EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily from Sunday, August 7; Bishop has received requests to print this as part of his anniversary observance.
“The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that … they might have courage.” (Wisdom 18:6)
Sisters and brothers, Jesus gives us two messages in this Sunday’s Gospel reading: first, do not be afraid to follow him closely; and second, be prepared for his Second Coming. Now, some of you might be familiar with the late Fr. Joseph Grizone, a priest of the Albany diocese who wrote a series of books which came to be known as the Joshua novels. Through the years, I have enjoyed reading various books from the series, including one titled, Joshua and the Shepherd.
For my summer reading pleasure, I was preparing to reread that particular novel, but came across another work of Fr. Grizone’s that I had not read, My Struggle with Faith. Now, I confess that at first, I was simply not going to entertain reading this work because why would I read about struggles with faith — I encounter that more than I care to admit.
However, being familiar with the other literary works of the author and having read a quick synopsis regarding the work, I decided I wanted to find out for myself about Fr. Grizone’s own walk by faith. What I encountered in my reading of this personal spiritual journal is a theme that is preeminent in our readings this Lord’s Day — “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return…” In other words, put faith into action — more accurately, put your faith into action wherever you find yourself on the road of life!
Sisters and brothers, this really is the invitation you and I are being given as we encounter once again in this gathering the Passover of the Lord. What is the Passover of the Lord, but none other than God’s — Jesus’ — invitation to you and me to have the courage to walk by faith in our daily lives.
It is not lost on me that on this the eve of the start of my fourth year as your bishop that the Word of God is issuing such a challenge. You might remember at my Ordination, Cardinal Dolan directed me that I would carry not just a crozier … a shepherd’s staff, but a lantern as well. In that moment he stated, “You will bring us that light of Christ. The truth of Jesus Christ ever alive in His Church.” This lantern can also be likened to the pillar of cloud which turned fiery at night reminding those on the Passover journey of God’s abiding and saving presence with them.
In listening to our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews the words — “by faith” — resonate with me as I think of my own journey among you as bishop. For me, it is no exaggeration to admit that much like Abraham, my coming to live among you and to serve you is very much an act of faith. In truth, I know it is God who has called me here and, knowing my own inadequacies and limitations, I realize that any generativity is not my own doing, but “the power of the Most High” overshadowing me on the journey!
Particularly needed then, brothers and sisters, is the “courage” spoken of in the Book of Wisdom. Pope Francis alluded to this need in his Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to Canada. He stated on this pilgrimage that as Church, we needed “healing from the temptation of closing in on ourselves” (cf. Lac du St. Anne).
Moreover, in his final moments in Canada, the Holy Father told Inuit youth and elders alike: “You live in these vast regions of the north. May they remind you of your vocation to strive ever higher, without letting yourself get dragged down by those who would have you believe that it is better to think only of yourself and to use your time solely for your leisure and your interests. Friends, you were not made “to get by,” to spend your days balancing duties and pleasures, you were made to soar upwards, towards the most genuine, true and beautiful desires that you cherish in your hearts, to love God and to serve your neighbor. Don’t think that life’s great dreams are as unattainable as the sky above. You were made to fly, to embrace the courage of truth and the beauty of justice, to ‘elevate your moral temper, to be compassionate, to serve others and to build relationships’ (cf. Inunnguiniq Iq Principles 3-4). To sow seeds of peace and loving care wherever you are; to ignite the enthusiasm of those all around you; to keep pressing forward and not to flatten everything out.”
Brothers and sisters, is that not what it really means for us to be prepared? That no matter when our Lord and Master comes to the door … you and I can confidently open up to Him because of our faith in Him and even more, His faith in us! I often envision this moment as when a friend pops in unexpectedly for a visit. For some, there might be a moment of panic because of the “condition” of one’s dwelling, but if it is a true friend we know that they will take us where we are at and what matters most is the company. Where the panic sets in is if we have neglected our relationship and we don’t know where one stands, even with God. As Pope Francis told pastoral leaders at Vespers in Quebec City, “It is idolatry to create plans without God.”
More than ever, in my service among you, I have come to know the meaning of His Holiness’ admonishment. So, allow me to close our reflection with the prayer that I chose to accompany me in my service as bishop:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine: it will be You shining on others through me. Let me thus praise You in the way You love best: by shining on those around me. Let me preach You without preaching, not by words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You. Amen.