our beliefs in Jesus right now, we’d all be on our feet, wouldn’t we?  But far too often, our human frailties can get the better of us and cause our legs to get weak and prevent us from standing up for what we believe.  …  We all want to be like Jeremiah – and John the Baptist – and ultimately Jesus – giving of our lives in a selfless manner to care for the burdened, to respect each and every life as made in God’s image and likeness, and to both proclaim and live lives of justice, mercy and peace.  …  But sometimes we get in the way, don’t we?  …  Don’t we?!

Not sure about that?  …  None of us want to sidestep the gospel mandate to follow in the footsteps of our Savior – but sometimes we do.  …  Still not sure?  …  Take a look at some of the “heroes” of our Christian faith.  …  Let’s start with Peter, who, as Jesus was walking to his death, denied knowing him, not once but three times.  …  And then there were James and John, two of Jesus’ closest followers.  All they were concerned about was whether they could have places of honor when Jesus came into his Kingdom.  And then they didn’t even have the courage to ask for this outrageous request.  Instead, do you recall what they did?  They got their mother to talk to Jesus about her sons.  …  And we could go on and on about faithful disciples who missed the mark and got in the way of all that Jesus has called us to embrace as his followers.

The context for responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship is ever so human.  The disciples – even the likes of Jeremiah and John the Baptist – didn’t always understand.  …  We’re no different.

We are called by Jesus to walk in his footsteps and to embrace the reality of the cross – just as he did – in order to serve those souls entrusted to our care – but sometimes WE get in the way.  …  Why do we get in the way?  …  I’ll tell you.  …  Intimately linked to the price – the cost of discipleship – is the realization, as St. Paul so often reminds us, that we, who are commissioned by the Lord, are indeed given a treasure – but one that we carry around in earthen vessels – these fragile, imperfect and often sinful shells that house our souls!

The fact that we know our shortcomings and frailties, however, doesn’t mean that we lack the Spirit in our hearts.  …  To the contrary, the ever present recognition of our limitations reminds us that any good that we do comes from the power of God – and not merely our grit and determination.

So, how do we mover forward?  …  The great Lutheran minister, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, in his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, offered these thoughts that speak to all of us, as we seek to balance the tension between a very human desire to live for ourselves with the gospel challenge to live for Christ.  …  Authentic discipleship is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: “He leads the way, keep close to him.”  …  “He leads the way, keep close to him.” 

And how do we best keep close to the Lord?  …  Take a look at all that is being offered to you during these days:  opportunities for prayer – teachings on the Word of God and the life of the Spirit in Church – fellowship with brothers and sisters who remind us always that where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst – and the sacramental life of the Church, found particularly in the Sacrament of Penance, where we are given a way forward through the forgiveness of our sins, and of course, the Eucharist in and through which we are united with the very life of Jesus.

But there’s something else that keeps us close to Jesus, my friends – something else that, when present, assures us that we are on the way to living as Jesus calls us to live – that we are willing to pay the price for what it means to be authentic disciples.  …  Do you know what it is?  …  Let me give you a clue.


Do you recall the words of Pope Francis during his inaugural Mass, when he challenged us to see authentic power in the Church as being rooted in Jesus’ example of service of our sisters and brothers?  …  Those words mirror Jesus invitation to his disciples and to each of us.  …  Serve.  …  Give of your lives selflessly as Jesus did, if you seek to be his followers.

In his recent exhortation Gaudete et exultate – on the call to holiness in today’s world – Pope Francis reflects upon who and what we are called to be as disciples of Jesus.  Listen to his words,

To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious.  We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer.  That is not the case.  We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.  Are you called to the consecrated life?  Be holy by living out your commitment with joy.  Are you married?  Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church.  Do you work for a living?  Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.  Are you a parent or grandparent?  Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.  Are you in a position of authority?  Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.  …  Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness.  Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation.  Do not be dismayed, for you can do this in the power of the Holy Spirit, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. 

So, my sisters and brothers, if we are wise enough to recognize the grace found within those words and embrace their challenge despite ourselves  …  and if we are humble enough to acknowledge other words of Saint Paul, where we willingly boast of our weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon us  …  we will surely find the way that the Lord has placed before us as his disciples.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 5, 2018
St. Augustine Church, Silver Lake – 150th Anniversary of the Diocese 

Both today’s first reading from the Old Testament book of Exodus and the gospel passage from Saint John focus our attention upon the great gift of Jesus, given to us in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

In the passage from Exodus, we hear how God rains down manna – bread from heaven – to feed and sustain the Israelite people during their 40-year sojourn in the desert on their way to the Promised Land.  And in the gospel, which takes place following the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish through which Jesus fed thousands of hungry people, Jesus encourages the crowds not to merely seek after food – bread – that will perish, but food that endures for eternal life – food that will sustain them to do the work of God.  …  Both passages point to the gift and power of the Eucharist.

But Jesus is quick to note that while God fed the Israelites in the desert and he multiplied loaves to fill their empty stomachs, it was far more important that the People of God saw these gifts less as food that would satisfy physical hunger and far more as God’s desire to sustain them – and us – in the journey of life and faith.

Moreover, Jesus was also concerned that his followers never view the Eucharist simply as a gift for them to receive – but just as importantly as the means by which their lives might be patterned on his own life.  The great Saint Augustine, patron of this church and community, captured best the heart of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist with these words that you’ve heard before, “Become the mystery you celebrate.”  …  Become the broken Christ whose life was poured forth for those whom he loved.  …  Become the loving, compassionate Christ who multiplied loaves and fish and fed the hungry multitudes, satisfying not only their physical needs, but also their desire to be nourished by the God.  …  Receive Christ and so become Christ in loving service to one another.

Let me put St. Augustine’s words into some perspective.  …  During his historic trip to the United States two years ago, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.  In his homily, the Holy Father referenced Saint Katharine Drexel and her great contribution to the life of faith in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States.

He recalled that shortly after Katharine’s wealthy father had died, she and her two sisters traveled to Europe in 1887 where they were privileged to meet Pope Leo XIII in a private audience.  Katharine asked the Holy Father for missionaries to staff some of the Native American missions that she and her family had been financing.  To her surprise, however, Pope Leo’s first response was not to grant her request.  Rather, he asked her a question:  “What about you, Katharine?  What are you going to do?”

“Those words,” Pope Francis noted, “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 one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up His Body, the Church.”

My brothers and sisters, the same resolve and determination – rooted in faith – that prompted Saint Katharine Drexel to respond to the Pope Leo’s challenge to serve the neediest in our country lies at the heart of our celebration today.

Few, if any, of the earliest pioneers who helped build this local Church of Scranton would have ever been confronted with the question like that posed by Pope Leo to Katharine Drexel.  Nonetheless, the earliest settlers in our region of this great land knew implicitly that if the faith they cherished was ever to grow, they would be the ones responsible for carrying out the Church’s mission in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

This reality was clearly evident beginning in 1793 – just seventeen years after the founding of the United States – when a French colony was established on the banks of the Susquehanna River between Wyalusing and Towanda – just about 35 miles from where we gather today.  Within that colony, was found the first verifiable presence of the Catholic faith in what is now the Diocese of Scranton.

Thirty-two years later in 1825, an Irish born missionary priest by the name of Father Jeremiah O’Flynn used his own savings to purchase this very land on which we stand today – the land on which the first Catholic church within the territory of what we now know as the Diocese of Scranton would be built.  While a fire destroyed the original church, it is by the grace of God that we can proudly affirm this day that the Eucharist has been celebrated on this plot of ground for over 193 years – beginning 43 years before the Diocese of Scranton was founded.  What a blessing and gift we’ve been given in this community of faith.

And look at how God has worked and all that has emerged from the tiny seeds of faith that were planted in this corner of God’s kingdom.  From the time that Father O’Flynn first settled here in Susquehanna County, the fledgling Church in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania began to grow – so much so that missionary priests from the Diocese of Philadelphia and several religious congregations were needed to support his work, traveling traveled to this region of Pennsylvania to serve the People of God until the founding of the Diocese in 1868.

While clergy were responsible for the sacramental life of the emerging local Church of Scranton, the contribution of women religious from various congregations supported and enhanced their efforts in building up the Church.  Led by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and joined 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 and the important responsibility of educating the young had begun.

Much can and should be said about the selfless service of the clergy and religious who laid a solid foundation of faith for this blessed local Church of Scranton.  Yet, no matter how heroic or selfless, each of them was only able to fulfill the work entrusted to their care because of the commitment of the faithful souls they served – souls who had been touched by the mercy and love of God and who realized that they too – in their own way – were responsible for proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  …  My friends, those faithful souls are like all of you, who understand that even and particularly today, it is your responsibility – just as much as it is mine – to build the Church – the body of Christ – and to be his hands and voice and heart to a world so much in need of God’s grace.

When the Diocese of Scranton was created by a decree issued by Pope Pius IX on March 3, 1868 – just forty-three years following the construction of its first church – and the Reverend Doctor William O’Hara was named its founding bishop, 24 parishes had already been established.  With the movement of peoples and the arrival of immigrants throughout its 150 years, those 24 parishes grew to as many as 239 by the early 1970’s.

While the number of parishes have diminished in recent years due to changing demographics and cultural challenges, thankfully, this portion of God’s kingdom that all of you represent continues to vibrantly embrace the mission of the Church entrusted to all of the baptized.  …  And it will continue to do so if we are generous and selfless enough to confront time and again the same question posed by Pope Leo XIII to a young Katharine Drexel – now a canonized saint of our Church.  “What about you?  What are you going to do” to build the Church and proclaim Jesus’ message of salvation and life?  …  “What are you going to do?”

My sisters and brothers – may this blessed anniversary year of celebration and remembrance serve as a time of renewal for each of us who are called to make the mission of Jesus our own.  Just like the first missionaries who traveled to our eleven counties in times that were different but just as challenging as our own, we too have the responsibility to build Church.  But, like them, we would do well to remember that if we are to be the instruments of God’s presence in our midst, we first and always need to be humble enough to give God room in our hearts to grow and to work.

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Saint Gregory Parish – August 26, 2018
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

This is the second week in a row that many of you have had to listen to me at the time of the homily. This week, I’m privileged to join with you as you break ground for a much-needed extension of your Church. Last week, my presence should not have been necessary, but, sadly, it was (referring to his video message shown at all Masses in the Diocese). I’d ask for just another moment to share a few more thoughts.

As the reality of the Grand Jury report starts to settle in, most of our feelings have become even more complicated and conflicted. To say that this is a difficult time is an understatement. It surely is a painful time for victims, many of whom have had to struggle in the shadows for years and are now only finally having their experiences validated – even as they relive the nightmare of abuse. It’s a painful time for their families, and for each of you who make up our Church community. While words can be so empty at times, I would again like to offer my sincere apologies to our entire community – and especially the victims. None of you deserves to be confronted with the behavior described in this report.

Yet, however difficult, we must face this tragic reality and learn from the past as we move forward and help victims heal. While most of the cases described in the report date back decades, we must continue to improve our child protection policies and procedures to ensure that we provide a safe environment for all of our children and youth here in the Diocese of Scranton. There simply is no place in a civilized world for the abuse of children – and certainly not within the Church.

I will continue to do all that I can to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and to lead a Church that once again enables you to trust, to have hope and to find peace. Today’s Mass and the groundbreaking that follows reminds us that as hard as it is to move forward, we can – be we can also never forget. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address that issue once again.

Today’s Gospel passage could not be more appropriate as we attempt to move forward through these challenging days. Many of Jesus’ followers were having a difficult time understanding his teaching about the Eucharist and its roots in the cross – the suffering and death that Jesus would inevitably face. … And a lot of his followers walked away.

In the face of that exodus, Jesus turned to his closest followers – the twelve apostles – and asked a sobering question: “What about you? Do you also want to leave?” To which Peter responds with his well-known confession of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

That’s a pretty timely and relevant question for us, isn’t it? … In the midst of some unbelievable things with which we’ve been confronted these past two weeks, what about you? Do you also want to leave?

People leave the Church for all sorts of reasons. They leave because of changes that have taken place over the years – because of personal encounters that have been hurtful or misunderstood – and I have no doubt that many will leave because of what we’ve had to face here in the Diocese of Scranton and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

But you are here today – for any number of reasons, I suppose. Perhaps not for every one of you, but for some of you, I am certain, your response to the question of Jesus in today’s Gospel likely echoes that of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” For all of its human limitations and shortcomings, we see the Church as the place where we have encountered God and through which God has touched our lives.

Perhaps the question that Jesus really prompts us to address today is less whether we’re going to leave and much more this query, “Why do you stay?” … Why do you or any of us stay with the Church in the midst of all that you’ve had to face during these past weeks.

Chances are that the answer to that question starts with what you see as you look around this church. We see a family of believers, don’t we? And in as much as some of the members of that family can prompt us to want to run away at times, that same family contains the key to why any of us stay. … We stay because of a daughter or a grandson who was just baptized and who teach us through their innocence about the boundless love of God. … We stay because of selfless neighbors who set aside their own comfort to serve the poorest and those who struggle the most in our communities. … We stay because of that unique individual whom we so admire who has been given the grace to look beyond obvious hurt and pain to forgive. … We stay because we sense deep within our hearts that there’s more to this world than we can see and touch and understand, and this Church, for all of its imperfections, opens the door to that which is holy! … And we stay because we believe that somehow, through the power of God, we connect with that which is holy through the sacramental life of the Church.

Why do you stay?

I’ve thought a lot about this question over the past few weeks. One of the reasons I stay is rooted in something that a great aunt of mine taught me around the time I was ordained a priest, 35 years ago, when she was well into her 80s. She’d given birth to three children. Two died before they were 5 years of age – one because of a sickness and the other in a tragic house fire. Her third and only remaining son lived into his 60s and died suddenly in front of her on New Year’s Eve. For all of her loss, she embraced life well and with a great deal of enthusiasm and hope. One time, not long before her passing, I asked her how she managed to be so upbeat, given all of the loss that she endured throughout her life. Here’s what she said, “Nobody will ever know the volume of tears that I shed, but I believe with all my heart that there’s nothing we can’t endure if we have faith.”

For me, I stay because my faith is nurtured in this Church community, no matter how tarnished it has become. … What about you? … Why do you stay? … Why are we breaking ground today to expand this worship site? … “Why do you stay?” … I suspect that somewhere in the midst of however we answer this question, we’ll find something that has to do with faith – and the belief that for as imperfect as the members of the Church may be – especially its leaders – God has given us the grace to discover within this community signs of his life, his mercy, his love, and a reason to hope – the surest and the only things that will give us lasting peace.

For me – and hopefully for you – those are pretty good reasons to stay!

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Day of Atonement and Healing – September 15, 2018
Hebrews 5:7-9; I Corinthians 10:14-22; Luke 2:33-35 

It’s been one month since the release of the report of the 40th statewide Grand Jury investigating child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church. It’s often said that “time heals.” In this instance, however, the passing of time only seems to complicate our thoughts regarding what is arguably one of the darkest moments in the history of the Catholic Church and certainly in our 150-year history as a Diocese.

To say that this is a difficult time is an understatement. For victims – survivors – of sexual abuse, some of whom may be with us today, I cannot begin to imagine what these days have been like for you. While you have endured the pain of abuse for years, decades and, in some instances, for half a century, the release of this report undoubtedly has led to a mixed reaction on your part. Surely, it validates all that you have experienced and wanted to share for so long. On the other hand, sadly, it brings to the fore painful memories that so many of you have sought to push to the recesses of your hearts and minds in order to simply survive from one day to the next.

As a bishop of this local Church, I offer my sincere apology. While these words may appear to many of you to be empty, they are not. My meetings with many of you have sadly taught me a great deal about all that you’ve endured and all the suffering that you’ve carried for far too long. I acknowledge, however, that your determination of the sincerity of my words may take some time and you may need to find a reason for why my words should be trusted.

For those who have been abused, none of us here today know the depth of your pain. I am sorry that a Church leader misused his power and abused you. I am sorry for your pain and the ways in which this abuse has affected your life’s journey. There simply is no place in a civilized world for the abuse of children – and certainly not within the Church. … If you can, I pray that you find it within your hearts to one day forgive us.

I ask forgiveness from your families who have suffered so much – with you and for you. Just a week ago, I met with three siblings of a victim of abuse by a priest in our Diocese. The abuse took place decades ago, yet this family still suffers and grieves the loss of so much life and potential for their brother and their lives together.

I also ask forgiveness from the countless numbers of good and faithful Catholics like so many of you who are here today or praying today in your parish churches who have been hurt by the reality of abuse within our Church.

The Church let you down. You deserved better.

So many of you have shared with me your personal struggles as you seek to make sense of such behavior, in some instances by those whom you knew and trusted. As your leaders, we have failed you. Yet, we are humbled by so many of you who still seek to live your faith, and even in the midst of the betrayal of trust, share your love and support for so many of us who have let you down. Please forgive us.

And to the many, many good and faithful priests and deacons of this Diocese and beyond – to women and men religious who are so vital to the life of our Church – my heart breaks for you. Because most of the abuse that took place by priests, you are tainted by the sins of others.

One priest shared with me that on the day following the release of the Grand Jury report, he rushed to a local hospital to anoint a parishioner. As he was quickly walking through the hospital lobby to do what he was ordained to do for the Church, a woman whom he did not know confronted him with these words, “Shame on you.” … I’m sorry that you have to bear that burden. But I also pray that you find the strength to move forward and to continue to share the life of Jesus with those of us who so desperately need to experience it – even and particularly as you bear your portion of his cross.

Finally, to our seminarians, I am so sorry that you have to face this reality as you seek to find your place in service of the Lord Jesus and his people. As difficult as this moment may be for you, remember that you are not part of the problem, but are a part of the solution.

When it was announced that the Grand Jury report was to be released sometime time between August 8th and 14th, I was concerned that we had planned to celebrate the Rite of Candidacy for some of our seminarians in the evening of August 8th. To my surprise, one of our seminarians asserted that if the report was to be released that day, he would gladly state to news reporters and all who would listen his pride in serving a Church where his gifts are needed and welcomed. … How blessed we are to have seminarians – and so, so many faithful people who are committed to living their faith now, more than ever!

Today’s memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is a profound reminder to all of us of the brokenness of our world. Yet, it is also a memorial that is rooted in the reality of the Paschal Mystery – the life, death and resurrection of Mary’s son, Jesus. Indeed, were Mary to be presented to us with no experience of this world’s suffering and pain – never having the body of her Son placed across her knees and into her arms when he was taken down from the cross – we’d have no reason to turn to her in confidence when all else has failed.

Yet, here we are today, turning to Mary in our moment of desperation. For you see, Mary has trodden all the paths of our human existence. She has known the darkness and suffering, loneliness and pain. Yet, she stands before us as that little creature through whom God’s grandeur shines forth. In Mary, we see the fullness of what Christ can do for us who turn to the Savior for healing, life and salvation.

A few weeks ago, shortly after the Grand Jury report was released, we were all challenged by a Gospel passage that so providentially spoke to our hearts. It came from the sixth chapter of Saint John. In that particular Gospel, we heard that some followers of Jesus were disappointed and scandalized by his words and by his actions. And they left him. … When they left, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Will you leave me?” Then he looked at all of the apostles and posed another question, “Will you all leave me, too?” And Peter responded with these words of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

“To whom shall we go?” … “Why should we stay?” … I suspect that somewhere in the midst of however we answer this question, we’ll find something that has to do with faith – and the belief that for, as imperfect as the members of the Church may be – especially its leaders – God has given us the grace to discover within this community signs of his life, his mercy, his love, and a reason to hope – the surest and the only things that will give us lasting peace. Mary – our dear Lady of Sorrows – knew that! May God give us the wisdom to recognize the blessing of faith and its power to heal, to forgive and to change hearts.

My friends, I beg you to open your lives to the power of God – to be like the apostles and to stay with the Lord Jesus and with his Church in this dark time. For as disappointing as this moment in the life of the Church is for us all, the life of Jesus – not the broken lives of Church leaders – is the only life that can bring us to a place of peace.

May we pray for the courage to once again walk together in faith to renew the Church of Christ and to reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of it. Our Lady of Sorrows – pray for us!