Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Homily – 8-23-15

NOTE: This is my 700th homily at Bellarmine University

"Do You Want to Leave Too?"
Many of his disciples no longer accompanied him, so Jesus asked, "Do you want to leave too?" Simon Peter answered him, saying, "Master, to whom would we go?" 
John 6:60-69 

Many people tell me that I'm nuts for being a Catholic priest. I hadn't been ordained but a day when the first person came out of nowhere to challenge me on this. I have told this story many times before, but it immediately comes to mind when I read this gospel. It happened at one of the receptions, following my first Mass.

I was standing there in my new black suit and Roman collar - a little proud of myself - when all of a sudden a stranger approached me and stuck a pin in my balloon. "I can't imagine anyone as intelligent as you seem to be would still be a Catholic, must less become a priest! I got out of all that craziness a long time ago!"

I stood there, shocked, like I had been shot at close range as she went down her well-rehearsed list of things wrong with the Church. When she finished, she disappeared into the crowd, never to be heard from again - at least that is what I thought.

Like me, St. Peter must have been challenged many times about his decision to stay that day, when so many others walked away because of Jesus teaching on the "bread of life" because he writes many years later, in the first of his two letters, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence." (I Peter 3:15,16) When I am challenged, I try to follow his advice.

That first happened when I was 26. I am now 71. At 71, I agree wholeheartedly with Peter. "To whom would I go?" I have been offered a lot of so-called alternatives, I recognize more problems in our Church than most of you, but I can say this much in all honesty. I haven't seen anything yet that I would trade all this for! In the language of gospel music, I wouldn't take nothin' for my Jesus, his Church, and the work he has called me to do!

Students! One of the most important questions facing you in your young adulthood is, "Why do you stay in the Church?" Why do you choose to remain Catholic, when so many others your age are walking away? I am sure many of you have been challenged seriously, maybe even in an angry way. Maybe you have considered it. Maybe you have even tried it for a while. Maybe you remain because you are scared not to. Maybe you hang in there just to please your parents.

Well, let me tell you something. I was not "assigned" here by the bishop. I don't have to do this. I have plenty of other jobs - too many jobs, in fact. But I want to be here and I choose to do this because I want to help you be able to give yourselves, and those who question you, reasons to stay in the Church so that you do not "walk away,"  or worse, just "drift away." 

Yes, you heard me - "help give you reasons to stay in the Church." There are many people today who claim they want to be "spiritual, but not religious." Archbishop Dolan of New York described them this way, "They want to believe without belonging. They want to be sheep without a shepherd. They want to be part of a family, but they want to be an only child." The fact of the matter is, Jesus founded a church on Peter, one of those who did not walk away, and Jesus promised that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" and that he would "be with it always, until the end of time." The truth of the matter is, we are not individually children of God, we are each part of God's family with many children and, as a family, we are called to be our brothers and sisters keepers - to be responsible to, and for, each other. We are in this together! 

Melanie, Karen and I want to help you move from an inherited faith, to a personal faith. We find many of you you deeply spiritual, sometimes ravenously so, and we want to help you in your process of knowing God, loving God and serving God. We also want you to feel valued and appreciated by the Church - so hang in there with the rest of us who are on a serious spiritual journey. Each week, as I preach, I will try to help you find answers when "someone asks you for a reason for your hope," and, yes, I will try to do it "with gentleness and reverence."

By the way, the woman who challenged me forty-five years ago contacted me a couple of years back to apologize and to tell me that she had returned to the Church and was absolutely loving it for the first time in her life. As that great "theologian," Yogi Berra put it, "It ain't over till it's over."

If you do go away, for whatever reason, we want you to know that we will always leave a light on for you so you can find your way back. Like the father of the prodigal son, we will be waiting on the porch.