Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
V Encuentro Mass – September 30, 2017
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome to our Cathedral!  I’m happy to join with those of you who regularly worship with us and particularly pleased to welcome all who gather for this special mass celebrating V Encuentro.  …  Some time ago, Pope Francis shared these profound and challenging words:  “Each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity.  He has given us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples.  He invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one.  But he asks us to do so not merely by our words but by the witness of our lives, in daily life.”  …  Jesus asks us to follow him not merely with our words but by the witness of our lives.  He calls us to a loving encounter with him that, in turn, sends us forth as missionary disciples and witnesses of God’s love.  

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a simple parable that serves as the foundation for the words of our Holy Father.  …  A man had two sons – and a vineyard that needed attention.  Simple enough!  …  So the man asked the first son if he could give him a hand.  “Sorry dad, I can’t do it today.”  But in time, the son changed his mind and provided his father with the help that he needed. …  Then the man approached the second son and asked for his help.  “Sure dad, whatever you need me to do.  I’m your man.”  But the son never set foot in the vineyard.  He was all talk.  He did nothing to give life to his words.  They were empty.

Jesus concludes the parable by asking a question.  Which of the two sons did his father’s will?  …  The answer to Jesus’ question is pretty obvious, isn’t it?  Without hesitation, we would all answer:  the first son – because despite his words, his actions revealed the depth of his love and compassion.

Jesus’ simple story of these two sons takes the gospel out the realm of the theoretical and places the mercy of God into the midst of our messy, complicated everyday lives.  Compassion, mercy and respect are only words until our actions give full expression to those values in our relationships with others.  Calling ourselves Christians and followers of Jesus means little unless our lives express that identity in the values we uphold and the beliefs we live out in our relationships with one another.

In short, today’s parable of the two sons is a devastating condemnation of those of us whose faith is confined to mere words and rituals.  …  It’s easy to say that we’re Christians – especially in a Church, where everybody else would likely join in the chorus.  …  It’s easy for me to profess on your behalf all that we believe.  …  But at some point, we have to live our faith.  We have to give life to the gospel message of love, respect and forgiveness.

It is hardly by coincidence and surely a part of God’s plan that the Church offers this gospel challenge to us on the same day that it celebrates Respect Life Sunday and on the same day that the Church of Scranton gathers in prayer in celebration of V Encuentro.  In the spirit of both of these moments in the life of the Church, it is clear – more than ever – that our words must yield to actions if our world is ever to embrace the fundamental Christian belief that every life is sacred, every life deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and every life is entitled to share in the joy of the Gospel!

Sadly, the treasured belief that all of life is sacred because all of life is made in the image and likeness of God appears to be eroding before our eyes.  Amid competing values that the world places before our eyes, for us to ever begin to experience the fullness of life and freedom that God has promised, our lives must first be rooted in the life of Jesus.  Jesus’ way must become our way!   In the end, while we may not wind up changing those who need to change the most, in humbly seeking to change ourselves, we will be witnessing to the power of Jesus which alone can change our world.

My brothers and sisters, filled with that divine power, it’s our responsibility as Christians to continually proclaim and live Jesus’ Gospel of life on behalf of all of God’s people – especially the defenseless unborn, the abandoned, the immigrant, the dreamer, the poor, the sick and the elderly.  …  And every day, it’s also our responsibility to proclaim and live that Gospel in its entirety in whatever situation or circumstance God places us:  here in our houses of worship – in our workplaces and schools – at our borders – to our political leaders – in our neighborhoods – and wherever we encounter lives that are diminished or challenged, regardless of how they look or sound or the lifestyle that they embrace.  …  Nowhere in the scriptures are we ever told that one life has more value than another.  Every life has value for every life is saved by the cross of Jesus.

So, be not afraid!  Go forth as missionary disciples sharing the joy of the Gospel to present and future generations of every race, language and culture.  And above all, embrace the Word of God this day as it challenges us to not merely speak words of faith, but to be light in the midst of darkness, to be hope in the midst of despair  …  and to be Jesus’ voice, hands and heart in the midst of a broken world.