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.
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.