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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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