Sunday, February 28, 2016

HOMILY - 2-28-16

Even though it is spring break at Bellarmine University, here is a homily for this weekend anyway.


We  no  longer  believe  because of  your word,
for we have heard for ourselves, and we know
that this is truly the savior of the world.
John 4: 4-42
Things are going well for me right now. I have been a priest for almost forty-six years and this last couple of years have been some of the best. I may have more energy for what I am doing now than I did when I was a new priest.
I was privileged to work as a home missionary down in southern Kentucky for ten years after I was ordained. I was even a campus minister at Somerset Community College. After that I was a country pastor for three and a half years in the “Holy Land” central Kentucky in the small town of Calvary. After that I got to be pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption during a time of tremendous growth and a total renovation of the buildings. I got to be a Vocation Director, recruiting and overseeing the training of our seminarians.

I got to use my imagination and skill to develop a new program for training new young priests around the country to be better pastors and all of the priests of a particular diocese to work together more effectively. I dreamed about doing those things for a long time. Because of my ideas, the seminary where I used to teach was given a large grant by the Lilly Endowment to implement my ideas for helping young pastors to be more effective and to help priests of various dioceses to work together as teams so that they can offer better service to you in the pews. I started working here 16 years ago. Almost two years ago, I officially retired, but I continue to write my column for The Record in my 14th year. I still travel all the US and Canada presenting priest retreats. Like icing on the cake, I am now volunteering in the foreign mission down in the Caribbean. I just got back from my third trip last week. I am often overcome with gratitude for my forty-six years of priesthood!

Here, I get to work with you, a group of young people who are energetic and full of hope, at Bellarmine University here in my hometown of Louisville! What I do here at Bellarmine is not required of me. I volunteered for this work. What I want to do here is to encourage you as young adults to choose God, not because your parents have told you to, not because other people have said you should, but because you have gotten to know God and want to know more about God. I am here to encourage you to choose, on your own, to be a serious disciple of Jesus. I can’t give you the gift of faith, only God can do that, but I think I can be of help, simply by sharing what I know about the scriptures and from walking the spiritual path myself for the last 72 years. I challenge you today, to say, like the people of Samaria said to the woman at the well, “No longer do I believe because of someone else’s word. I have heard for myself and now I believe.”

In this wonderful story, after one of his many hot walking trip around Galilee, Jesus runs into a woman, while looking for a drink of water at the communal cistern. Even though it was illegal for a man to speak to a woman in public, even his wife and daughters, Jesus breaks the rules and engages this woman in a conversation, a conversation that leads to her conversion.

As the story unfolds, the whole town comes to believe in Jesus, at first because of her story, but later because of their own experience - after engaging Jesus in a conversation themselves. “No longer do we believe because of your word. We have heard for ourselves and have come to believe on our own.”

Students and guests! I stand here today to encourage you to engage Jesus in a conversation this Lent, a conversation that will lead you to a deeper belief, you own belief, not someone else’s belief. The question this reading asks us is this: “Do you believe in God because you know God or simply because of somebody else‘s word?” In today’s culture, I believe that you are here because you already know and love God. I know that you don’t have to be here! Many Catholics do not go to Sunday Mass. We all know that we have to go against the culture to be a believer these days. The main reason I am a priest to help people make that transition from an inherited faith to a personal faith. I am here, secondly, because your faith strengthens mine. I always get something out of being with other believers.

The biggest problem facing the church today is that it is filled with people who are living on borrowed faith. They have not engaged Jesus in a personal conversation and have not stayed in conversation with him as they go through life. They are still waiting for other people to be faithful, get it right and live the faith perfectly, before they will commit. One of the saddest things about the sexual abuse scandal is that so many Catholics walked away from the church because “those people” are hypocrites. Sadly, none of us ever lives our faith perfectly, so people who wants others to live the faith for them will always have an excuse not to believe. Even more amazing, I think, are people like you and me who have stayed, whose faith was not in church structures, but whose faith is solidly placed in Jesus Christ, who promised to be with us always, in spite of persecution from the outside and sin and weakness on the inside!

Lent is about engaging Jesus in an intimate conversation that will lead to personal faith, a personal faith that must be lived out in a faith community, a faith community that is always an imperfect and messy. Christianity is not about “me and Jesus,” but “we and Jesus.” In Christianity, we are responsible to, and for, each other.

The so-called “new age movement” has accomplished some good, but it has one fatal glaring flaw – it is individualistic to the extreme. It’s all about “me,” “my insights,” “my spiritual needs,” “how I see things.” In the “new age” religion, “I” am the highest authority. There is no higher truth than “my truth” and what I think truth is! Right is I think is right, is right. God is whoever I feel he is, sin is whatever I feel it is and my personal happiness is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life. There is no teaching authority other than me.

Christianity, like Judaism, is a “we” religion. We are the “body of Christ.” We are “one body with many parts,” “one family with many members,” just as God himself is a “community” of persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

With all that said, there comes a day, even in a community of faith, for each member to be able to say, “No longer does my faith depend on your word. I have seen for myself and I believe, too.” That is precisely why I am here! I am here to encourage you to have an intimate dialogue with Jesus, so that you can have a personal faith that is lived out in a community of believers, so that you too can say, “We no longer believe because of your word, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that Jesus truly is the savior of the world!”

The Church often seems like it is one big mess these days! That gives some people all the excuse they need to drift away. On the other hand, this is a great time for the Church. The motives behind our faith are being purified like never before. We can no longer be carried along by other people’s faith. We have to come to our own faith, not a faith in the institution, but in the person of Jesus Christ. When it comes to faith these days, we have to learn to stand our own two feet! We have to be able to say with the people of Samaria, “We have heard for ourselves and we know that Jesus is the Savior of the world!”

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