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.