Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Homily 24th Sunday of the Year 13 September 2009

When I was a college seminarian,
not even half-way through my seminary formation,
I was approached abruptly in the lunch line by a priest professor,
who blurted out a line of Latin and demanded: “Translate!”

The line he spoke was “O Crux ave, spes unica!”
The translation I gave,
which thankfully turned out to be correct, and which I will never forget,
was “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!”

This particular priest was fond of teaching us ancient liturgical hymns
and the text is the first line of the ninth verse of the Vexilla Regis,
a hymn written by the 6th century Roman poet Fortunatus

In the tradition of the Church, it is sung on Palm Sunday, Good Friday,
and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which is Monday/tomorrow.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross commemorates the 4th Century pilgrimage
of the Empress Helena to the Holy Land,
where she searched for and discovered the relics of the Passion,
including the true Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

The Cross of Jesus is the symbol and the instrument of our eternal salvation,
our only hope for true and abundant life,
and we celebrate the Cross with great love, joy, and devotion!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals to His disciples
the purpose of His coming into the world: His Passion,
the same reality which is at the heart of discipleship.

First we witness the famous scene of Peter’s confession of faith.
The disciples recount for Jesus the various gossips among the people
who have been astonished by Jesus’ teaching ands healing:
“[Some say] John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus confronts them personally, and touches their hearts,
posing the same question that we have pondered for over 2 millennia:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answers with confidence on behalf of the Twelve: “You are the Christ!”

Jesus follows Peter’s profession of faith with the revelation of His ultimate mission,
for to profess faith in Jesus Christ means to accept
the totality of who He is and what He has come to accomplish.

Peter has rightly and boldly professed: “You are the Christ!”
Now Jesus reveals to the disciples who the Messiah is
and the full extent of what He must do to show mankind the love of God
and bring salvation to the world.

He teaches them that
“the Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be rejected…and be killed,
and rise after three days.”

Jesus dismisses Peter’s rebukes, for He knows who He is and what He must do –
not for Himself but that the world might have life.

The suffering of the Passion Jesus predicts would be horrific.
The Cross is shocking, to say the least.
From a merely human point of view, a suffering messiah is pathetic
and the world expects so much more from a savior.
But to believe in Jesus demands that we also accept the reality of His Cross,
which is nothing less than the fullest revelation
of the meaning and power of love.

Embracing of the mystery of the passion places demands on every disciple.
Jesus follows the revelation of His own Passion
by explaining what it means for the crowds of His followers:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”

Being a Christian means imitating Christ.
Imitating Christ means incorporating and imaging in our own lives
the reality of who Christ is, which is revealed to us most fully on the Cross.

We who seek to be Jesus’ followers must live as He lived,
by laying down our lives that others might have life.

We are called to despise and put to all that binds us to this earthly life,
all concerns about material wealth, popularity, pleasure and comfort,
and live instead with our gaze fixed on our eternal home in Heaven.
We do this each day as we put our faith into action, as Saint James teaches us.
Faith is more than a Sunday obligation.
It is a daily commitment to sacrificing our own desires and expectations
in order to meet the needs of others
and invite them to taste the beauty of the truth and love of Jesus.

We do this as we set aside our personal agendas and accept the truth of the Gospel.

“Hail, O Cross, our only hope!”
Who could have predicted that these words,
the heart of a blunt question by a teasing professor,
would mean so much to a young priest.

The Cross is for me the image of my priesthood.
Jesus, who is both the author of my vocation and the inspiration of my ministry,
has called me to be a priest
in order that I might lay down my life for the sake of the Gospel.
He has sent me to St. Michael to place my life, at whatever cost necessary to myself,
at the service of His work within our community of faith, the Church.
He has called me to find the meaning of my life, not in this world’s goods,
but in meeting the needs of others
and in bringing them to experience His love and truth.

For you I am a priest.
With you I am a sinner.
Surely I have failed at times in this solemn responsibility
to love you with the love of Jesus Christ.
I have even at times allowed myself to stand in the way of Christ's truth and love,
as my human weakness and impatience overshadowed the Gospel
and my personality clouded the brilliance of the light of Jesus.

I will likely not ever be free of sin,
or without the need to go at least monthly to confession.
At 28 years old, there is much I have yet to experience and much I hope to learn.

What I do know, with the same certainty that Peter knew Jesus is the Christ, is this:
from the earliest morning Mass through the latest night-time hospital call,
my heart burns with a desire to love and to bring you closer to Jesus.

The Eucharist is where I encounter Jesus Christ.
I spend time with Him in prayer each day,
asking Him to draw all of you closer to His Heart.
The moment of the Consecration at Mass is the pinnacle of my existence
and the principal opportunity God gives me to literally show Jesus to the world
and there are times when I am overwhelmed
at the honored place my hands and lips have
in the saving drama between God and His Church.

I sincerely believe in Holy Scripture and in every doctrine of the Church’s teaching
and I accept with gratitude the serious responsibility God has given me
to speak His truth to a starving world.

It is love for the Church, founded on the rock of Saint Peter’s faith,
that drives me to pray constantly, speak boldly, and love passionately.
I am aware that some of you have written in protest about me to Bishop Murry.

For the Gospel, the Catechism, and the traditions of the Church, I make no apology.

But where your words have helped me to understand the impact of my humanity
in clouding the proclamation of the Gospel, I thank you.
I regret that you were not able to share your thoughts with me personally,
and I take this opportunity to invite you to do so.
As I said when I first arrived at St. Michael,
my office is always open to anyone who wishes to speak with me.
I am open to hearing you, learning from you, and working with you.

Please pray with me that I will learn to love Jesus and you even more.

“Hail, O Cross, our only hope!”
To lay down my life more and more each day for the sake of Jesus, and for you,
is my only hope – for this my vocation, my path to eternal life.
To strive to imitate the love of Jesus on the Cross is the only hope of every disciple.

May we together find our life, our hope, and our fulfillment in the Lord’s Cross.


Anonymous said...

God Bless you Fr Matthew. We all need to be as Jesus. God knows we fall short. But we must continue to strive for "the love of Jesus on the Cross" truly are only hope.

Curtis said...

Dear Father Matthew,
I recently came across your blog on the Internet and I have seen your ordination video on Youtube. May God bless your ministry!
I am only 15 and I believe God is calling me to the priesthood. This homily really touched me because I am also giving some consideration about going into the Passionists (however, I have taken the advice of some other priests of looking into different communities before making a final decision).
I hope you will pray for me as I discern God's calling. Know that you are also in my prayers. God bless you!

In Christ,
Curtis Akerley

Father Matthew J. Albright said...

Thank you for sharing your comments and for generously opening your heart to God's call to the priesthood. You are in my prayers. Feel free to write if you have any questions.

Fr. Matthew