By Deacon John Hackett
03.03.19.Sunday of the 8th week. cycle C
In preparing for my homily today, when I first read that Alleluia verse we just heard today I was struck by the words: “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” When I first read that I couldn’t help but think about that “shining like light” thing within the context of all the many lights that have now regrettably been dimming within the shadows of our church- a Church / a people that is supposed be the example of shininglike lights in the world.
So, what has happened? Well, we all have our own story about this, and it’s a sad story. Many in our church, and many others in the world are simply aghast at what’s going on, and been going on for decades. So, within that context, let me start with Stanley Rother.
Stanley Rother was a young man from Oklahoma who became a priest, eventually serving as a missionary to the poorest of the poor in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. In the late 1970s, Guatemala became embroiled in a bloody civil war. Priests and religious were targeted. Father Stanley Rother was urged to leave the country, but he couldn’t abandon the people he loved. He stayed, and on July 28, 1981, he was attacked in his rectory and killed. He was 46 years old. And he is now the first martyr born in the United States. Shortly before he was killed, he wrote back to his family, explaining why he was staying behind. He says: “A shepherd doesn’t run at the first sign of danger, a good shepherd shows fidelity and courage to protect his flock.”
It is good to remember that, especially now, because the headlines the last few weeks have made something all too clear: too many of our shepherds ran. They looked the other way. They enabled sin.
Many people have told me they are outraged. They are angry. They feel betrayed. But there is something else they feel. They are hungry for justice, hungry for accountability, hungry for an explanation. Some are hungry for vengeance. And nearly all are hungry for hope! A few feel despair. Some have asked me why they should even remain Catholic. It’s a good question. I can only offer you my own answer, which is incomplete and inadequate—but it tells my story.
I am Catholic because of men like Father Stanley Rother. I am Catholic because of bishops like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot to death while saying Mass in El Salvador. I am Catholic because of men like that elderly French priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by jihadists in his village church. I am Catholic because of priests like Father Walter Ciszek, who risked his life to say Mass in a Soviet prison with just a crumb of bread and a few drops of wine. I am Catholic because of sisters like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who heard Christ calling to her among the poor, begging, “I thirst,” and she could not turn him down. I am Catholic because this church is filled with people of courage and conviction. I am Catholic because of women like the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena serving in Iraq—selfless and loving souls who welcomed Muslims into their convent during the Iraq war and gave them a place to pray, explaining, “We don’t help them because they’re Catholic, (which they were not) but…. because we are.”
I am Catholic because of my father and mother—He a very intelligent, Irish bred, introspective, highly educated lawyer, who for most of his career served as Chief Advisor to judges on the NY State Supreme Court. And my very effusive, outgoing, Italian mother… basically uneducated, only ever working as a simple telephone operator in Brooklyn; two very unlikely people who made a life together, and made a family together, and taught me how to pray, to always extend a helping hand. If you’d like to offer your helping hand to your local church, look at services such as text to give church donations.
And while we’re on that subject, I am Catholic because of Sister Francis Cabrini, always referred to as “Mother” by the Italian side of my family. Mother Cabrini was an enormous support to thousands of Italian immigrants in the U.S…. my mother’s family included. Sister Cabrini later became the first naturalized citizen in the U.S. to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and according to my family…she earned it.
I am Catholic because these and so many others bear witness to the ongoing miracle of God’s love and mercy—and the greatest ongoing miracle of all, the Eucharist. I am Catholic because these words are engraved in my heart: “Do this in memory of me.” And I offer my hand at every Mass as an unworthy cradle to hold the Body of Christ and I am awed and humbled and ashamed — and I am, by God’s grace, transformed.
I am Catholic because to be Catholic is to be part of the most extraordinary undertaking in all of human history—one that educated the ignorant, comforted the grieving, healed the sick, uplifted the outcast. The Catholic Church, across 2,000 years, gave beauty to music and art and architecture and prayer. The Catholic Church carried the Body of Christ and the teachings of our savior to jungles in Asia and huts in Africa and classrooms in places as diverse as Beverly Hills and Belfast and Brooklyn.
I am Catholic because I believe. I believe those words we will pray together in just a few moments, the Creed, the testament of faith that countless men, women and children have given their lives for. As we acclaim during the Rite of Baptism: “This is our faith. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” I am Catholic because I believe we can be better than what we are — and that no priest, bishop, or cardinal can take that away. I am Catholic because I believe, I know, that we are fallible, fallen people, and that we are all struggling to get to heaven. And I believe, I know, I am not alone. And some of us are living lives of pure sacrificial love. I am Catholic because of them.
I am Catholic because the horrible sins of a few cannot erase the generous, staggeringly beautiful love of so many. It has been this way from Day One, when Christ was executed between two thieves while those he loved abandoned him, denied him, or betrayed him. I am Catholic because so many who love the Lord have not abandoned him or betrayed him.
And finally, know this: Most shepherds in our Church do not run at the sign of danger. They are not disloyal or cowardly. They stay with us. They support us. They help us. And at this moment, they need us to help them. Pray for them. Pray that those who are just beginning their priesthood will not lose heart. We live in treacherous, traitorous times. Things may get worse before they get better. But they will get better. They will. And so once again may our Church/Our people shine; “be shiny” like lights in the world.
Bishop’s Appeal Commitment Weekend. Bishop Stika’s video.
The Mission of the Body of Christ
By Father Pete Iorio
One of my teachers at a Catholic high school humbly admitted that he is not very sensate. He misses some of the details right in front of his face. However, he was a great teacher and very intuitive. I was also aware of that he, by his own admission, did not like and avoided conflicts.
I am reminded of that because of the second reading from Paul about members of the church having different gifts. As I became an adult and now a priest and pastor, I am aware of some gifts that I have been given naturally. They come easily to me. I am aware of some gifts that I have wanted to have and put effort into developing those gifts. I am also aware that there are gifts, sometimes necessary for my ministry, that I lack. For that reason, I greatly appreciate those people who have gifts that I do not and use them to serve the greater good.
I believe that in order for a community to flourish, everyone needs to put their gifts at the service of the whole/the service of the Lord. Paul speaks about individual parts of a human body having different organic functions. An ear cannot taste and an eye cannot touch, yet all must come together and do their part for the proper functioning or mission of the body.
God has made the entire body with its individual parts. All need to work together for the body to function well. Paul says that we are the body of Christ called the church. God the Spirit has given us different gifts. They all need to work together for the body of Christ to function well.
In the Gospel today, Jesus sets forth the mission God has given him, and publicly in the synagogue, he quotes from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61.
Mission of Jesus: 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.
This is an amazing message. It is a broad task, a huge mission. It is still valid today for Christ and his body the Church. In his person as son of God and son of Mary, Jesus is able to embrace and set out to accomplish the fullness of the mission. It is not compartmentalized nor can these individual parts of the mission compete against each other. It is not either/or but both/and. It would be ridiculous to say that Jesus went about healing people who were afflicted with blindness or demons but that he neglected the poor. We know that is not true. The good news in the proclamation of our year acceptable to the Lord includes the entire mission of Jesus Christ.
There is unity of the body and the complete mission of the church compels us to work together and recognize that the church has a mission that includes the following:
Bringing good news and not condemnation.
Caring for the earth and being good stewards of all of God’s creation.
Recognizing that all human life from the moment of conception until natural death is to be protected. The church’s mission includes protecting the unborn, allowing death to take its natural course and not hastening it because it is too painful or difficult, and not advocating for the penalty of death for those who are sinners/criminals. God desires that all human life has dignity and deserves the opportunity to be converted and live.
The mission of the church/the body of Christ includes welcoming the stranger and helping the poor and the burdened and the oppressed. The mission of the church includes education and formation for all ages, especially the young. The mission of the church is not contained by boundaries or limitations that human beings tend to make. The mission of the body of Christ is universal. As Pope Francis says we go out to the peripheries to proclaim and live the Gospel. Not all of us can put our energies and talents to do all of these things, but the individual parts of the mission should work together and not be in opposition.
The passage that we hear today continues next Sunday. What is the reaction of those who listen to Jesus speak that this passage of Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing? Initially, they spoke highly of him and were amazed. And then, they try to compartmentalize him: Isn’t this the son of Joseph the carpenter’s son? They don’t like it. The people do not accept this mission of Jesus. In fact, they want to throw him over the brow of the hill on which Nazareth is built.
Robert Barron has this very important message in regard to those who oppose
Jesus and claim that he is mad. I quote from Bishop Baron because it seems to
me that what he is talking about exists even in the church and in our world
“The basic problem is always the fearful ego. Ego-addicts know that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you want to protect the ego and its prerogatives, you must oppress and demoralize those around you.
There is a very unsubtle version of this method: you attack, put down, insult, and undermine those around you. This is the method of the bully. But the religious version is much subtler and thus more insidious and dangerous. It takes the law itself—especially the moral law—and uses it to accuse and oppress. “I know what’s right and wrong; I know what the Church expects of us; and I know that you are not living up to it.” And so I accuse you; I gossip about you; I remind you of your inadequacy.
Mind you, this is not to condemn the legitimate exercise of fraternal correction or the office of preaching. But it’s a reminder to not be sucked into the slavery of ego addiction. We must stay alert to this and avoid it at all costs.”
I close by highlighting another bishop, our own Richard Stika of Knoxville. We are engaged in the Annual Bishop’s Appeal which many of you have already received information about. The theme is beautiful this year: United in Christ. Throughout East Tennessee from where we live in Northeast Tennessee down to Chattanooga and going west to the Cumberland Plateau, we are living the mission of Jesus Christ. In the bulletin today is an insert which summarizes the broad mission that we all share as Catholic Christians in the Diocese of Knoxville. I have already increased my pledge from last year and invite you to prayerfully consider how you can offer your financial gifts to support the mission of the Church/the Body of Christ. sdlocked0
Jesus is Universal Lord
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
We have an amazing God, a God that is love, a God that wants us to call Him Abba Father, a God that wants us to be his children, one in the Body of Christ His only begotten Son. And He gave us the gift of free will, the freedom to choose, to choose self (my will be done) or God (They will be done).
Today we celebrate the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the human scene. For the Greeks, the word “Epiphany” was used to describe an appearance or manifestation of a god among human beings. The Fathers of the Church used this word for the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior. Today we are celebrating the appearance of the Divine in space and time.(ex 3:12, 19:18, act 2:3-4), a God that is love, a love that is so great that He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us. Not as a royal king born in royalty, but born to a poor family in a manger, not one to be served but to serve. Jesus came to us that we may have life, opening heaven, offering us a share in His divinity, to be children of God no longer slaves but free men. “This day Christ appeared to the world as a light shining in the darkness. May we follow him in faith and be a light to others.”
The story of the Magi or wise men was included in Matthew’s Gospel to show that from the beginning God intended to call the Gentiles (non-Jews) into unity with the Chosen People. This story was probably an answer to the fundamentalists of the early Church, who opposed Paul’s work with the Gentiles on grounds that this was just a “human decision” of the Church: and that Jesus himself” never preached to non-Jews. The problem was that the Jews, like everyone else, were tempted to be nationalistic. They would say “Israel first” the same way we might say “America first.”
Isaiah’s prophecy, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, Nations shall come to your light…. The wealth of the nations shall come to you” could mean that Israel would dominate the earth with a universally respected Jewish culture. In reality, this prophecy meant that by the light which came to earth through the Jews, every human culture would be transformed without losing its identity. The entire human “wealth of the nations: both material and cultural would be shared among all without being lost to any. God’s plan from all eternity was to “gather up all things in Him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), Jesus did not come to make one nation or culture dominant over others but instead to glorify the entire human race by bringing everything human, in all its variety and diversity, to its full potential, not only to its natural perfection, but to the glory it can have when transformed by grace.
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The wise men knew about this expected Messiah, the King of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of these ideas to draw to ‘Christ these representatives of the Gentile who would later be converted. The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews, in this way the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, would be known to all. St. John Chrysostom writes: “God calls them by means of the things they are most familiar with and he shows them a large and extraordinary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty”. God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations, and he still calls people in that way. He called Moses when he was shepherding his flock (ex 3:1-2), Elisha the prophet plowing his land with oxen (1king 19:19-20), Amos looking after his herd (amos 7:15). Why should it surprise you that God is calling YOU where you are today, to be his witness, to be his disciples, to be the light in the darkness of this world. Josemaria Escriva writes in his book “The Way”. “What amazes you seems natural to me: that God has sought YOU out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John beside their nets and Matthew, sitting in custom-house, and Paul in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity.”
Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly,” through the life of grace (Jn 10:10). Saint Irenaeus says, “As those who see light are in the light sharing its brilliance, so those who see God are in God sharing his glory, and that glory gives them life.” He adds that, if we persevere in love, obedience and gratitude to God, “We will receive greater glory from him, a glory which will grow ever brighter until we take on the likeness of the one who died for us.” Saint Paul spoke of building up the Body of Christ, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (eph 3:14). The glory of God and the glory of the human race become one and the same reality in “the fullness of Christ” — head and members— and that glory is “all humanity, fully alive.” According to Saint Paul, we are called; we are called, consecrated and commissioned to bring about the glory of God, shining through a glorified human race united, with all its individual and cultural diversity, into one Body in Christ. To celebrate Epiphany is to celebrate not just the light of Christ but the revelation of that light to the whole world. To celebrate this means to rejoice in it, to “single out for grateful remembrance” that people of every race, culture and nation are called to be one Church, one assembly, one in Christ. We are called to be one with each other in faith, in hope and in love. Without suppressing diversity or differences. We are called to rejoice in the fact that our Church is Catholic (meaning universal) that is a composite of culture and nations and does not express itself in the same way all over the world. Above all, this feast calls us to reach out to others and invite them to celebrate with us the light of Christ. Epiphany reminds us that it is not catholic to want a community of people comfortable with each other, because they share the same language, customs, culture or social background, we should not be comfortable until we have invited everyone to join us as believers in Jesus.
Like the Magi we have discovered a star, a light and a guide in the sky of our souls. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shinning in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was and is a desire to live a fully Christian life, a keenness to take God seriously. When all is said and done it is simply a choice – God or self. I do not know about you but I choose God, my soul is thirsting for God. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.
By Deacon John Hackett
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then. His gift to me…
OK, so…why are we here today on this the feast of the Epiphany? And what might it mean to us here and now as we enter a new year. And what might it mean for us as the years roll on. Is there something everlasting about this special feast?
Well, to begin with, our Gospel today tells us that the movement of humankind towards God begins with God…. God choosing an engaged involvement over a more or less detached and untouchable separateness. Apparently, in God’s wisdom, we needed this body; this touchable body, one that breathed like us, felt like us, and hurt like us.
And when we read this gospel we are reading our own story, the story of our journey to God. Like the Magi, we are often called to God from far off places…distances often of our own making. We might have to struggle through deserts and ask others to show us the way. Like the Magi, we often make our way through indifference, hostility, politics, even scandal…and then we find the one we are to worship as Savior and King.
Unfortunately, in many ways, we have tamed this story with talk of kings, crowns, and camels. I remember a Christmas pageant I once attended featuring the 3 magi wearing what appeared to be 3 paper crowns from the local Burger King. We often forget it is about real people seeking someone, seeking the light, that we all hope to find. If one word were used to sum up this gospel, it would be inclusiveness. In fact, the whole Christmas story is about inclusiveness, starting at the very beginning. Read your bible, it’s there all over the place: the master of inclusiveness.
You see, the first to come to the stable are shepherds, but not as we see them on Christmas cards today, but real shepherds who were considered the crooks at the time, looked down upon, avoided by decent folk, people you would be tempted to sic the dog on. And they are the ones chosen to be the first to hear that God has touched earth.
Then the Magi – outsiders…not even Jewish…pagans! A Jew could not even let them into his house because they were ritually impure. They were not to be trusted or encouraged to stay around.
So, as it turns out, the two groups who were invited and guided to the stable were the most despised and the most rejected. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Where do we find Jesus most of the time? Who is He with? The most despised and discarded. That is why our church must be attentive to people whose lives have been fractured, people who turn away from our church because they did not feel welcome, people who are told their lives are disoriented. The Eucharist that we share today is not a reward for good behavior, it is food for the journey.
So, what does all this tell us? It tells us that if we have ever felt rejected, we belong at the stable. If we have somehow not measured up to other people’s standards, we belong at the stable. If we have sinned or separated ourselves from God, we belong at the stable. It is interesting that when they had found the Lord, the Magi entered the stable, and not a word was spoken. Perhaps words could not convey all they had found. The One whom the whole universe cannot contain, now enclosed in a tiny baby…. they look, they believe. The only thing they could do was fall on their knees, and offer Him their gifts. They wanted to give Him something.
So, with that being said, as the New Year begins, I leave you with a question: As you come forward to receive Him today, what will you give Him?
A story was broadcast on public radio last year; it was about an elderly African-American woman from the Bronx. A few days after 9/11 she heard that a doctor who was helping with the survivors had injured his leg – but he kept going, using a piece of wood instead of a cane. She made her way down through intense security to lower Manhattan, to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a center of rescue operations. For that elderly woman, it was a journey as difficult and hazardous as the Magi’s. She wanted to give a gift to the doctor who, like many others, was working around the clock. She gave him her cane to help him walk.
I do not know what motivated that simple but profound act. But I can imagine that she must surely have had her eyes open wide, searching for something or someone greater than herself. There he was, in the middle of the dead and dying, and she came and offered her simple gift of homage, and went home. All the noble people who had been working so hard there were stunned into silence by such a simple act of kindness.
In ending, please be it known, the Christ child is no longer in the stable. He grew up. You cannot go and worship Him there. But better still, you can come here and receive Him, and then offer your gift to the “other Christs”…they are sitting all around you.
By Deacon Don Griffith
All through the weekdays of Advent, Christ’s bride, in the Liturgy of the Hours, was praying Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. And every night before sleeping, Christ’s bride prays in the words of Simeon as he held the Holy Infant: My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. The light prayed for is our Lord Jesus, who calls Himself the Light of the world. Without this Light, we stumble in the darkness of sin and death. With the light of Christ, which the darkness cannot overcome, we are able to see not just where we are going, but also see the world as it truly as such the goodness of creation, our fallen state and separation from God, the reality of sin and a loving Father, who sent his Only Begotten Son to be our Redeemer and through Him sends to us the Holy Spirit so that we might share the lot of the saints in light. This Christ, this Light of the world, is who the magi long to adore and we can see in them the revealing of God’s plan for us that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations (CCC 528).
In the first reading, we heard that darkness covered the earth. When we think about darkness, if a lantern is burning in front of us, even if we are far from the light, we can still see it. But if that same light at that same distance is behind us, then we have no idea that a light is burning. This is a reason that faith comes from hearing. The God of love and mercy called those who followed Him through the proclamation of His gospel, and hearing that they turned toward Christ our Light. This Pilgrim Church founded by Christ has continued through the centuries to our day. When we were lost in the darkness of sin and death far from and turned away from the God who created us, perhaps we didn’t know a light is shining. The God of love and mercy constantly calls our name through the proclamation of the gospel. The words pierce our heart as only the words of the One who loves us can do: I love you, I created you, I have died for you, and I desire eternal life for you. And in hearing, we turn. As we turn, we begin to see the light, a light like a city set on a hill, which has no light but the light of Christ, and by believing we no longer walk in darkness. Here we see how important it is that each Christian take on their role in the mission of the Church. When our Lord calls to someone lost in the darkness it may just be that it’s through you that the Light of Christ shines upon them. In these troubled times, it may seem as though Christ’s light is growing dim. This is not the case. It may be the case that the Light of Christ which is reflected by the Church has gotten a bit dimmer, as it has at various points in the past, because the Church has been tarnished. In this great feast of the Epiphany, let us follow Christ our Light, renew our commitment to living the Christian life in virtue and holiness, pray for the victims of abuse, and work for justice. May we do penance so that the tarnish is polished away that’s Christ’s light may shine brighter than ever before and may we, like the magi, seek out the living God bringing Him our gifts and fall down in adoration. And as we travel toward our heavenly homeland, let us go by another way-the way of holiness, and not by the way we came, which was the way of sin.
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Pete Iorio
For those of you who are visiting or new to the parish or maybe those who just have been away for the summer or folks who just aren’t paying attention why is there a huge tent in front of the school? No, it’s not a set of extra classrooms. It was the site last night of the reception for the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination as a priest. I’m so grateful to God for this gift because in serving you all as priest, I give myself in love and the amazing divine alchemy is receiving your abundant love in return.
You can just imagine how many people were necessary to bring about such an event. Many of you were part of the giving teams and ministries. I am forever grateful. And can you believe that 600 to 700 people at a huge mass and a big dinner reception put all of that on without any problems grumbling or complaining or conflict? If you believe that, I have a piece of property I want to sell you in the North Pole. Of course, there was lots of grumbling and complaining and problems along the way. We are human beings.
In the first reading today, the Israelites are on a journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses is their leader and did not take them on the most direct route. It was long and it was hard. They were free from the Egyptians; however, one of the things that they faced was hunger in the desert. They complained that they had it better in Egypt even in slavery because there, they had bread to eat. Scripture says that God hears their grumbling and provides for them quail and bread from heaven to eat. This is bread from heaven is called manna. In receiving this gift, the Israelites are satisfied and transformed in attitude. They keep going on their journey to the Promised Land. It took them 40 years of “wandering in the desert” and God sustained them along the way.
In our lives as Christians, we use the image of a journey. We are people on the move towards the Promised Land of Heaven. One of the symbolic ways in which we recall that is through ritual procession. We have a procession at the beginning of Mass as the cross leads the ministers and God’s holy people to the holy of holies/the sanctuary. We are together as a people of faith singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. There is a procession with the Book of the Gospels. During communion you walk in procession to receive the bread from heaven, the holy Eucharist. At the end of mass, there is a procession out into the world as we have been fed with the bread from heaven and the holy word of God and are strengthened to live the challenges of our daily lives.
I want to reflect with you my spiritual experience that I had in preparation for my Jubilee. You know I’ve been gone for three weeks on vacation. I went to my roots. The first week I spent in New Jersey with my family for a reunion. This was where I was born and grew up and my family made many special memories. My family keeps me real and grounded. Then I went to Ireland where I feel that God solidified my yes to his call to be a priest. I hiked up a few mountains while I was on the Emerald Isle. One time I was on my own and especially reflecting on 25 years of priesthood.
On my own up a mountain- praying. Reflecting brought me not what I expected which was happy highlights from the last 25 years: Special Masses, sacramental celebrations, pastoral “successes” NO!
God brought to my mind the challenges and difficulties including conflicts other priests, bishops, my own family, diocesan and parish staffs.
I recalled the very painful experiences of ministering to victims of emotional, physical spiritual and sexual abuse…even from priests.
I thought about the time I left active ministry and did a lot of soul searching.
I remembered the times I had to surrender my will to the will and the desire of three different bishops who gave me assignments I either did not want or did not feel qualified for.
I thought about painful experiences of having to fire parish staff members as a pastor.
Security and peanut allergies. Threats of lawsuits.
I recalled the unexpected death of my mother 13 months ago.
I was falsely accused and denounced.
God said to me as he said throughout my life: “Be not afraid. By your trust in me through all of these trials, you have not been disfigured but transfigured.” And then I said a prayer of thanksgiving that Bishop O’Connell ordained me a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville on Friday. August 6, 1993, the feast of the Transfiguration. The place was my home parish at the time on Signal Mountain.
My life as a priest and the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination is not just about me. It is about me and you in some kind of relationship…even if you’ve never met me before. We are connected by blood, by family, by friendship, by parish connections, by the Eucharist, by ministry, and in so many ways.
Human relationships are so important…so vital to thriving human life. God so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus….to be in relationship with humanity, to show us how to thrive in our humanity…
He showed us that to live and relate in this world means that we make mistakes. When we do make mistakes and when others make mistakes and hurt us, and when we hurt others, thriving human relationships require something called forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to learning growth and change. And sometimes the invitation is to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong.
As a priest of Jesus Christ for 25 years now, God has given me a particular way of relating in human relationships. One of my principal responsibilities is to celebrate the sacraments-to make Jesus Christ present to others. In the Gospel, John chapter 6, Jesus calls himself “The bread of life.” Bread, in order to fulfill its purpose, must be eaten to nourish the person who consumes it. This eaten bread gives and sustains life. A priest is in the person of Christ/in persona Christi. He confects the Eucharist. He not only gives the faithful (who sometimes grumble) the bread from heaven, he becomes the bread from heaven. A priest must allow himself to be eaten by others like Christ is eaten. During the mountain hike, God was showing me how I was eaten by my life’s trials.
Jesus says: whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst. I wonder why he doesn’t say whoever eats this bread and is satisfied will never grumble? Probably, because it will never be true.
Spiritual maturity really demands that we move beyond the grumbling to a deeper reflection on the presence of God with us and among us as a community. As I reflected on my journey and realize God’s presence, God’s power working through the challenges of life, so I invite you to do the same. Our growth in the Lord is to become more like him who is love, compassion, mercy, patience and is able to love even our enemies.
May Jesus the bread of life be our sustenance for life’s journey and our companion. A life’s journey is never a solo trip as a Christian but one in which we break bread together and pour out our lives in love as Christ has done for us on the cross and as he does now in us.
Eucharist come from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. The first person singular is Eucharisteo which means: I give thanks… To God to all of you who are God’s holy people. I want you to make the connection that we are a Eucharistic people. For most of us Catholics that means a connection to holy communion/the body and blood/soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are a Eucharistic people who always give thanks to God, hopefully without grumbling, even for the challenges that are part of our life’s journey. The transfigure us to be more like Christ.