Sunday, May 8, 2016

HOMILY 5-8-16


You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Acts of the Apostles 

What we celebrate today is the "handing over" of his ministry to his disciples by Jesus so that it can be carried out by them once he is gone. It is handed over with a promise – a promise to "be with them always, even to the end of the world." Before he leaves them, he tells them to "take my message out to the whole world” and “to never forget that you will forever have my help in doing it.” It is also "handed over" to us. 

That small band of disciples did go out and as we look at the world today, 2,000 years later, we can see the results of their efforts. Even they would be shocked by their own success. Christianity today is the largest religious group on the planet - about 2.1 billion believers in every country in the world. Half of all the Christians in the world are Roman Catholics who make up one-sixth of the world population.

In this country, the Christian faith was brought by the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. After it was established here, Americans sent missionaries to places like China, Korea, Japan, India, African and all over central and south America in the 20th century. Guess what? Those missionaries were successful. Many of those places where we sent missionaries are now sending missionaries back to us.

Almost one third of all priests now working in this country were born outside this country and a majority of the US ordinations taking places this spring are the ordinations of young men born overseas. In the Diocese of Newark last week, for example, they ordained 13 young men. Three were born here and the other ten were born in Nigeria, Italy, Ecuador, South Korea, the Dominican Republic and Hungary.  This is typical all over the country. In the future, your parish priest could come from about anywhere in the world. We are indeed becoming more "catholic" as a church, meaning "universal."

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Even within the parish, the Church says, in Canon 528, that it is the job of the pastor "to see that the word of God is announced to all those living in the parish....and with the help of the Christian faithful to bring the gospel message to those who have ceased practicing the faith or those who do not profess the true faith." 

The first thing to note here is that the responsibility of announcing the word of God to all falls not just on priests, but all the Christian faithful. We were all baptized to be missionaries!

The second thing to note here is that the we have a responsibility to announce the word of God to everyone living within the parish boundaries: faithful Catholics, inactive Catholics, other believers and those who profess no religion!

Most priests and parishioners spend a majority of their time ministering to faithful Catholics - those who show up on Sunday and volunteer within parish programs.  In fact, one of the saddest things about the priest shortage is that there is less and less time to reach out to the other groups that are part of our responsibility. In fact, it is impossible for the priests we have to reach out to these other groups without the help of the Christian faithful.

Personally, I have specialized with one group or another depending on my assignment. When I arrived in Monticello and Whitley City in 1975, as a home missionary, I had less than twenty Catholics in those two missions combined. I spent most of my time reaching out to those with no church and to people of other faiths.

While stationed in Calvary, outside Lebanon, which was almost 100% Catholic, I spent my time strengthening the faith of life-time Catholics.

During my time as pastor of the Cathedral in downtown Louisville, I spent most of my time reaching out to "fallen away" and "disaffected" Catholics.  Some left because they had been hurt, some left because of church teaching, some left because they felt ignored and some left because they were simply flat out bored by what was being offered. Hundreds returned to the Church because of our outreach. Through our major interfaith program, thousands more became more familiar with what we as Catholics believe and thousands of Catholics became more familiar with what their neighbor believe.

On this feast of the ascension of our Lord into heaven, we are reminded once again that "just as Jesus was sent by his Father to preach the gospel, so now are we went to do the same," not just some of us, but all of us!  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that through our baptisms all of us are missionaries.

It goes on to say that those who are ordained and those who are married have a added obligation in this matter.  Marriage partners have a special obligation to lead each other and their children to holiness. In fact, parents are the primary evangelizers of their children. Priests have a special obligation to empower all the baptized to be evangelizers to the world!   

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