HOMILY

4th Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019

Mother’s Day Adoption Mass 

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most enduring images from the scriptures that touches our hearts and provides us with a sense of comfort and peace.  …  While our familiarity with specific passages from the scriptures can at times be challenging, most every one of us know the beginning words of the 23rd Psalm:  “The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  In verdant pastures, he give me repose.  Beside restful waters, he leads me.  He refreshes my soul.”

Most of us seem to appreciate these passages, despite the fact that in our day and age – in our culture – the vast majority of us aren’t at all familiar with shepherds and sheep.  Why, then, does this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd resonate so much with our spirits?

I suspect that the answer is found in the words of Jesus that we hear proclaimed this morning.  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  …  No one can take them out of my hand.”  …  “I know them, and they follow me.”  …  Who wouldn’t appreciate these words?  We all want to be known and loved.

And what Jesus is saying is that there is familiarity – a God-initiated relationship between him and each member of his flock.  He knows us and we, in turn, know him and seek – even if feebly – to follow after him.  More than anything else, this passage captures the essence of our Christian faith, doesn’t it?  “GOD – not us – but GOD – so loved the world – so loved you and me – that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Don’t ever discount the value of what it means to be known by another and appreciated for who we are – which is at the heart of the faith that we profess this day.

In a day and age, when so much of our identity is wrapped up in numbers and passwords – from Social Security numbers to passcodes for our phone, our bank account or just about everything else – there’s a risk of losing something of our unique identity.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd of today’s gospel, beckons us to look at life in a very different way than we and our world often view it.  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  He calls us to listen consciously and deliberately for his voice in the depths of our hearts – to listen for his voice in the love and joy, the pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice that we see and hear all around us.  And Jesus assures us that we are always safe and accepted in the loving embrace of his Father – that we have infinite value because we’re made in the image and likeness of God – that we are far more important for that reason alone than any passing thing or object or number or category in our world.

In God’s providence, we celebrate Mother’s Day today.  While this day has become many different things to many different people and families, the origins for this day, which date back to Civil War times, are profound in nature.

In 1868, Anna Reeves Jarvis wanted to organize a special day for mothers who had sons fighting on opposing sides of the Civil War.  So Mother’s Day was originally intended to honor mothers who worked to promote a sense of harmony and reconciliation in their families and in our land.  When it was finally established as a national holiday on the second Sunday of May in 1914, it simply was meant to honor mothers for the many sacrifices that they made for their children and the treasured gift of their lives.

For all of its sentimentality that can cause us at times to lose touch with the heart of its real meaning, doesn’t this day – Mother’s Day – cause us to reflect upon the essence of the gospel message for this 4th Sunday of Easter?  …  Selfless love.  …  Forgiveness.  …  Unconditional acceptance.  …   Hope.  …  All of the qualities that a mother seeks to impart to her child whom she knows and loves so well.

As we reflect upon the women – mothers, grandmothers and caregivers – who have nurtured and cared for our lives, recall the words of Jesus and give thanks.  …    “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.”

HOMILY
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2019
Mass for those in Consecrated Life 

I am always touched by this gospel passage that we hear every year on the Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday.  At the very heart of our Easter celebration, the Church offers for our consideration the story of one of Jesus’ closest followers who doubted – who just didn’t have it within his ability to believe the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.  Let’s look at Thomas a bit more closely in order to come to a better understanding of his significance in our lives as people of faith.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Thomas in today’s gospel is that, initially, he was apart from the community of disciples.  For some reason, he wasn’t with them.  What’s more, when Thomas eventually reunited with the disciples and was told about their experience of the Risen Lord, his faith seemed to waiver.  He said that he wouldn’t believe the disciples unless he had proof – unless he could probe the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side.

Who knows how and why St. Thomas became so contrary in the midst of the miracle of the resurrection?  Yet, one thing is clear.  In not being a part of the community of believers, Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus.  And because he missed that opportunity – because he was alone and apart – his fears and doubts likely intensified.  …  “I will not believe, unless … .”

Sometimes the best of us wonder about our relationship with the Church, don’t we?  …  The past nine months have given us good reason to question many aspects of the Church’s life and ministry as we confront the reality of the abuse of children and the abuse of power by priests and bishops.  The heartbreaking stories of innocent victims have left not a few of us bewildered at how some Church leaders who preached the sanctity of human life could, at the same time, so callously disregard it.  …  Sometimes, like Thomas, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to believe and accept some aspect of our faith for one reason or another.

Yet, look carefully at Jesus’ response to Thomas in today’s gospel.  While Jesus lifted up and called “blessed” all those souls who had not seen him as raised from the dead and who still believed, nowhere in his encounter with Thomas does Jesus berate him or diminish him because of his doubts and struggles.  On the contrary, Jesus engages Thomas – loves and accepts him as he is – and sends him forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God and build Church.

Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas – with his doubts and questions – was a sign not only to the earliest believers but also to Christians throughout the ages – including me and you – that the mercy of God, poured forth into our world from the cross of Jesus, trumps the brokenness and sin of our world and our lives.   It is hardly by accident that Saint John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Today we also gather in prayer to reflect upon a unique gift that is a part of the life-giving Church of the risen Jesus:  the gift of consecrated life.  We reflect upon women and men who have understood and embraced the Lord’s universal call to holiness and mission.  We join together in our Cathedral to acknowledge woman and men celebrating jubilees of 25, 50, 60, 65, 70, 75 and even 80 years in religious life who collectively represent over 3,485 years of service to the People of God.  …  What a blessing you have been and continue to be for all of us.

In short, we celebrate your embrace of the mission that Jesus entrusted to Thomas – to the other apostles – to all of the baptized – and particularly to each of you – to witness to the life and mercy of the risen Lord and to build the Church.

Earlier this year at a Mass celebrated on the occasion of the World Day of Consecrated Life – which we commemorate today – Pope Francis shared words that prophetically seem to reflect the heart of today’s gospel exchange between Thomas and Jesus.  Recall that apart from the community of disciples, Thomas waivered in his faith and struggled to find a way forward.  Yet, when immersed in the community’s life and mission, Thomas was open to encountering the risen Lord and to assuming his role as a missionary of God’s mercy.

“If we call to mind our original meeting with the Lord,” Pope Francis states, “we become aware that it did not arise as something private between us and God.  No, it blossomed in the context of a believing people, alongside many brothers and sisters, at precise times and places.  The Gospel tells us this, showing how the encounter takes place within the people of God.  …  It is like this too in the consecrated life: it blossoms and flourishes in the Church; if it is isolated, it withers.  …  We ask then for the grace to rediscover the living Lord amid a believing people, and to allow the charism we have received to encounter today’s graces.”

Then the Holy Father went on to speak words of encouragement to those in Consecrated Life like so many of you whom we honor and for whom we pray this day.   In the face of so many challenges that confront our world, our Church and our lives, Francis was so typically “real” in his assessment of where we find ourselves today.  He was also typically hopeful because of what we’ve been given through the Easter mysteries and the mercy of God.

“This then is the consecrated life,” he said.  “It is praise which gives joy to God’s people, prophetic vision that reveals what counts.  When it is like this, then it flowers and becomes a summons for all of us to counter mediocrity: to counter a devaluation of our spiritual life, to counter the temptation to reduce God’s importance, to counter an accommodation to a comfortable and worldly life.  …  Consecrated life today is not about survival, it is not about preparing ourselves for death.  …  It’s about new life.  It is a living encounter with the Lord in his people.  It is a call to the faithful obedience of daily life and to the unexpected surprises from the Spirit.  It is a vision of what we need to embrace in order to experience joy: Jesus.”

With deep gratitude, my sisters and brothers, we give thanks for your prophetic vision in the life of the Church.  Encouraged by your witness, may we look beyond our doubts and struggles to walk together in faith, reflecting always the love and mercy of Jesus in our lives.

HOMILY
Men’s Conference
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2019 

Today’s gospel passage from St. John provides us with the most lasting image of a saint about whom we actually hear very little in the scriptures:  Thomas.

This passage from St. John’s gospel that describes the meeting between Thomas and the risen Jesus is also unique, insofar as it is one of a very few gospel passages that are provided for our reflection every year on the very same day – the Second Sunday of Easter – the concluding day of the Octave of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday.

Let’s look at Thomas a bit more closely in order to come to a better understanding of his significance in our lives as men of faith.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Thomas in today’s gospel is that, initially, he was apart from the community of disciples.  For some reason, he wasn’t with them when Jesus first appeared to them following his resurrection.  What’s more, when Thomas eventually reunited with the disciples and was told about their experience of the Risen Lord, his faith seemed to waiver as he asserted that he wouldn’t believe the disciples unless he had proof – unless he could probe the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his own hand into Jesus’ side.

Who knows how and why St. Thomas became so contrary in the midst of the miracle of the resurrection?  Yet, one thing is clear.  In not being a part of the community of believers – the nascent Church – Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus.  His response:  “I will not believe, unless … .”

Sometimes the best of us wonder about our relationship with the Church, don’t we?  …  The past nine months have given us good reason to question many aspects of the Church’s life and ministry as we confront the reality of the abuse of children and the abuse of power by priests and bishops.  The heartbreaking stories of innocent victims have left not a few of us bewildered at how some Church leaders who preached the sanctity of human life could, at the same time, so callously disregard it.  …  Sometimes, like Thomas, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to believe and accept some aspect of our faith for one reason or another.

Yet, look carefully at Jesus’ response to Thomas in today’s gospel.  While Jesus lifted up and called “blessed” all those souls who had not seen him as raised from the dead and who still believed, nowhere in his encounter with Thomas does Jesus berate him or diminish him because of his doubts and struggles.  On the contrary, Jesus engages Thomas – loves and accepts him as he is – and sends him forth with the other disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and build the Church of Christ.

Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas – with his doubts and questions – was a sign not only to the earliest believers but also to Christians throughout the ages – including me and you – that the mercy of God, poured forth into our world from the cross of Jesus, trumps the brokenness and sin of our world and our lives.   It is hardly by accident that Saint John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter in which we annually focus upon the struggles of Saint Thomas as Divine Mercy Sunday.

You’ve gathered today to participate in our Diocese’s 5th annual Catholic Men’s Conference.  …  Your presence affirms your willingness to confront the evils of a world that seems to have gone awry in so many ways and to be used by God to turn hearts to the truth of the Gospel message.

During the course of your time together, you’ve prayed, you’ve celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation and you’ve listened to the wisdom of speakers filled with the Holy Spirit who’ve enabled us to reflect upon the timeless question posed to Jesus by Pontius Pilate 2,000 years ago, “What is truth.”  …  The answer to Pilate’s question is actually rooted in the words of Jesus that prompt Pilate to ask the question in the first place.

“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth,” Jesus asserts to Pilate.  “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  …  And what is it that we hear, when we listen to the voice of Jesus?

To the woman caught in adultery, whom the Pharisees wanted to stone, Jesus’ voice speaks these words, “Woman, has no one condemned you? … Neither do I. … Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  …  Recall the words of a father regarding his lost son who took his share of his inheritance, squandered it on a sinful lifestyle and then returned to his home: “We must celebrate and rejoice.  This son of mine was lost and has been found.”  …  And to the repentant thief on the cross, Jesus’ voice is clear and direct, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

As its planners so beautifully articulated, this conference is intended to “remind us that God is the measure of all things and His truth is revealed in His son Jesus Christ.”  …  Brothers, the voice of Jesus that proclaims His truth reveals nothing short of the message of divine mercy!

Some may contend that the Church has become far too focused upon God’s mercy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Make no mistake; the Church does not proclaim a cheap grace that demands little in response from its recipients.  It reflects the words of Jesus, who continually invites recipients of his healing to “sin no more” and who condemns the self-righteous who presume to be beyond reproach in their behavior.  The Church does, however, go to great lengths to remind us of the mystery of God’s plan and the wisdom of his ways.  Our salvation is not achieved by our perfection and righteousness but first by God’s merciful intervention into our lives.  …  “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.”

Saint John Paul II shared this words just a few years before he died during his final visit to his beloved homeland of Poland, to the Shrine of Saint Faustina Kowalska, whose vision of God’s great mercy laid the foundation for this day, “Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind.”  …

Pope Benedict XVI, in carrying on the legacy of his predecessor, John Paul II, proclaimed with clarity on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2008, that “mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message.  …  True religion,” Benedict noted, “thus consists in being attuned to God’s heart, ‘rich in mercy,’ which asks us to love everyone, even those who are distant and our enemies, imitating the Heavenly Father who respects the freedom of each one and draws everyone to himself with the invincible power of his faithfulness.”

So what does it mean to be a man, brothers?  It means that we fight for the truth!  But we fight not with weapons of hatred or condemnation.  We’re called to fight with the weapons of mercy and forgiveness that are nothing short of the heart of the gospel.  …  What do you think is more reflective of the truth that Jesus proclaims – to stay angry with your son or daughter for a lifetime because of a choice that they made – or to love them in spite of it?  …  What’s the more convincing way to peace – to draw a line in the sand and to keep at a distance those who have given evidence of sin in their lives – or to proclaim as Jesus did from the cross in his dying words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do?”

Brothers, today’s gospel reminded us as it does every year, of the great Saint Thomas, who simply would not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until he had proof – until he was able to insert his hand into Jesus’ side and his finger into the nail marks in Jesus’ hands.  …  Pretty pitiful on Thomas’ part, don’t you think?  …  Surely, we would’ve responded differently.  …  We wouldn’t have doubted.  …  Or would we?  …  What do you think you would have done if you were in Thomas’ place?

Brothers, the truth of the gospel is that Thomas was given a way forward only through the mercy of God.  May the same truth sustain us and enable us to bear witness to God’s mercy in every life that God weaves into our own. 

HOMILY
Easter – April 21, 2019 

This is the day the Lord has made!   …  Welcome one and all on this day of Resurrection – this day that defines who we are as Christians.  …  Welcome to our Cathedral Church … welcome to our Catholic family – welcome to our brothers and sisters from other Christian communities and faith traditions – and especially, welcome to our Jewish brothers and sisters who join us and who celebrate Passover during these very days.  …  It is good that we are all here together.

Just a moment ago, we heard the story of how Mary of Magdala visited the tomb of Jesus early in the morning on the first day of the week, only to discover that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away.  She ran to find Peter and the other disciples.  And when they arrived at the tomb they saw the burial cloths and the cloth that covered Jesus head rolled up in a separate place.  The scriptures tell us that they struggled to make sense of what they saw for “they did not yet understand that Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

While the events of that first Easter morning make sense to us today, there’s no reason for us to believe that Mary, Peter, or any of the first followers of Jesus were anything but confused, heartbroken and powerless to sort out all that had happened to their teacher and friend.   …  A tension existed between what they  experienced on Calvary and what they now saw and heard.

Pope Francis explained this tension best, in his reflections upon the resurrection.  To experience the hope of Easter, we have to be “willing to enter into the mystery” of God.  “The mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality:  that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions.  …  To enter into the mystery of God, we need … the humility to recognize who we really are:  creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.”  …  In short, we need to appreciate our powerlessness and our absolute dependence upon God.

The recognition of this reality in our lives has the ability to do far more than we might ever imagine or believe possible.  It has the ability to open our hearts to encounter the very life of the risen Jesus.  In fact, our powerlessness and dependence upon God become the seedbeds for faith – a faith born not from some sort of proof, but born within hearts that are open to the presence of God – a faith characterized at times by uncertainty and doubt – but a faith, nonetheless, that leads to an unshakable trust in a person: the person of Jesus.

This past year has proven to be a sobering one for many of us in the Church.  The tragic behavior of some members of the clergy as well as Church leaders have left many of us bewildered, unsettled and angry.  And we can only imagine what such actions have done to those who have survived abuse.

As we try to make sense of this moment, many have questioned how the Church could ever again see itself as a vehicle of hope and consolation for searching, suffering people.  Yet, from the very beginnings of the Church all the way to this time in our history, Christians have always struggled to understand how the miracle of God’s saving grace could possibly intersect the broken and fragile lives that make up our Church.

This Easter day reminds us of why the Church continues to be our world’s greatest hope, even and especially in its brokenness.  …  This day affirms that the heart of our faith is not a pope or bishop, not a priest or a brother or a sister.  …  The heart of our faith is the risen Jesus.

For those who doubt these words, speak with one of the thirteen individuals who were baptized and received into full communion in the Church last evening during the Easter Vigil, along with 165 others in our Diocese and thousands from around the world.  They will tell you that for as broken and as wounded as our Church may be, they have encountered the presence of God in this community of believers.  They will tell you that they are here because they’ve experienced the risen Jesus living among us and in his Church.

Less than a week ago, the world stood still and watched in disbelief as Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral was ravaged by fire.  We all gasped as its towering spire collapsed into the heart of the church and wondered if any of this sacred place would survive.  I recall watching news reports Monday evening, waiting for images that might provide a glimpse of the charred interior of the church.  Eventually, the first image was released – one that caused me and perhaps many of you to gasp.  With embers still visible in what remained of the cathedral’s roof and amid mounds of debris, a massive gold cross atop a statue of the Pieta seemed to pierce the darkness and illuminate the entire space with its glow.

One reporter captured that stunning image with profound words of faith.  “In the midst of rubble, the cross continues to stand with its enduring promise of rebirth and life.”

For all the images that speak to our faith, the cross of Jesus stands out above all the others, doesn’t it?  …  And why?  …  Because the suffering Jesus speaks to our suffering, pain and grief – and the risen Jesus, born from the same cross, alone has the power to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts that yearn for meaning and purpose – for life and peace – for God.

“In the midst of rubble, the cross continues to stand with its enduring promise of rebirth and life.”  …  Brothers and sisters, this is Easter!  …  May this blest day enable us to see and understand that our only hope in life is found when we acknowledge our powerlessness and are wise enough to trust in the great mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus – living among us and in his Church.

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad!

HOMILY
Chrism Mass – April 16, 2019

Brothers and sisters, welcome to our cathedral.  …  Thank you for your presence and thank you for all that you do – each in your own way – to support the Church’s mission.

How blessed we are to gather in this sacred place – as our hearts go out to the people of Paris at the loss of their cherished cathedral of Our Lady – Notre Dame.  It’s remarkable how the eyes of the entire world seem to have been focused on this tragedy.  Yet, for all of the news reports that we’ve watched in the last 24 hours, for me, one stood out among all the others.  With an image of Notre Dame engulfed in flames as a backdrop, cameras simultaneously scanned the crowds, many with tear-filled eyes fixed on the inferno, some clutching rosaries in their hands and most everyone singing hymns of praise and hope known by heart.  Over those images and sounds, a reporter’s voice offered these profound words, “What we see here is nothing short of the power of faith in the face of adversity.”

Today, the same power of faith gathers this local Church, in some respects, also in the face of adversity.  …  We gather for an ancient tradition in which the richness of our differences, roles and responsibilities coalesce in a spirit of unity to affirm all that we believe as Christians.   …  We come together as a priestly people who have all been given the gift of sharing in Jesus’ priestly identity and work through baptism.  …  We also joyfully affirm those who have been called forth by God to share in Jesus’ ministerial priesthood.

And we gather for a purpose.  In a few moments, oils will be presented – the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism.  These sacramental oils used to sanctify each of us as faithful members of the Church are channels of intentional holiness that will be blessed and consecrated in the presence of so many of you – the faithful of this Church – as we, your priests, renew our commitments for that intention.

Let’s listen once again to the words of Jesus in this afternoon’s gospel passage from Saint Luke.

 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Jesus’ words from Isaiah are soaring in tone, aren’t they?  The larger sense of the passage, however, particularly when seen through the context of the verses that frame Jesus’ proclamation is something altogether different.

Immediately prior to his arrival at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus spent forty days in the desert where he was tempted and tested as he prepared to begin his ministry.  A time of intense prayer, fraught with sacrifice and struggle, sets the stage for the proclamation of his mission.   

And when he departs the synagogue following his proclamation of Isaiah’s words, Jesus is challenged again.  …  The townsfolk wanted a miracle or two from Jesus – not just words.  And they certainly didn’t want to hear him imply that his message of hope would be offered to struggling souls beyond the house of Israel. 

Yet, for all that led to the townsfolk’s confrontation of Jesus, I once read a reflection on this passage that suggested that the real problem for those who listened to Jesus that day was likely found in the words with which he concluded his remarks:  “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Put more precisely, the townsfolk seemed to have had difficulty with the word “today.”  …  They had been so accustomed to look beyond themselves and their broken world, that they couldn’t imagine that God would break into the mess of their experience – in Nazareth of all places – and use them as instruments of transformation.  …  It was easier to bypass the immediacy of “today”– to abdicate any personal responsibility – and to imagine a world transformed by God that demanded little, if anything, from them in return. 

Some days, I suspect that we’re no different than the townsfolk of Nazareth.

But isn’t such a perspective about God contrary to what we believe?  …  Don’t we profess that the transforming power of God’s grace abounds in our lives – “today” – because of the incarnation, which unfolded in the midst of a suffering, broken world?  …  Isn’t that what we proclaim every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist?  …  Don’t we believe in the grace of God’s presence – here – now – and in our midst?  …  Of course we do – at least through what we profess. 

When we last gathered for this Mass of the Holy Chrism, not one of us could have imagined the scope of the tragic consequences of the clergy sex abuse crisis in our Church.  …  Consider for just a moment what this crisis has left in its wake. 

The number of survivors of this catastrophe – both locally and worldwide – is staggering.  …  As a Church and a people, we owe them support – we owe them care – we owe them love – and we owe them gratitude for their steadfast efforts to make their voices heard and to tell their stories, so that finally – at least in this body of believers that so boldly proclaims its belief in the sanctity of human life – every life will be safe, secure and respected. 

While some of us are tired of focusing upon this chapter in the history of our Church, far too many of us continue to suffer with conflicting feelings.  They range from anger and disillusionment with priests and bishops – to confusion and despair – to hope and a resolve to be Church – the people God has called us to be through baptism – more than ever before. 

And look at what this crisis has done to countless numbers of good and faithful priests – throughout the world and in this very cathedral today.  So many of you are weighed down by actions that you did not commit and for which you grieve and suffer in your own way.  …  You struggle to move forward.  …  And some of you may even question why you should remain in ministry.  

Brothers, I implore you:  do not let the darkness of this moment prevail!  Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed by the brokenness of our lives and our world that we underestimate God’s power to transform us.  Never forget for an instant that God’s love can turn everything upside down.  Jesus’ cross and resurrection are more than proof of this fact.  …  And because of his cross and resurrection, there will never be a time when Jesus will not love and sustain you! 

Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor of America, was asked during an interview late last year why he remained a priest after the latest wave of abuse scandals that have enveloped the Church.  Here’s what he said.  “This summer reminded me of something my father, a retired firefighter, said to me after the 9/11 attacks:  “Those firefighters who died in New York died running into the building.  When there’s a fire, Matty, and lives are at stake, somebody has to run into the building’.”  Malone went on, “I remain a priest because somebody has to run into the building.” 

Let me put this in another way with a story closer to home.  Some of you have heard me tell this story before.  …  This past August, when we were informed that the release of the Grand Jury report was immanent, I called Father Don Williams, our vocation director and director of seminarians, to inform him that the report might be released on the very same day that I was scheduled to celebrate the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for some of our seminarians.  Among other things, I was concerned that reporters might follow me to the retreat center where our seminarians were gathered.  I asked Father Don to share my thoughts with our men. 

He called me back later with a message from our seminarians, “Tell the bishop that we’d be happy to speak with any reporters and to let them know that we are proud of the vocation to which we’ve been called.  We believe with all our hearts that the Church needs us now more than ever.” 

Pretty powerful words, aren’t they.  …  They’re also words that give us good reason to be proud of our men in formation for the priesthood. 

So, my brother priests, let me pose a rather unorthodox question to consider as you prepare to renew your priestly promises.  …  Why do you remain a priest today?  …  Why do you stay?  …  For all the ways in which we might respond to such a question, I’d suggest that most of our hearts would resonate with these thoughts.  …  We remain priests because of the calling we’ve received.  …  We remain priests because of the people who surround us this day, crying for help and boundless in their love.  …  And we remain priests because “today” – at this moment – when it is most desperately needed – just as it was in the synagogue of Nazareth two thousand years ago – the transforming grace of God abounds in our lives – a grace that we can neither sidestep nor presume to be directed at someone else. 

As he did years ago, God is calling our names once again.  He’s calling us to assume the mantle of priestly ministry as we did so enthusiastically on the day of our ordination – one year – or sixty years ago.  He’s calling us to provide space in our lives so that his grace can work through us to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives and a season of favor and peace for all of God’s people. 

To doubt the dynamic presence and power of God at this moment in our Church’s history – to doubt that God’s call is still extended to searching, struggling souls like ourselves – is, sadly, to yield to evil and to give that reality a power that it neither warrants nor deserves. 

Brothers and sisters, we are not the sum of the tragedies that have been committed by bishops and priests.  …  No, we are baptized followers of Jesus – disciples called to mission and ministry to a broken world “today.”  …  We are priests – with a message to proclaim – and with lives to live in service of the Gospel.  …  And we are the Church – the body of Christ – wounded and redeemed souls – who continue to be the world’s greatest hope because of the living presence of Jesus in our midst. 

A few years before he died, the great theologian, Karl Rahner, shared these words with his fellow Jesuits.  …  They apply to all people of faith, especially during these challenging times: 

Our faith must be such that even the unbeliever cannot deny that here a man believes who is like himself – a man of today – on whose lips the word “God” does not come easily and cheaply, who doesn’t think he has mastered everything, and in spite of all this – rather, because of all this – he believes.

For Christianity is not a formula which makes everything clear, but the radical submission of myself to an incomprehensible Mystery Who has revealed Himself as ineffable love. 

Brothers and sisters, “today”, may these words be fulfilled in your hearing.  For all of your uncertainty, go forth, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of life.  And may the light and love of the risen Christ shine brightly in your hearts and bring you peace.  Amen.

HOMILY
Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019 

Last year, Pope Francis began his homily for Palm Sunday with these words:  “Today’s liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion.  This celebration seems to combine stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples.  It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience:  the capacity for great love but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to “wash our hands” at the right moment; the capacity for loyalty, but also for great abandonment and betrayal.”

Pope Francis’ observations a year ago are quite prophetic today, aren’t they?  Each of us brings many different feelings and experiences to this moment that marks the beginning of Holy Week – feelings and experiences that flow from our lives and that are validated by the scriptures that we’ve heard this afternoon – from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – through his passion – to his death on the cross.

Where, then, do we see ourselves most clearly in today’s scriptures?  For as different as our lives may be, one from another, if we’ve listened carefully enough we will find ourselves somewhere in the stories of faith that begin on Palm Sunday and that end on the cross of Calvary.

As fragile human beings, we may very well see ourselves like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging the Father to allow the cross to pass him by.  Don’t we often plead with God to let the cross of suffering pass us by, to cure our illnesses or to lift from us the grief that comes from the loss of those we love?  …  Yet, in the midst of our struggles, do we ever proclaim, like Jesus in the midst of his prayer for relief and comfort, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done”?

Some of us are determined to live our beliefs boldly and to reflect the example of Jesus’ life in our own.  Do we understand, however, that authentic discipleship calls us to make the entire life of Jesus a pattern for our own lives – which means not only feeding the poor but also forgiving those who hurt us or those we love?  …  Or are we more likely to react to conflict with anger and bitterness, like the disciple who lashed out at the high priest’s servant and cut off his ear in the moment of Jesus’ betrayal?

Many of us proudly affirm our faith for all to see.  …  So did Peter – who denied Jesus as he was led to his death.

And as a Church, we bring an awareness of the sin of Church leaders to this Holy Week, the likes of which we have never experienced before in our lives nor in our Church’s recent history.  …  For so many of us, when confronted with the suffering of innocents, the words of the psalmist may likely reflect the sentiments we hold in our hearts, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

With all that we are and with the feelings that we bring, we really do come to this moment at the beginning of Holy Week looking for something more, don’t we?  We come seeking God’s mercy, strength and peace.  …  And despite all that seems to overwhelm us, the good news of the Gospel message is that we will not be disappointed in our seeking – for God is faithful, even when we are not!

Ironically, our way forward, brothers and sisters, is found in the very crosses that we seek to avoid in life.  These crosses, by their nature, prompt us to do the one and only thing that has the power to save us.  They compel us to trust in God – because they are beyond our ability to fix, resolve or rationalize away.  And when we are humble enough to trust – as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane – when we have nowhere else to turn – it is then that Jesus is given room in our lives to carry us to a place of life and peace.

Make no mistake – our experience of Holy Week will not take away the harsh realities of life that we face each day.  But our authentic embrace of the example of Jesus – even in the midst of the crosses that we carry – does have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace.  Only by placing our lives in the hands of God and by trusting in Jesus’ powerful example of selfless love will any of us truly be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace.

Therein, my friends, is the blessing and the promise of Holy Week.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
HOMILY
Rite of Election – March 10, 2019

 March 10th – today – is my father’s birthday.  He died fifteen years ago.  Had he still been alive, he would have turned 95 today.  …  I think of him today not only for the obvious reasons, but because of something that he once told me that I, in turn, have associated with this day on which we celebrate the Rite of Election – this day that is such a singular moment in your journeys of faith.

A way back in the summer of 1976, when I was mid-way through my college career at the University of Pittsburgh and discerning what I wanted to do with my life, I spoke with my mother and father about the thoughts emerging in my mind and heart about becoming a priest.  This conversation took my parents by surprise.  They listened to what I had to share in silence and then they eventually spoke.

I was touched by what my mother said, “We just want you to be happy in whatever you do with your life.”  …  My father, however, shared these words that not only spoke to me, but I believe speak to each of you in a powerful way today.  “If you believe this is what God is calling you to do, then you have to do it!”

“If you believe this is what God is calling you to do, then you have to do it!”

For me, during the summer of 1976, some 43 years ago, I believed God was calling me to ministry in the Church.  But much more fundamentally, in the midst of my discernment which took some time, I believed and knew in my heart that God was calling me to a relationship with his son, Jesus.  All of the truths and teachings of the Church would follow.  The challenge to embrace a moral life and the law of charity – of love – would require a life-long commitment on my part.  The invitation to walk with Jesus, however, to embrace his life with his promise of unconditional love and salvation, seemed to demand an immediate response on my part – a response which I gave and which filled me with peace.

That same call – that same invitation of Jesus – is addressed to each of us in our cathedral this afternoon – and especially to you, our catechumens and candidates for full communion in the Church.

When Jesus initially engaged his disciples, his first word to them, consistently throughout the gospels, is “come.”  …  “Come – follow me.”  …  “Come – and I will make you fishers of men.”  …  “Come – and believe in your heart that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.’”

There will be a time in your journey of faith – as there is in all of our lives – when Jesus will send you forth on mission to proclaim the good news that has brought you here today.  He will use another simple command, “Go!”  …  “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”  …  For now, however, it is enough for you to revel in his invitation – in Jesus’ call – to “come” and follow Jesus – to embrace his life and love.

This has been a challenging year for Catholics and, no doubt, for many of you.  I would imagine that some of you have wondered about this Church – this community of believers – into which you are welcomed today.  You should!  It hardly seems to be the type of community that Jesus intended to leave behind after his death and resurrection.  Perhaps some individuals have even challenged you in your decision or have gone so far as to ridicule you in your choice.  Yet, while at times we may be consumed with the broken, fragile lives that seem to fill our Church, the call to which you respond today is rooted in something far more sacred and holy than you might imagine or believe possible.

Yes, the call may be related to a seemingly ordinary life event like an impending marriage – the birth of a child – or the restlessness of your heart as you look for meaning and purpose in your life.  …  The initiator of this call, however, is none other than God!

So cherish this moment and hold on to it throughout your lives.  The great miracle that we celebrate today is that for all of the brokenness and sin that at times seems to consume our Church, Jesus is still its beating heart, casting out the evil that at times overwhelms us, as we heard in today’s gospel passage, and leading us all “out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).

This day, as never before, hear the words of Jesus that come to us from Saint John’s Gospel on the very night before he died, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

My friends, today, you are called by God.  Your name will be spoken.  Your name will be heard.  And your name will be written in the Book of the Elect.  My sisters and brothers – dear catechumens and candidates – as he has done since the beginning of creation, God places his hand on your shoulders today and chooses you to participate in his Kingdom.  Through the touch of your godparents and through the affirmation of the Church gathered around you in this sacred cathedral, God calls you forth to walk with him in faith.  …  The initiative is God’s.  The necessary response is yours.

You do today what all who have pledged their lives to Christ have done through the ages.  You begin a journey of faith.  In response to God’s call, you say yes to Christ.  But in so doing, you not only affirm his presence in your life.  You commit yourself to embrace his example of service and selfless love.

Undoubtedly, as it was for Jesus, the journey that you begin today will likewise have its challenges.  Yet, one thing is certain.  Your election this day to become a part of the Church – to call yourself a Catholic Christian – does not merely result in membership in an association that seeks to promote a certain cause.  To the contrary, it is a reason to celebrate.  As Pope Francis has said so often, being a Christian leads to “joy  …  the joy of faith, the joy of having encountered Jesus, the joy that only Jesus gives us, the joy that gives peace.”

May each of us, in whatever place along the journey of faith we find ourselves, give thanks to God this day for the gift of Jesus and his saving grace.  …  May you, our candidates for full communion in the Church, open your hearts to the Holy Spirit and to the power of Jesus who will fill your life through the Eucharist.  …  And may you, the Elect in our midst, boldly proclaim your faith in Jesus as you inscribe your names in the Book of the Elect and take you place with all of your sisters and brothers – young and old – rich and poor – saints and sinners … who have been called by God and chosen as his own this day.

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
HOMILY
Saint Patrick’s Parade Day Mass – March 9, 2019

First of all, I am delighted to welcome all of you – the wonderful faithful people who are the Church of Scranton – and so many others – who join us for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on a day when everybody is Irish!  …  Welcome to your house – to your church!  …  I especially want to recognize and welcome so many priests, deacons and religious sisters – members of the parade committee and those being honored during today’s parade – representatives of Irish societies and organizations – our civic leaders – and especially our devoted public servants, members of the military, policemen, firemen, first responders and so many others who serve our community and our country so generously and selflessly.  Thank you for taking the time to begin this great parade day with prayer – precisely the way in which Saint Patrick would expect us to begin.

In putting together some thoughts for today’s liturgy, in addition to reflecting upon the scriptures that incidentally are the chosen Lenten readings of the Church for Saturday after Ash Wednesday, I did what every preacher likely does in advance of a rather unique event at which a sermon is to be given – like our parade mass this morning.  I scanned the internet for any new insights into the revered saint whom we honor in so many ways during these days of March.  And much to my surprise, I came upon a recently written article by an historian of medieval Ireland.  It was titled, Ten Things to Know About the Real Saint Patrick.

Not to worry.  I certainly don’t plan to focus on all ten items.  Frankly, some of them are hardly new things to consider.  By now, most of us know that Saint Patrick was born in Britain – not Ireland.  …  What I never knew and found rather interesting the fact that Patrick likely never drove any snakes from Ireland – for the simple reason that there weren’t any snakes on that little green island in the north Atlantic, at least not in pre-Modern Ireland.  Patrick is most probably associated with driving the snakes from Ireland because snakes were often worshipped in many old pagan religions, something that he was able to put an end to by his preaching and teaching.

By far, the most interesting and surprising thing that I discovered in Saint Patrick’s “top ten” list was that – at least according to the scholar who authored the work – Saint Patrick never mentioned a shamrock in any of his writings.  The shamrock connection was first mentioned in print by an English visitor to Ireland in 1684 (it’s always the English!), who wrote that on Saint Patrick’s feast day, the Irish “wear shamrocks, 3 leav’d grass, which they likewise eat to cause a sweet breath,” the Englishman noted, “since very few of them are found sober that night.”  …  Now really!  Who’d ever believe something as outrageous as that assertion?  Eating a shamrock!  …  Just goes to show that you ought not believe everything you read on the internet.

Yet, one thing is very clear, my friends.  Despite all of the theories that we can dispute regarding Patrick’s life and ministry, what we do as we gather to pray in this great Cathedral Church today is where the greatest and most verifiable legacy of Saint Patrick is to be found.

We’re gathered as family and friends to celebrate the Eucharist and to give thanks to God for the gift of faith that God gave to Ireland – and to the world – through the blessing of Saint Patrick, through his trust in God’s providence and though his willingness to selflessly love and serve the people God entrusted to his care.

Over 1500 years ago, we’re told by Patrick himself that he was taken as a slave to Ireland where he looked after animals until he escaped and returned to his family.  Years later, because of a love for God born of that adversity, Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, compelled in his heart by God to share the Gospel message and the gift of faith that he’d been given.

And look at what that message of faith – passed down to us through the ages – has done.  It has become the very source of our life – our hope – our love – and our peace as we journey through life.

Today’s gospel focuses our attention on the call of Levi – also known as Matthew – the unlikely tax collector called by God to preach the Gospel message.  In the call of Matthew, it’s clear that he was challenged by God to be more than he was.  He was called by Jesus to do the work of God!

Saint Patrick was also challenged to do and to be more than he could have ever imagined for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  And you and I are challenged as well – challenged to open our hearts – to live the gospel message – to respect and cherish life in all of its forms, born and unborn – to serve our brothers and sisters in need – to welcome new immigrants just as our ancestors were welcomed to this land – and to be the hands and heart and voice of God for a world that so desperately needs to experience God’s love and mercy.

God depended upon Matthew and Patrick to build his kingdom.  And God is counting on you and me to do the same.

My friends, today our celebrations in this Cathedral, during the parade and beyond, witness joyfully to the legacy of Saint Patrick – a legacy that is nothing less than the strength, power and love of Christ.  This legacy, however, ought not to be celebrated but once a year.  Rather, it is to be lived in our homes and neighborhoods, in our workplaces and schools, in every place where human hearts need to be touched by the love of Jesus – even and especially this day, in my life and yours!  …  To live the gospel message with authenticity and fidelity is the greatest tribute that we could offer to this great saint – Patrick – whose life and ministry we celebrate this day!

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
HOMILY
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.
HOMILY
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!