Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Good Friday – April 16, 2017 

Almost thirty-eight years ago, when I was in the seminary, I participated in a biblical study tour of the Holy Land, conducted by a great priest of our Diocese who left us far too soon – Father Bob Barone. For all that we experienced during those days, I particularly recall being in the Old City of Jerusalem, as we encountered many of the sites mentioned in today’s reading of Saint John’s Passion.

One site will forever stand out in my memory: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a complicated structure which encompasses the sites of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Upon entering the main doors of the church, I can recall walking up a stone stairway immediately to the right of the entrance – a stairway that leads to a chapel filled with the strong scent of incense and darkened by soot from hundreds of burning candles. The faithful ahead of me were making their way to an altar, in front of which each person crouched to the floor, knelt on the hard marble and reached their hand into an opening in the floor in order to touch a piece of rock.

Eventually, it was my turn to touch what peasants and kings alike have sought to touch for two millennia. It was my turn to touch one of the most revered places in human history: the rock of Calvary … the place where Mary and John stood as they watched Jesus breathe his last … the place from which a soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side … the place where Jesus uttered his last words: “Father, forgive them.” “It is finished.” “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Most historians and archaeologists agree that this spot is, in fact, the actual site of the crucifixion. And for people of faith, this spot – Calvary – this cold, worn rock – is the place where God’s covenant with his people was fulfilled. … “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Calvary is the place where, through the mystery and power of God, a tree for execution became the tree of life for all who seek Divine mercy and love.

Calvary reminds us that while God could have chosen to save the world in any way that he wished, he chose to save it through his son Jesus, who took on human flesh and form for a reason. … Yes, Jesus carried a cross to atone for our sins and to give us a way forward in life. … But Jesus also carried a cross so that we, in our suffering – pain – and grief – might discover a God who understands – because he suffers with us.

My brothers and sisters, this bond between the crucified Jesus and the crosses that are woven into our world and into our lives reminds us that while many have taken the long journey to Jerusalem to experience the place of Jesus’ sacrifice and death, Calvary is not just one place, at one moment in time.

Calvary is everywhere! It is any place where the Body of Christ is scourged, stripped, beaten and broken.

There is the Calvary of war, oppression and terrorism that has permeated all parts of our world – that has destroyed defenseless lives – and that has stolen hope from innocent hearts.

There is the Calvary of hatred and bigotry that has marginalized suffering souls – that has torn immigrant families apart – and that continues to judge and demean individuals whose life choices are inconsistent with those of the self-righteous few.

There is the Calvary that emerges from self-centered and self-consumed lives that disregard the treasured gifts of the unborn – the disabled – the elderly – the poor.

There is the Calvary built from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of innocent lives; a suffering that robs them of peace and well-being.

There is the Calvary that we embrace as we watch ourselves and those we love succumb to the ravages of time, illness and human frailty.

And there is the Calvary that dwells within every human heart, whenever we turn toward sin and turn our backs on Jesus.

The world is haunted by Calvarys. Yet, by God’s grace and in God’s plan, Calvary isn’t the end of the story. While the cross of Calvary repulses us and shames us, confronting us with death and humiliation, with the injustice and betrayal of which we are all capable, the same cross – transformed by God’s power and grace – is also the means through which we achieve life and rebirth.

Recall the words from the Letter to the Hebrews, “Since we have a great high priest, … Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

A few moments ago, as I described my experience of the site of the Crucifixion today in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I noted that there was only one way to touch the rock of Calvary. You have to get on your knees.

As such, there is also only one way to move on from Calvary. You have to get up. You have to rise! … The message of this sacred day – the lesson that the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher teaches every person who draws near – is that the journey to Calvary always ends … by rising.

Pray along with me in your hearts this Good Friday prayer written by Francis, our Pope. … “O Cross of Christ, teach us that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night. O Cross of Christ, teach us that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb and before the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God which nothing can defeat, obscure or weaken. Amen!”

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017 

Five weeks ago, we stood in this church and received ashes on our foreheads.  We were reminded of our mortality, our need for conversion and our need for a deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus.  Those ashes, however, weren’t just scraped together from the bottom of somebody’s fireplace.  They were the burned remnants of the palms that were given to us last year on this very day.

Today, we stand here again, five weeks older and – hopefully – five weeks wiser.  We hold in our hands not ashes but new palms – symbols of freshness, growth and life.

Our presence, then, begs the question:  have we grown and experienced a sense of new life since that Wednesday on the first day of March?  …  Have we learned anything about ourselves and our relationship with Jesus?  …  Have we changed at all?  …  And what will we do with the promise – the potential – that we hold in our hands?

Lent is bracketed – bookended – by palms – the loss and destruction of them at the beginning and new green leaves – restoration – at the end.  …  Ultimately, that’s what these weeks are all about – burning away, clearing out, and cultivating something new.  That is Lent.

So take these palms.  Let them be a reminder of this week that we are beginning.  But don’t just tuck them behind a picture or crucifix in your house.  Let them also serve as a remembrance and a challenge to us of Jesus’ suffering and death – the triumph of his ride into Jerusalem and the tragedy of Calvary.  …  Let them remind us of the power of God at work in and through Jesus’ embrace of the cross.  …  And let them especially bear witness to all that we are called to do and to be through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus.

In the verse immediately prior to today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the apostle emphasizes the responsibility incumbent upon the followers of Jesus who seek a way forward through the struggles of this world.  “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.”

And what was the attitude of Jesus?  …  The scripture passage tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming obedient  …  even to the point of death on a cross.”

It’s this attitude that we are called to embrace as we gather at the beginning of Holy Week.  Jesus displayed a life of humility over and above a life of self-glorification.  The radical humility that he showed in taking the form of a slave, in his willingness to follow the divine will, even to the cross, is one that we are called to imitate in our own lives.  Indeed, it’s by our embrace and imitation of Jesus’ pattern of living that we’re given the grace to face the crosses of our lives with hope.

Life – with all of its joys and particularly with its struggles and setbacks, its disappointments and fears – always brings us back to Jesus and his powerful example of selfless love – a love that enabled him to face his cross – and through which God restored Jesus – and us – to eternal life.

My brothers and sisters – no matter how tightly we clutch the palms that we carry today – our experience of Holy Week will not bring us a peace that takes away the harsh realities of life that we face each day.  It will not cure the illnesses endured by our loved ones or cause life’s disappointments to disappear.  It will not eradicate the selfishness and pride that exist in our world that wound our hearts, and destroy our relationships.

But our embrace of the example of Jesus – our efforts to love selflessly and to care for the lives that God has given to us – even as we bear the burden of the crosses that rest on our shoulders – have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace.  Only by entrusting our lives to the crucified, suffering and risen Jesus will any of us truly be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace.  …  Therein, my friends, is the true and lasting gift of Holy Week.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Solemnity of Saint Joseph – March 19, 2017

This day has special meaning for all of us, doesn’t it?  …  We celebrate a treasured saint – the father figure of the family into which Jesus, the Savior, was born.  …  We celebrate the patron saint of the universal Church.  …  We celebrate the patron of this blessed community of priests – the Oblates of Saint Joseph – who have served the faithful of this diocese for over 88 years.

And our own Pope Francis, who was installed as Bishop of Rome four years ago on the Feast of Saint Joseph, has special devotion to the beloved saint.  But his own devotion to the saint is not merely the result of a coincidence related to the timing of his election as successor of Saint Peter.  Francis’ devotion goes back to the days of his childhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his parish church was dedicated to Saint Joseph.  And the love and appreciation of the pontiff for the foster father of Jesus has grown and flourished throughout his many years.

Recently, in an exchange with 140 Superiors General of Religious Congregations of Men, Pope Francis shared a practice that he has maintained for many years, including during the four years that he has served the Church as Pope.  “If there’s a problem, I write a note to Saint Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room.  It is a statue of St. Joseph sleeping.”  In fact, the statue that is treasured by the Pope is one of the few things that he had sent from Argentina to Rome following his election.  The head came off during the journey to Italy but the Holy Father saw to it that it was fixed.

I don’t know if any of you have a similar statue, but its place in the vast array of images of Saint Joseph is not insignificant.  There are numerous icons and images of Joseph sleeping. While this posture of the saint may seem like an odd action or pose for sacred art, the image is rooted in the few things we know for certain about Saint Joseph from Sacred Scripture.  In two separate occasions, we are told that God speaks to Joseph through an angel in his dreams (Matthew 1:24 and Matthew 2:14,21,22).

A simple, quiet, humble man who listened carefully to the voice of God, while awake and at rest – a man who trusted in the power of God to save – a man of deep faith who cooperated with the plan of God entrusted to him:  that’s the saint whom we honor and celebrate this day.

Saint Matthew, in the opening chapter of his gospel, lays groundwork for the birth of Jesus.  He reminds us that when Mary was engaged to Joseph – but before they lived together – she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph was rightly confused about this and wanted to divorce her quietly, when suddenly an angel appeared to him in a dream.  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”

These are key words in the life of Joseph.  “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”  With these words, God entrusts to Joseph – the carpenter of Nazareth – the mystery of salvation.  …  That mystery was given first to Mary, when she was chosen to be the mother of the savior.  But Joseph too, became a unique participant in the same mystery of God.  God’s plan for his creation was revealed to a virgin … and then to a carpenter.

But why the carpenter?  Why this man?  Why Joseph?

First of all, Joseph is a man of faith.  Everything that we know about him points to that reality.  In the scriptures, Joseph comes across as a man who was attuned to the voice of God.  Joseph wasn’t afraid to look inside of himself and listen to God speaking in his heart.  And he let God’s word guide not only his thoughts but his actions.  Saint Joseph trusted in God more than in himself.  And he obeyed God even when it didn’t all add up – like taking Mary as his wife when she was already with child.

Saint Joseph was also committed to his vocation.  Once he realized that God wanted him to be a part of this great mystery of faith, Joseph risked everything for those entrusted to his care.  He accepted God’s call and cooperated with God in the unfolding of salvation.

Finally, Joseph worked hard in a harsh land during a difficult time in history.   But by his life, he taught us that the value of our work isn’t just about producing things.  It’s about cooperating with God – seeing in our work the opportunity to contribute to the good of society – and to serve those in need, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

Saint Joseph teaches us a great deal despite the fact that not a single word spoken by this great saint in recorded in the scriptures.  …  He speaks eloquently through the example of his life – his prayerful relationship with God – his generous embrace of his vocation as husband and father – his commitment to work and to building a just, humane and generous world.  And he speaks to us of all that is possible through faith in God.

Recalling once again the image of the sleeping Saint Joseph that is so dear to Pope Francis, the Holy Father captured the essence of the great saint in a homily that he delivered during a pastoral visit to the Philippines a few years ago. “Like the sleeping Saint Joseph who listened to the voice of God in his dreams, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber.  We must get up and act!”

Our faith as believers in Jesus Christ is never meant to simply bring us to a quiet posture of prayer and peace.  Joseph reminds us that authentic discipleship demands much, much more.

Remember the words spoken on this great feast four years ago by our Holy Father at the moment when he began his ministry among us.  “Let us never forget that authentic power is service.”  Let us be “inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, open our arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect” – like the blest Saint – Joseph – whom we honor this day.

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Ash Wednesday – March 1, 2017 

In his Lenten message to the Church this year, Pope Francis invites us to consider that at the basis of all we are given to aid us in our journey of conversion during this sacred season is the Word of God, which we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply in order to engage the call of our baptism more authentically.

Recall the first words of scripture in today’s liturgy that come to us each year from 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.”

Joel calls us to change our lives – to set aside all that keeps us from reflecting the life of God within our own lives. But he boldly challenges us to do so, 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.

Saint Matthew, in today’s Gospel, reinforces the words of the prophet Joel, as he calls us to embrace a lifestyle rooted less in exterior show and far more in a true relationship with God. Pray, fast, give alms in support of the poor – not because such behavior will make us righteous, even if only in our own eyes – but because such acts for the true follower of Jesus are simply the consequence of faithful lives rooted in Jesus, who teaches us how best to live.

Reflecting upon the heart of this holy season, Pope Francis reminds us that the Word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we are humble enough to embrace the gift of God’s Word, “the Holy Spirit leads us on a true journey of conversion … to be purified of the sin that blinds us, and to serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.” When we close our heart to the gift of God’s Word, however, “we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.”

The true spirit of Lent and ultimately the pattern of life that is to be embraced by every authentic disciple of Jesus must not only lead us to a deeper awareness of the suffering world in which we live but cause us to respond. With this reality in mind, Pope Francis invites us to consider the gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus and to see it as a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and, ultimately, eternal life.

Lazarus – the poor man who laid at the door of the rich man’s house – is ultimately portrayed in the Gospel as a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition which portrays him as an outcast. Lent, then, becomes a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.

In a few days, we will 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 in this day and age gives us hope and should encourage us to recommit ourselves to the vows that were made at our own baptisms. Their “yes” reminds us that we too are called to look beyond ourselves – to continually heed God’s Word – to encounter the living Christ in the sacraments of the Church – and then to serve Christ in our neighbor!

Our Lenten journey, my brothers and sisters, draws us to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. We are baptized into the Lord Jesus – yes, for our life and salvation – but not solely for our own well being. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the fullest the joy of Easter and the glory of God in our midst.

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
World Day of the Sick with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
February 11, 2017
Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:13-16; Luke 1:46-56 

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 present. And your very presence here today reflects the great message of the scriptures that teach us so powerfully of how God works mightily in our world and how he responds to us in our pain and suffering.

Consider this moment of prayer. Some of you are here today because you join us every day for the noon 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 25th 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 are here because regardless of the crosses that we face in life, we believe in the merciful love of God and want so very much to experience that love in our hearts.

Last year, Pope Francis participated in the creation of a book for children entitled, Dear Pope Francis, in which the Pope answered letters from children around the world. While the book’s major themes come from children, there is a wisdom in the Holy Father’s responses to their questions that speaks to the ages.

One letter from a seven year old boy named William from the United States of America touched me very much and speaks to our gathering this day. The letter included a drawing by the little boy of a cross – a large cross – with a rainbow behind it and a bright sun shining down upon it. Here’s what William wrote:

Dear Pope Francis,
If you could do 1 miracle what would it be?
Love, William 

Now listen to the response of our Holy Father:

Dear William,

I would heal children. I’ve never been able to understand why children suffer. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t have an explanation. I ask myself about this, and I pray about your question. Why do children suffer? My heart asks the question. Jesus wept, and by weeping, he understood our tragedies. I try to understand too. Yes, if I could perform a miracle, I would heal every child.

Your drawing makes me think: there is a big, dark cross, but a rainbow and the sunshine behind it. I like that. My answer to the pain of children is silence, or perhaps a word that rises from my tears. I’m not afraid to cry. You shouldn’t be either.


I suspect that most of us would agree with the Holy Father’s acknowledged struggle to understand why children suffer. It makes no sense. Yet, I also suspect that most of us would also agree that when it comes to suffering – any type of suffering – we are all very much like children, aren’t we? … While we are typically more stoic and resolved in our determination to confront our crosses, there very often comes a point in our journey in which the best of us will cry out to God words of desperation not unlike those spoken by any frightened child. … “Lord, I can’t do it on my own.” “Why Lord – why is this happening?” “Lord, will you take care of me?” And sometimes, as Pope Francis acknowledged, we aren’t able to say a thing. There is only silence or the words that are spoken by our tears.

Yet, the miracle of our faith as Christians is such that when we are no longer able to direct our lives according to our plans – when we have nowhere else to turn – when we are not too proud to acknowledge that we simply do not understand – when we become like little children – God is given room to pour into our lives and hearts with the grace that we need to carry our crosses with courage and hope.

In suggesting the gospel of the Magnificat – Mary’s great hymn of praise to God for all that he has done and accomplished in her life – Pope Francis chose for us a gospel that at first glance, might appear to have little to do with this day of prayer. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s reflect upon that passage for just a bit.

Mary’s affirmation of the great things that God has done for her emerges only after she questions the plan of God for her to give birth to His son. “How can this be?” Mary questions – just like you and I question the reality of suffering, pain and loss.

Her quiet faith and willingness to trust in the goodness and mercy of God become so foundational to her life, however, that she is able to persevere, even in the midst of her questions and particularly in the face of her son’s rejection, suffering and death. Mary perseveres – just like so many of you persevere in the midst of sickness and pain – not knowing how you manage to get from one day to the next – but you do, with the help of God and so many good and faithful friends and caregivers.

Finally, Mary’s praise for what God had done for her personally in today’s gospel account widens out to include what God does for “all who fear him” in every age – including our own.

Mary’s words teach us so beautifully about life, about suffering, and about hope. She understood that when Jesus embraced the cross, he didn’t remove illness and suffering from the human experience. By taking them upon himself, however, he transformed them and gave them new meaning. Through Jesus’ resurrection, the pain of the cross gave way to hope in God’s power to have the last word – which is LIFE – God’s most cherished gift for which we pray this day.

My sisters and brothers, as we pray for life and healing, may we be strengthened by Mary’s affirmation of the goodness of God in our world and in our lives. … Through Jesus’ embrace of his cross, may we find courage as we carry our own. … May a little boy’s drawing of a dark cross that is overshadowed by the bright colors of a rainbow and the dazzling rays of the sun remind us of the hope that is ours through faith. … And through this the wonderful Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, may Jesus touch our spirits and give us peace.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 8, 2017 

The story of the magi, who finally arrive in Bethlehem, completes the gathering of characters that assemble for the birth of Jesus.  With their unique and precious gifts – their rich attire – and their colorful retinues, which in most instances include a camel or two, and in some nativity scenes, even an elephant – we are just about ready to bring the curtain down on another Christmas season.

To be certain, the image of these seekers journeying to Bethlehem carries with it a heartwarming quality that we both cherish and impart to our children and grandchildren.  The gospel writer Matthew, however, chronicles the magi’s arrival to help set the stage less for a sensational ending to the story of Jesus’ birth and much more in order to provide us with a vision into the mission and message of Jesus – the Messiah and Savior.

You see, the story of the magi’s search for the newborn Christ is not solely a romantic tale with a happy ending.  Yes – the magi were individuals who, despite their great wealth and power, were unfulfilled until they discovered the Christ child in Bethlehem.  However, their arrival in Bethlehem and their acceptance of the life and peace that the Christ offered to them, unwittingly triggered the unleashing of evil and hatred aimed at the source of their worship and praise.

The very next verse that follows the conclusion of today’s gospel finds the holy family preparing to flee to Egypt in order to protect the life of their newborn son from the rage of King Herod.  Much more than bringing a deserved sense of splendor and majesty to the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the magi sets the stage for a story of suffering, hardship and death.  Their arrival is a prelude to a lifelong struggle on the part of Jesus to bring justice to lands afflicted with conflict and to heal people scarred by war and hatred.  Their arrival and unexpected welcome as Gentiles also points to Jesus’ message of hope for all peoples through his self-sacrificing life and unconditional love.

More than ever, our world and our lives need to embrace the message of God that is proclaimed this day through the visit of the magi – a message that, ironically, we accept in the stable of Bethlehem but so often forget in our efforts to live Jesus’ gospel.  The feast of the Epiphany celebrates, more than anything else, God’s all-inclusive love.  Any limits we try to place on it simply do not hold – at least from God’s perspective.

You see, the magi were Gentiles, not Jews.  They didn’t belong in Bethlehem.  They were different.  As the promised Messiah of Israel, one would have thought that only members of the chosen people would have been welcome at the birth of Jesus.  But the magi – outsiders from the East – were clearly welcomed and were given a special place among those who came to worship the newborn king of the Jews.  They were welcomed primarily because they were seeking something more in life than the riches of this world.  They listened to God in their dreams – in their hearts.  And recognizing in Jesus the fulfillment of all that they sought, they worshipped Jesus and opened their lives to his presence.

The prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, tells Jerusalem, the center for Israelite faith, that God’s glory would not only shine upon her but upon all nations.  …  And Saint Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Yet, the earliest followers of Jesus struggled with the growing realization that God was not the sole possession of the Jews, the chosen people.  Many of the first believers in Jesus attempted to place parameters around where God was able to work, with whom and how.  …  That reality seems strange, doesn’t it?  …  But sadly, even today, many of us act or feel much the same way at times, don’t we?  We believe that God, in Jesus, is our special possession.  And we are often more reluctant than we might imagine to loosen our grip and share the same mercy and love of God which we so boldly request and readily embrace.

Today’s feast, with the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem, offers an essential insight that ought never forget.  We have been saved not by our own righteousness but by the mercy and love of God won for us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Such overwhelming love and mercy can never be limited by the likes of me or you.  Quite frankly, however, that reality can be challenging, especially when someone we judge unworthy shows us how to live our faith, or when someone of another faith tradition lives God’s love in ways that we fail.  …  Unfortunately, we still often fail to understand and accept the message of the magi.

About six years ago, when my uncle passed away and my aunt, already in her 90’s refused to leave her home in New Jersey to live near her daughter in Massachusetts, the family living next door to her became her unofficial caregivers.  They shoveled her walk, cut her grass, delivered her food, brightened her day with visits from their little children, discovered her on the floor when she fell and could not get up, took her to the hospital and cried openly at her funeral.  …  My aunt’s neighbors were devout Muslims.  They lived the beatitudes that we cherish as our own spiritual guide.  Yet, sadly, they represent countless numbers of people of faith and good will who are far too often categorized, criticized and kept at arm’s length from the same love and mercy of God that we seek and celebrate.

In his message for the 50th World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1st of this New Year, Pope Francis put into perspective some of the struggles that we face when confronted with the tension of living the gospel of Jesus.  “The Jubilee of Mercy that ended in November encouraged each one of us to look deeply within and to allow God’s mercy to enter there. The Jubilee also taught us to realize how many and diverse are the individuals and social groups treated with indifference and subjected to injustice and violence. They too are part of our “family”; they too are our brothers and sisters. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family.  Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship.”

My friends, the message of this great feast of Epiphany – which is at once both consoling and challenging – reminds us that Jesus does not remain in a manger forever.  He goes forth to do his Father’s work.  The heartwarming story of his birth yields to a different story:  the story of humble service – unconditional, sacrificial love – and unlimited forgiveness and compassion.  These are the real gifts of Christmas – gifts available to all who open their hearts to Jesus’ presence – from those who worship with reverence and devotion – to the suffering poor who are unable to find their way to a church – to immigrants seeking a better life – to refugees fleeing from terrorism and war – to the magi of our time: every soul who seeks meaning, purpose and a way forward in life through an encounter with the living God.

May we pray for the wisdom and courage to embrace not merely the story of Jesus’ birth but especially his life, death and resurrection – at the heart of which we discover the surest means of achieving life and lasting peace.