Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homily for the Closing Mass

Congratulations.  You made it through another year.  God formed you, shaped you, cajoled you and endured you.  And in his great love, he got us through. Congratulations.
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Ut unum sint.  That they all might be one.

They are the last words on the lips of good Pope John before he died.  It is the title of an encyclical on ecumenism of blessed Pope John Paul II and the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper.

And your job description.

Ut unum sint.

Why does the bishop send you to that parish this summer?

Ut unum sint.

Why do you spend six years of your life in this seminary?

Ut unum sint.

Why did the Lord establish the sacrament of holy orders?

Ut unum sint.

You can hear it in the closing words of the Church’s prayer for the ordination of a priest:

And so may the full number of the nations, gathered together in Christ, be transformed into your one people and made perfect in your Kingdom.”

Ut unum sint

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So, how do we bring about such unity?  

We get a hint in the Acts of the Apostles, where we hear that “a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees” over whether angels and demons exist. That dispute resulted in a division. Not unity, division.

Now let’s just say you were a Pharisee (the good guys in this case). What are you supposed to do? Pursue peace at all costs? Renounce the truth in order to be one with your brother?

It’s the same question posed to a major American Congregation as it has debated gay marriage, married clergy, and so many other hot button issues. Unity at all costs many have argued, like the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, who once suggested:

"If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy.  For as a heretic, you are only guilty of a wrong opinion.  As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ. Choose heresy every time." (Episcopal Bishop for Virginia, the Right Reverend Peter J. Lee as quoted in the Washington Times, Jan. 31, 2004.)

Such foolishness is the reason so many faithful people of this Communion are fleeing an institution which too often refuses to choose truth, defaulting for a unity built on sand. 

Ut unum sint.  For real unity can only come from a common apprehension of the truth, and the truth can never be established by a lie.  The way to unity is only through Christ, who is the truth, and through whom all is made one.

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But how do we bring people to such truth?  Do we do it by screaming at them, but standing tall in pulpit and speaking down through our noses?  Do we beat them over the head, insult them, or remind them how truly stupid they are?

If we do, we will never convert them.  Only one thing converts.  Only one person converts.  The truth spoken in love.

Real love.  The kind that dies to self and listens.  The kind that makes your heart ache for the other.  The kind that agonizes, that wakes up in the middle of the night, that would literally lay down its life to save the soul of the other.

It’s not self-righteous, it not condescending.  It’s truth in love.

Love of the person who disagrees with me, love of the person whose argument I see as ultimately nonsensical and without merit, love of every Sadducee who refuses to see the truth.

Love of the Pastor who tells me this summer to do it this way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Love of the DRE who condescends on a good day and dismisses me on a bad one.

Love of the old lady in the nursing home who swears at me whenever I bring her communion.

Love of the Parish Council member who insists all the Church’s problems would be solved if we’d just ordain women.

Love of the associate who is convinced I am a conservative Neanderthal and that I am just too immature to understand what real life is really all about.

Love of the son who doesn’t want to bring his mother to Church for the funeral beacuse it costs too much.

Love of each and every one who reviles me, persecutes me and utters every kind of slander against me.

And not fake love.  Love that says I am going to keep beating him about the head until he finally admits that I am right.

Love that is patient, that is kind, that never puts on airs.  Love that is willing to die for the least and the poorest and the most obnoxious, not because I am so much better than they are...but because I seek to be daily more closely conformed to the one they nailed to a cross...the one who looked down at them and said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

So when you return in a few months and I read your summer pastoral assignment review, I will over and over see the same words: patient, kind, loving, respectful and incredibly humble.

And so I will know that you chose to cling to the truth, always in love.  Ut unum sint.

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A final word.

Before you were born, the first cop drama on TV appeared...maybe you saw the reruns.  It was NYPD Blue.  It always started the same way, with the Sargeant presenting the morning briefing to an assembly of police officers, and he always ended with the same admonition: “Be careful out there.”

And as you prepare to run to your cars, that’s my final adminition to you: “Be careful out there.”  Careful to pray, for a life without prayers is a life in the desert.  And it’s all too easy to get lost in the desert.  

Careful to be good.  For the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and he finds seminarians, particularly in the summertime, to be a tasty morsel.

Careful to be faithful.  For many will ask you to tickle their ears with lies that will ease a corrupted conscience.  But always speak the truth in love.  Ut unum sint.

Be careful out there.  Because of the love which I add my brothers I bear for you.  Because we want nothing more than to be proud of you.  Because we know you can do it.

Be careful out there.  But rejoice and be glad.  For the Lord sends you forth as his disciples, and he is ever beside you and behind you and above and below you and deep deep within your heart.  

Be careful our there.  And come home soon.

God bless you.