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!