Homily — 5th Sunday Easter A April 20, 2008

Homily — 5th Sunday Easter A            April 20, 2008

This past week has been a glorious one for us Catholics in the United States.

At about 4:30 pm this past Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base, Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, got out of his Shepherd One Air Jet, walked briskly down the stairway, and stepped foot on US soil for the first time as Pope.  If you heard our Church Bells ringing out for 5 minutes last  Tuesday afternoon, that was why!

And every day since Tuesday, with the most perfect Springtime weather we could have asked God for following him wherever he goes, Pope Benedict has been bringing the Gospel of Christ our Hope to the citizens of our country, Catholic and non-Catholic.

One topic the Pope has focused during this trip has made many headlines:  the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandals.   While this is a painful subject that everyone would like behind us, it is wonderful that the Pope is addressing the issue head on, and that he has even met with some victims of sexual abuse.

While our parish, our diocese, and our Church in America will continue to do all we can to protect our children from sexual predators, this is not the only issue our Catholic Church in America faces, and it was also not the only issue Pope Benedict dealt with.  I thought in my homily this weekend, I would focus on some other very important topics our Holy Father addressed, which were kind of overshadowed in the News Media by the Sexual Abuse issue.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Holy Father met with 350 Catholic Bishops of the US, including our own Bishop Tobin, at the National Shrine in Washington DC.   The talk he gave there to our bishops more than the other talks he has so far given, addresses most fully the strengths and the challenges of the Church in the US.

Here are some quotes from that talk which list some of our strengths as the Vicar of Christ sees it:

“American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter.”

“Today the (US) Catholic community . . . . is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. ”

“Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.”

“America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshiping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse.”

Those are some of the Strengths the Pope mentions about Catholics in the US.  Then, he goes on to list the challenges:

“This leads me to ask how, in the twenty-first century, a bishop can best fulfill the call to ‘make all things new in Christ, our hope’? . . . .Perhaps he needs to begin by clearing away some of the barriers to such an encounter.”

(Here the Pope lists three specific barriers the Church in the US faces)

Barrier #1:  “there is a subtle influence of secularism which can color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. . . .Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?  Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”

Barrier #2:  “the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come.”

“People today need to  . . . . recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God . . . . It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty.”

“The goal (we have) should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with ‘Christ Jesus, our hope’ (1 Tim 1:1).”

Barrier #3  A wrong notion of Freedom.  “In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them.  This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church, giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community.”

“Yet from the beginning, God saw that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’. We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love — for God and for our neighbor. If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God.  If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.”

Along the same lines, the Pope says that “the state of the family within society” is to be “a matter of deep concern” for us, as it is for him.  He goes so far as to say “Healthy family life (makes an essential contribution) to peace within and between nations.”

The decrease in marriages and the increase in cohabitations should especially be address, because “In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”

So the Pope has certainly left us much to reflect on and especially to pray about.

While at times the circumstances we Catholics find ourselves in can cause us to fear for the future, we are reminded in todays Gospel of Jesus’ parting words at the Last Supper:   Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me. . . .Amen amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

Bringing the saving Gospel of Christ our Hope to this complex modern world we live in is certainly a “Great Work” that we Catholics in the United States have been entrusted with.   May Christ give us the strength to be faithful in striving to carry out this great work.

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