The following homily was delivered by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia at the Formation for Ministry Commissioning on Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse:
Dear Candidates for Commissioning today, it is wonderful to be with you! I have to confess to you that normally when I do ceremonies at the Cathedral I’m very much used to rolling out of bed and rolling down into the Cathedral. The fact that I traveled four hours to make sure I was on time to be with you is a little unusual, even for the Diocese of Syracuse.
But this morning I found myself in Lake Placid, as yesterday I officiated at the wedding of my youngest nephew. As I offered the early morning Mass at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid this morning, Fr. John Yonkovig (who some of our brother priests know) gave a very fine homily. And as I listened to his homily, I realized I wanted to adapt a little bit of my original remarks to you, in the sense of how the Scripture readings we just heard, connect also with the Word of God you have heard this Sunday in your own parishes; and how your lay commissioning today has as much to do with this Sunday’s readings as it does with the reading chosen for this ceremony.
Now you might be wondering “Bishop Lucia, where are you going with this?” I am sure you are thinking, “You don’t expect me to cut anything off, do you? You don’t expect me to pluck anything out, do you?” No, it’s not that! But you know, as you and I come here and as I was very much aware even walking at an outdoor reception yesterday afternoon, one has to be careful where you place your feet. One has to be careful on the ground you walk, especially if it might be sloping. Now, I have to confess I don’t know if they did that intentionally at the wedding or not, to make sure that people were going to be upright! Nonetheless, on the other hand, it did speak to me about what does such terrain mean as you and I walk in the world; and especially in those moments you and I might feel that we are stumbling along? And you know, if you and I feel that way at times, we also know that our sisters and brothers do as well! The ones that we are called to serve.
That is the first lesson that I want to remind us of, today. That the road of ministry is an uneven one. It is not a smooth road. But the road of ministry is all about meeting people where they are at, and gently accompanying them. I admit to you that as I say these words, all I could think of yesterday was my 93-year-old Dad walking next to me, and everyone was making sure he didn’t fall. Making sure that he was okay on that uneven ground.
But you know, isn’t that kind of what ministry is all about when we think of Jesus? And maybe that’s why this Sunday’s gospel was so startling! We don’t think of our Jesus as someone who would literally cut off anyone or as someone who would literally want to pluck out someone’s eye or do anything of that nature. What we do see in Jesus is a compassionate one who is always concerned about healing … about helping persons with their rough edges.
Think about his healing miracles. The first words uttered often were: “Your sins have been forgiven!” And what would you and I consider our sins to be, but our rough spots … our chasms … our stumbling blocks. Jesus first says so often to those who are paralyzed, those stumbling in life, “Your sins are forgiven.” And if you stop and think then of what Jesus’ healing miracles consist of, isn’t it often the strengthening of limbs, “Stretch out your hand.” It’s not so much that Jesus even touched the person, but it’s like “stretch out your hand to me” and the person finds new life, they find new strength!
Brothers and sisters, in our own ministry, using the same words, can we not invite others to stretch out their hands—to stretch out their lives—to open their hearts—to God, to Jesus; and in that moment, they will find new strength … they will find new purpose and meaning. You and I in ministry are called to be conduits … called to be vessels … which pour out the compassion and the care of our God as found in Jesus and as seen in today’s Gospel. For me one of the most profound scenes in all of the Gospels is the washing of feet, where Jesus literally gets down on his hands and knees and goes to each disciple, each apostle. He knows probably their feet are stinky. That they are grimy and have “road wear” as they say. And yet, so lovingly he reaches down to bathe them, to refresh them.
That brings me to my second point this afternoon about ministry. Ministry is not just about reaching out and sharing God’s love. Ministry is also about refreshing others. Helping to lift the burden. It is not enough for you and me to say, “Stretch out your hands.” At times, we have to be the ones to help lift up the arms so that God’s work can continue. Think of the scene when the Israelites were in battle. Even today, I think most people realize that we are still in the battle between good and evil. What do they do with Moses’ arms so that his arms could stay lifted in battle … lifted with the idea that it acknowledges God presence with them? Aren’t there assistants that come and hold up his arms?
Sisters and brothers, isn’t that what you and I are also called to do in ministry, to lift up? To help people not only feel lifted up in life, but as we say in every Mass, “Lift up your hearts to the Lord.” And yet, it’s hard to lift up our hearts if we think we are unwanted; if we think we don’t have a place with God. But for me, even more sad is if we think we do not have a place in God’s Church today.
Brothers and sisters, more than ever we need to remind ourselves, you and me both, that what Christ’s mission is all about is about accompanying, gathering in, not casting out. Jesus came to gather the flock. Remember the one time he wept over Jerusalem, in that scene the beautiful image of how he wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, under her protection, and they were so resistant to it.
Today, more than ever, we need to remember that is the Church’s mission. Today as ministers we are not judge and jury, we are the compassion of Christ and that has to be known more than ever. How many times have you and I met a person who feels, “I am not wanted in the church today! I don’t belong here! I have been told I don’t have a place! Maybe because my marriage isn’t regular, maybe because I don’t have the same sexual orientation as others, maybe it’s that I don’t always have the same beliefs.” But don’t the Psalms tell us … our own Scriptures tell us … that in God all find a home? Our responsibility, our mission as ministers of the Church, is to help people find a home!
St. Theresa of Avila wrote these words: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which He looks, Compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which He walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
At our Responsorial Psalm today we sang the beautiful words: “Here I am Lord, Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Let us never forget what God’s will is: God’s will as quoted in John 3:16, which might be seen at a few of the football games this afternoon, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, not to condemn the world, but so the world might be saved through him.” That the world might be gathered together under the loving embrace of our God!
My prayer for you, sisters and brothers, this day, even as you and I continue to stumble and since we know what stumbling is all about—hopefully, you and I will also be willing to reach out to help others in their stumbling, so that together all know the loving embrace of our God. Amen.