Hi everyone, this is my homily for the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082618.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim Chern
Learning of the atrocities by McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Newark; the horrific recounting of some of what was done by priests throughout the state of Pennsylvania over the last century -it has been a long summer for us as Catholics. Or actually as a friend accurately corrected me – it’s been a long, painful, devastating, lonely and countless other descriptors that we can’t ever know; for day upon day, month upon month, year upon year, decade upon decade – for the victims of these unimaginable acts. He’s right… too often the victims pain has been seen as secondary or, worse, as something that was inconvenient that we wanted to get past so we can jump ahead to the healing aspects of things. This is sadly another way the victims have been victimized and hurt by the Church.
There are no quick fixes, healing or recoveries… as the victims themselves are courageously sharing – nor will there be for the rest of us who are just coming to realize the evil that was done to some of our brothers and sisters by others who are, hard as it might be to acknowledge at this moment, brothers and sisters as well. It’s understandable on some level that people want fixes, protections, investigations, accountability and reform to be done yesterday – and in truth that work needed to be started (or was thought to have been) a whole lot of yesterdays ago…
It’s also been incredibly sad to see and hear the devastation this has caused so many people… Just antidotally I can tell you of numerous parishioners, friends and family members who are beyond angry or hurt. It’s almost been like people are going through the stages of grief we so often hear about after a loss or a traumatic experience – Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression. Personally, I’ve found myself going through those different stages each time a different story, or aspect of a story would come to light. I’ve found myself reading every possible response; commentary; looking for answers; leadership and depending on the day and what stage of grief I was feeling kind of determined how helpful (or, sadly often times not helpful) those things were.
One of the hardest things was receiving a response from a good friend who was reacting to something I had posted on social media the morning after the Pennsylvania report came out. In short I wrote, that I’m amazed that my vocation – even at times when I seriously contemplated leaving the priesthood – that somehow the Lord protected it… and in the initial horror of all these news reports my gut reaction was I wish the Lord hadn’t protected my vocation. A few hours later, this good friend of mine wrote me saying – I wish that the Lord hadn’t either and that you had left the priesthood.. That kind of shocked me – she’s been a good friend for so many years I kind of was speechless at it and was waiting for the follow up, the second message that would’ve started with “but” – which never came. I’m sharing this not out of sadness or disappointment in my friend. If anything, it helped me to understand the depths of emotions that so many of us are experiencing
And I’m sharing this today because perhaps I wasn’t clear in that gut-reaction of a response to clarify that I’m not re-thinking or re-discerning or having a vocation crisis. But I get it. I understand why people are posting online or saying quietly to themselves that they’re not going to Mass anymore… That they’re leaving the Catholic faith or their thinking about it. That they’re having serious crisis of faith.
More than likely these latest of crises are just the final straw for people who are at that breaking point. Maybe they were treated not criminally but terribly in other ways by a priest or religious. Maybe they fought back tears, got past their anger and somehow rallied in the past when their parish school or local Church closed – but still were able to stick with the Catholic faith, and now feel embarrassed or ashamed that they ever did give anyone in the Church another chance another opportunity by staying.
I’ve shared in the past that having been to the breaking point before, most clearly 12 years ago when I had been accepted to become a firefighter for the FDNY and really thought I was leaving the priesthood for good and going to pursue that (which another friend pointed out I’d be halfway to retirement by now…) My reversion or rediscernment ultimately led me to a place where I recognized my faith in Jesus Christ and His calling me to His priesthood is bigger than all of the things that were driving me from that.
That took a long time, a lot of prayer, a lot of sleepless nights to get to that point. So I’m not sharing that to say “just hang in there” – and keep praying to get to that same awareness. I’m sharing that because – first off – thank you for being here (or reading this online). It’s almost heroic act right now for the People of God who do come every Sunday. That you’ve summoned something within yourself to be at Mass. I want to just affirm that and hopefully you can recognize that movement of the Holy Spirit in your life right now which moved you empowered you and gave you the energy to move past different emotions and feelings and to come here to worship God the Father in a Catholic Mass. That is bigger than any priest, bishop, cardinal or Pope. That’s not me, Fr. Jim Chern saying that. This is something we as Catholics believe. Jesus operates in spite of the broken, sinful men of the priesthood and men and women that make up His Church. When we have good men and women – who live a life of virtue and strive for holiness, we admire them after their passing as we declare them Saints. When they don’t strive for holiness, or when they do worse then that – it’s hard for us to believe that anything good can come from them. But Jesus still operates in the Church with the good, the bad, and everyone that falls somewhere in between. There is still goodness in the Church – because Jesus is bigger than all of us, His priesthood and His Church is bigger than any individual.
Which brings me to today’s Gospel – which I see with a much different perspective. In years past, for me, this was simply the culmination of Jesus teaching about the Eucharist. In the preceding passages that we’ve heard for the last few Sundays at Mass, Jesus told us that He is the bread of life; that we have to eat this bread of life – which is His flesh, His blood – in order to experience eternal life, and have the fullness of faith. Some of His followers debated Jesus on this point. But Jesus would double down and say – no I’m saying what I mean and meaning what I say… which lead us to today’s passage. Where we get to this climactic moment hearing how some who were following Jesus found this too difficult to accept and “no longer accompanied him.”
In the past I might have simply seen this as those who were rejecting Jesus – and rejecting this teaching. But I don’t see it so narrowly anymore. I see it now from the vantage point of so many who are confused, who are disillusioned, who have been lead astray before… not by Jesus – but by so many others that make such a teaching seem impossible to contemplate. . . That makes believing, having faith in anyone or anything difficult to conceive.
We might have forgotten that it was almost a month ago when we heard the Gospel passage where over 5,000 people were amazed when a few loaves and fish were able to more than adequately feed them (and abundance was left over). But the reality is that this section of the Gospel that has gone on for a few weeks is only recounting the events of one full day. The memory of the miracle of the loaves and fish was still fresh in their minds.
But maybe the obstacles to believing in Jesus, to seeing anything bigger than their physical appetites being fulfilled – those wouldn’t have been just fresh in their minds, but had already created a history, a narrative for each of them which causes them not to accompany Jesus any longer. The failures or things that undermined any faith, any trust – let alone this new teaching by Jesus – maybe these individuals had found ways to deal with these realities, to live with these obstacles,- and so their going back to that former way of life perhaps wasn’t a rejection of Jesus but a defense mechanism.
We don’t know. And we don’t know what happens after that for those who left that day. What was the rest of their stories? All we know for sure is that Jesus turns to the 12 and asks the question that has been something that jumps off the page today and has been echoing in my heart for weeks – Do you also want to leave? In scripture, we hear St. Peter respond. Peter who is the far from perfect “rock of the Church”, the first Pope who will constantly battle doubts, failures and his own sinfulness as he strives to respond to his call – as he says No – No Lord I don’t want to leave or more precisely “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.”
I wonder – maybe as Peter and the apostles who remained with Jesus, and witness the Passion, the Cross, the Death of Jesus – who experienced and were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus; and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit themselves – how all of this made them believe and become even more convinced in Jesus… so much so that it made them proclaimers, teachers, true priests, holy shepherds that were able to reach out to those who had left Jesus this one day (and countless others). Maybe they were able to share the truth of Christ by their authentic witness and their testimony. Maybe as they strove for holiness – it helped these others who had left to come back and do the same. To come to that same realization that Peter did, that Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life… that He is the Holy one of God.
I’m not trying to gloss over or speed ahead on all the things that have come to light this summer and demands responses in the Church. We’re right to want it. We need it. But at this vulnerable time, where so many are going through so much – It’s also important for each of us to keep focused on that voice that lead us here today… to recognize how Jesus is speaking to us right now and needs to use each one of us – to use our faith, our belief in a way like never before. Our authentic witness is needed more than ever to lovingly reach out to our brothers and sisters who are hurting and disillusioned. Not to judge or condemn those who walk away or having a crisis in faith, but to be a loving, caring and understanding brother and sister to them ourselves. To remind them and ourselves of the true purpose for our being here – encountering Jesus Christ – and knowing the truth and promise that comes from following Him.