Here is the homily Fr. Brian gave to all the priests and bishops at the Mass honoring the Jubilarians during their annual Convocation in Temecula on September 27th:
(Based on the readings of the day, Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time: Haggai 1:1-8; psalm 149; Luke 9: 7-9; and adding Romans 1:8-17.)
King Herod was greatly perplexed when people were saying that in Jesus, John the Baptist had been raised from the dead.
It reminds me of how people were perplexed about me when I first started here in the Diocese as a seminarian at St. Francis Seminary. As some of you remember, I used to go around saying, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” quoting Romans 1:16. Richard Duncanson was the rector of St. Francis seminary at the time, and he told me later that he thought, “Oh my gosh, who is this guy?” The funny thing is: I don’t go around saying that line any more, but some of the priests, including Richard, still say it whenever they see me!
Rich Perozich, who along with Ben Davison and Cavana Wallace, was a classmate of mine, and one of our Jubilarians today (though I think he’s retired to his condo in Hawaii … now how does that work… how come Ben, Cavana, and I still have 15-20 years to go before we can retire?) Anyway, Rich was another one who picked up my line and would always say to me, “Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel.”
Actually when I first was discerning my vocation to the priesthood I was active in a Bible study, and was really into the charismatic movement. In fact, I learned that line about not being ashamed of the Gospel from Charlie Osburn, a “catholic lay evangelist” – sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
I thought of going to the seminary here in San Diego, but I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t want to work for the Bishop, I want to work for Jesus!” So I decided to go the University of Steubenville, a Catholic Charismatic College in Ohio.
Well, while taking theology classes in Steubenville, and from my experience with the University community, I came to realize and accept that working for and obedience to the Bishop is an expression of our faithful following of Jesus, just as Jesus was obedient to the will of his Father, even to the point of death, as was John the Baptist. So after that pre-theology year, I applied to and was accepted here at St. Francis Seminary.
By the way, speaking of obedience, when I was asked by Bishop Brom to go as pastor (or administrator) to St. Richards in Borrego Springs, I resisted, stating, “There’s nothing going on out there, and it’s so far from everything.” His response was: You can drive can’t you. Well, when I got out there, I found out all the church ministers in B.S. could play for free at the De Anza Country Club. So I started golfing. One day I was getting ready to tee off, and I realized: Oh, that’s what the Bishop meant, “You can DRIVE can’t you?!” …So now I know how to drive. (How did we do at the Golf tournament?)
Actually, before I went to the desert, I was into fishing. I used to go fishing with this old man from OMC, Pete Casa. The first time we went to Lake Miramar, we got a boat and worms and went out and caught a few trout. We came back to the dock about mid-day to get more worms, and the guy at the desk asked me: “How’s your dad?” I responded: “The guy I’m with is not my Father, I’m his father!” … He didn’t ask me any more questions after that.
Getting back to my seminary days: When I went to Rome for Theology (I guess they thought that would straighten me out further) I used to go down the halls of the seminary quoting scripture. Some of the seminarians would say, “Brian we hear this all day in class. We don’t want to hear it now from you.” So I eased up. But by the grace of God, I’ve kept my zeal for the Word.
Indeed, our faith is that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation; it is not just a human word, but it is truly the Word of God, a Divine Word, in human form; a Word that brings with it the power to achieve what is says: that’s the “Dabar” in Hebrew – the Word-event. As in Genesis chapter 1: “God said: let there be light, and there was light.” But because it is also a human word, it must be given in a language and context that people can understand, and the example of the minister of the word must also match his preaching, or the Word loses some of its potency.
If the people were perplexed about John, let us be sure they are not perplexed about us:
• When we perform the sacramental ministry, we are an alter-cristo, another Christ. We make the Dabar-event happen. The priest acts in persona Cristi when he offers the Mass, changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; forgiving sins in the sacrament of confession. He preaches Christ and communicates authoritatively the teachings of the church.
• Yet, like John the Baptist, we are not the Christ. We are humans, with our own imperfections, health issues, and sinners in need of redemption, like everyone else, as Pope Francis says even of himself.
• On this note, my sister likes to quote a Jesuit priest we heard many years ago while we were on vacation in Arch Cape, a little beach town in Oregon: Always remember this, he said: You’re not God; this ain’t Heaven; and don’t be a jerk!”
• When he saw Jesus coming toward him, John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” In our ministry, in performing the sacraments, in our pastoral interactions with the people, and in our personal lives, let us be sure we are proclaiming Christ, both in the power of the Word and Sacrament, and by our example of life, especially by our pastoral charity and humility of life, and our sense of humor regarding ourselves and all of life.
• By the way: Do you know the five marks of the church? One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Funny! …And if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Thank-you Bishop McElroy for your sense of humor, even when things go wrong (when they don’t go according to the plan) in the Liturgy!
The Lord takes delight in his people.
This is a verse that I think is very appropriate for us as diocesan priests. I think of it often. The Lord delights when we gather in his name. Every Liturgy, especially the Sunday liturgy is a time of gathering as God’s people. People often focus on the obligation to attend Mass, or what we get out of it: joy, peace, strength. But it’s good to reflect on how our God sees it: he delights in our gathering together in his name, honoring him, praising him, teaching the people about God’s life and love. Let’s be sure that every Liturgy we celebrate, every baptism, marriage and even anointing of the sick, is done with this in mind. Let us be well prepared: through our attention to daily prayer, by taking time to prepare our homilies; by being sure the faithful are actively participating and trained and prepared and empowered to serve in their given capacity: musicians, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, altar servers, greeters, yes, even ushers and custodians: let’s be well prepared for each and every event. The Lord delights in us as his people and perhaps that’s why he gives us the joy and peace and strength when we do gather in his name.
Let us also be sure that all people of every age and culture, language, and way of life know they are welcome in our churches and liturgies. Pope Francis keeps reminding us that the Church is not a place for the righteous to come and pat themselves on the back, but a hospital for sinners. May our parishes, our liturgies, and our outreach programs reflect this. Have you ever done a “Mass mailing” to invite the people within your parish boundaries to your church for Christmas? I did one my First year at St. Catherine’s. I also did a mailing when, with Bs. McElroy’s approval, I started the Spanish Mass at St. Catherine’s. Quite a few people told me they came because they got the mailing and they are still coming.
Are we going out to the peripheries to invite them in, the lost and forsaken? Most parishes have a wonderful ministry to the homebound parishioners, this is great. But we also need to reach the unchurched. It amazes me how each year each parish seems to have one or two adult candidates for baptism and/or profession of faith. I marvel that God is working in the lives of his people. But how can we be even better evangelists to bring even more people into his church to offer his praise and fitting worship?
If the Lord takes delight in his people, he also has a sense of humor when he looks at his people. Therefore, we must also have a sense of humor. If we take ourselves too seriously, where is our sense of trust in God and accepting our limitations, and accepting that sometimes even our best efforts go misunderstood, or without bearing fruit. Having a sense of humor keeps everyone in good spirits, and a little joke before the homily can get people’s attention and open their hearts to really listen to the message of salvation.
If the Lord delights in his people, so, too, does Paul the Apostle. In the letter to the Romans he tells them how he longs to see them, so they can share their spiritual gifts and mutually encourage one another.
As priests, we live for the weekend, but not so we can relax; we live for the Sunday Liturgy. Our longing, our priestly identity and fulfillment is to be united with the people in worship, in the Eucharist. Vatican II tells us that everything we do as church should stem from and lead to the Liturgy, and how much more true is that for us as priests, especially as pastors and associates.
The people also long for the Sunday Eucharist. Some may come out of obligation, but most come because they recognize the value of this sharing of spiritual gifts: priests and lay people all participating all their proper level and according to their gifts and abilities. They also long for a spiritual nourishment from the Word, including the homily, and the Eucharist. May everything we do before, during, and after liturgy help them fulfill and expand that longing for God and for the Church; may it also foster that mutual encouragement, that bond they have with us, whom they call instinctively call “Father”, having that same connection with us that Paul had with his communities.
In the first reading the Lord tells the people through the prophet Haggai: “Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory.” As priests, especially pastors, we are tasked with building and rebuilding the house of the Lord. This includes construction of churches, with all that it entails, and repairs and remodels. It can be stressful and draining. But the Lord rewards us when we persevere faithfully in it, especially if we are fortunate enough to see the fruits of our Labors. Sometimes we don’t see the results we expected, or another takes over in our place and perhaps changes the direction we had been moving. In such cases, we can remember the words of John the Baptist: he must increase and I must decrease. And so we can entrust our work to the Lord.
Our task is also to build and rebuild the church of God spiritually: to teach and celebrate the sacraments in a relevant and meaningful manner, so that they will be able to understand how only Christ can truly satisfy them, and how He does satisfy them, through his hidden presence in the Eucharist, his presence in His Word, in his priests, and in each other.
Close: Let us not leave here perplexed about our faith in Christ and God’s love for us and for his people. Let us go forth to build and rebuild the Lord’s house: whether as pastors, associates, hospital and other chaplains, even retired priests: Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel!