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Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

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Isaiah 50: 5-9a

James 2: 14-18

Mark 8: 27-35

         Jesus asks a very important question in today’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

         And Simon Peter answers: “You are the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the Living God” [Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:30, Luke 9:20].

How do you answer that question? It asks for a personal response from every single one of us as followers of Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”

We really can’t know Jesus without knowing His Bride, the Church. We can’t have one without the other. Jesus and His Church are one. They are synonymous. They are a package deal.

Yet we live in a “post-Church world” where people want to believe without belonging. They want spirituality without religion. They want Christ without His Church.

There is growth in the Church. But we must also acknowledge a huge pastoral problem: that more and more people do not see the intrinsic, necessary connection between Jesus Christ and His Church. Many no longer see any need for the Church at all.

Now what can we do about this? I would like to suggest three paths that we Catholics might take: 1) to re-gain a deeper sense of the mystery and awe of the Church, 2) through ongoing, lifelong faith formation, and 3) by humbly and honestly admitting our sins.

1) I would start by suggesting that we stress a fresh model of the Church: maybe the Church as our spiritual family. For the Church is more than an institution with a clearly defined set of beliefs and moral convictions and a great place to pray and worship.

Catholicism is that, of course, and more. It is in our DNA, in our genes and in our bones. We might drift away from our spiritual family for a while, just as we might drift away from our human family. We might get mad at our spiritual family…. But with the Church – like our earthly family – we never really leave it. The Church, our spiritual family, is clothed in mystery and awe.

2) We also need ongoing, lifelong faith formation so that we can credibly, convincingly and compellingly explain and defend the faith.

Cardinal Dolan tells about a couple asking him what they had done wrong in raising their son. They had him baptized, sent him to Catholic religious education and he never missed Mass and he took his faith seriously. But when he went away to college, he turned away from the faith after his roommate convinced him how wrong and misguided he was for believing in such a “stupid” Church.

Cardinal Dolan then asks us, “What have we as a Church done wrong?” We have failed to equip our young people to credibly, convincingly and compellingly explain and defend our beloved faith. Our young need to know the truth and have answers when our faith is challenged and attacked. And so do we older people. There are answers. But we need to teach the young and the old through ongoing faith formation. For, as disciples of Jesus, we are all lifelong learners.

3) And the Church needs to humbly and honestly admit its sins. We need a repentant Church. For one of the most pressing and growing reasons that people are leaving the Church is because they have been shocked, saddened and angered by the sinful actions of Catholics, and especially of her clergy.

As imperfect, sloppy and corrupt the Church’s human side may be, it is still the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ. The Church is holy because Jesus is holy. The Church is sinful because we members are sinful. Yet Christ is one with His Church, and one with us, His family. And the repentant Church is still clothed in mystery and awe.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Holy mother the Church, like a good mother, helps us to answer Jesus’ question.

For what would we ever really know about Him – without her?

 

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

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Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Ephesians 5: 21-32

John 6: 60-69

         Billy Graham’s weekly radio show was entitled, “The Hour of Decision.” And that is a great title for the Scripture readings we heard today: “The Hour of Decision.”

         In the first reading, Joshua asks the people of Israel whom they intend to serve: the pagan gods of their neighbors or the Lord? And the people answer: “We will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

We find something similar in today’s Gospel. For five weeks now we have been reading from John’s Gospel, chapter six. Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, and He was trying to teach them about the gift that He would give us in the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, that He is the Bread of Life.

         That day many of His disciples left Him and did not come back. They found His teaching to be too much for them to accept. And so Jesus looks at the Twelve and asks them: “Do you also want to leave?”

         And Simon Peter – God bless Simon Peter – answers: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

         It was “The Hour of Decision.”

         Saint Bruno died in 1101. He founded the religious community known as the Carthusians – and they are still with us today. It was a very strict monastic community of men who were devoted to prayer and penance and silence.

         Very early each morning Bruno would rise to say his prayers. But he would first sit on the edge of his bed and place his bare feet on the cold stone floor of his cell and ask himself out loud: “Bruno, Bruno, why have you come here?” And every morning he would make himself answer that question. Bruno had made a lifelong vowed commitment to the Lord, but he would renew that commitment every day.

         It was “The Hour of Decision.”

         For many years, Saint Joseph Parish and School in Avon Lake had a partnership with Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in Nassau, the Bahamas and with Saint Bede Elementary School, the poorest and the smallest Catholic school on the island. And it was an enriching and grace-filled experience for us and for our Bahamian brothers and sisters.

         There are 30 parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau, spread out over the many islands of the Bahamas, and today there are only 18 priests – 14 diocesan and 4 religious order priests – available to serve all of these parishes. So many of the parishes would go 2 months or more before they could have Mass. And that is still the case.

         So I would make myself available to go and celebrate Mass where I was needed.

         One weekend, in a small commuter prop-plane, I went Andros which is the largest island in size in the Bahamas, but with a population of less than 8,000. They had not had a priest for Mass in 7 weeks. So on Saturday evening I celebrated Mass at a US military base where they tested submarines and taught people how to operate them.

         On Sunday, I celebrated Mass at two parishes – that were 45 minutes apart by van. May I tell you a bit about that second parish on that Sunday morning?

         Mass was going to start late because a van that was transporting people who did not have cars got a flat tire. As I was waiting for them to arrive, I remember sitting in a pew and talking with some children, one of whom was named Richard and who seemed very interested in our conversation.

I finally said to him, “Richard, I was about your age when God called me to be a priest. I was at Mass on Sunday and I was looking at the altar and the cross behind the altar and the priest, and I thought to myself, ‘I could do that.’ And that thought never left me. Maybe God is calling you to be a priest one day too.”

         They have a beautiful custom in the Bahamas that everyone – men, women and children – sings at Mass, and with energy and volume. And no one leaves Mass until the “Amen” of the last verse of the final hymn is finished – even if there are five verses and the priest moved out at the end of verse one!

         Well, after that “Amen,” Richard was the first one down the aisle to where I was standing at the back of the church. He reached up and took my hands, so I stooped down to be more at his level. And he said to me: “Father, will you be our priest here next weekend?” And his question broke my heart. I explained that I had to go back home that week. But then I said to him: “Richard, maybe God is calling you to be His priest so that someday the people here could have Mass every week.”

That was 12 years ago, so today Richard would be about 20 years old. I don’t know what happened to him, but I still pray for Richard, hoping that our brief encounter at Mass that day may have been God’s planting the seed of a priestly vocation in his life. It is “The Hour of Decision.”

         Right here in Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes, it is not a question of “will there be Mass this weekend?” For us it is more “will I be here, and which one of our 5 Masses will I attend?” It is a commitment that we renew every weekend. It is “The Hour of Decision.”

         Nathan Frankart from Saint Joseph Parish made the decision to examine the Lord’s call to priesthood in our Diocese. His journey of discernment at Borromeo Seminary began this past Thursday, 23 August. Let’s keep Nathan — and others in our parishes whom the Lord may be calling to the priesthood and the religious life – in our prayers.

         It is “The Hour of Decision.”

The people answered Joshua: “We will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

And Simon Peter answered Jesus: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

         “Bruno, Bruno, why have you come here?” Like Saint Bruno, we need to renew our commitments to the Lord every day.

         For us it is always “The Hour of Decision.”