Homily on the 3rd Sunday of Easter
Theme: Jesus asked Simon Peter ‘do you love me; if yes feed my sheep. Simon is our representative! Why did Jesus ask him 3 times? Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter was 100% on board with Jesus before giving him the supreme mission. Jesus is asking all of us the same question. Let’s encounter the Risen Lord at this celebration and give him our total commitment so that like Peter, we will know Him and Make Him known to the world!
Have you ever prayerfully reflected upon the notion of what it means to be a member of a parish? When shopping for a new house, that has to be your dream home! There are several questions to consider during this process of buying a new home. Does the house have a convenient location? Is it the right size for your family? How does the neighborhood seem? Most important, is this a place that you can see yourself calling home? You have to ask almost the same questions when choosing a parish. The parish needs to be a dream place, a home away from home, a sacred sanctuary where the person can thrive and become the best catholic the Lord has called that person to be! I remember one time this young man came to interview me, the pastor, before he joined the parish! This young man was looking for a community of believers, a sacred place, and a spiritual leader who will support him and his family in their journey towards heaven. He has taken his Catholic faith very seriously! Good for him!
Now we need to remember the one and the only reason Jesus established the church. At the end of his 3 years ministry, Jesus gave them an important commandment ‘you shall love the Lord with all your heart, mind, strength and understanding and love your neighbor as yourself”. Then He gave them a supreme commissioning ‘proclaim the gospel and make disciples’. In other words, it was to know Him and make Him known; that is to say be a disciple and make disciples!
Now, what is a parish? Historically, when Christianity started growing there arose a need to organize the communities of Christians into a manageable system. This task first began in the 4th century and was developed over the years, culminating in the 16th century with the Council of Trent. It was at the council of Trent that bishops were instructed to clearly define parishes and the parish priests who would serve them. Specific boundaries were established so that the priest understood to whom he was ministering. The parish priest (also known as the “pastor”) was entrusted with the most important mission; going to heaven and helping all his people to do the same! In the United States, today Catholics are free to enroll in any one parish, regardless of location; I repeat one parish!
Spiritually speaking, parishes are meant to be “ships” that carry a specific group of souls to heaven. The word parish is derived from the Greek paroikos, meaning “a sojourner.” A passersby or a traveler! It is used in the Acts of the Apostles where Stephen speaks about the history of the Jewish people, explaining how they were “aliens in a land not their own” (Acts 7:6). In this way a parishioner is truly a “sojourner,” a pilgrim journeying towards his/her heavenly homeland. In the past parish churches were built in the shape of a ship. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the part of every church where the people sit is called a nave. This word comes from the Latin navis, or ship, and was meant to describe the reality that the Church is a ship, protecting those inside it from the waves and buffets of the world. Each pastor then is the “captain” of his ship of souls, entrusted with the weighty and mighty task of guiding the souls in his boat to the Eternal Shores of Heaven. It is not an easy task! This is why the priest totally depends on the active participation of his flock. Lay people, deacons, priests and pastor work hand in hand to accomplish this supreme mission! Every Sunday as you come to your parish, remember the analogy of the ship. It will help you understand the responsibility every pastor has, and your co-responsibility in helping to accomplish this most important God given mission! Please remember that at the resurrection of the dead, we as a community stand before the Lord under my leadership. And He will ask us what have you done? Where is the rest of the congregation? And He will hold us accountable. And we have to take that responsibility very, very seriously. Many of us might not have seriously thought about this obligation up until now. Since we know about it today hereafter we have no excuse!
If that is the story, let’s think about what a parish is not! Your parish is not a convenience Store! Today many people use their parish like a modern-day convenience store like Exxon, Shells, or BP. Most often, a customer drives to a convenience store, gets what he wants (gasoline, soda, cigarettes, etc.) and drives off as quickly as possible. That’s the whole point of a convenience store, isn’t it—to be convenient? Fill up as effortlessly as possible, and move on to what is really important. If I am not happy in one store, I move on to the other; no commitment! Let’s today ponder; do I treat my parish like a convenient store? Am I a disciple or a customer?
Now, what is a parish? A parish is community of believers, a family coming together to celebrate oneness of faith, doctrine, sacraments and purpose together. What is our single most important purpose as a parish: going to heaven and taking all our family there. The pastor is the spiritual leader who is responsible for making sure that everyone is on the right track. He is like a father of the house inspiring people with words and good example. But the pastor is not the parish. The parish is built upon the person of Jesus Christ and the people of the parish. Those are the key elements: the Lord Jesus Christ and the people. We don’t worship the pastor, rather we worship the One the pastor is talking about. Have you ever seen anyone going to heaven because that person was a great fan of the pastor! It is so vital and important that every member of the family come together. If one person is missing, then our family gathering is incomplete. Each and every one has a significant role to play in a parish. In a family, everyone is expected to be present and to do something for the smooth functioning of the family. Otherwise, it’s going to be a dysfunctional family.
Some practical clarifications! People ask me these questions all the time: can I be a member of two parishes? The answer is can you be married to two people? What about being member in one parish and then attending Mass at another church? It would be like, I am married to Mary; but next door neighbor Sally is more beautiful and I am hanging out with her all the time. What if I give money to this parish but I attend there? My answer is, is it enough you send money to your family but living with the neighbor? Also if you are away from your family, when you come back there is a miscommunication and disconnect.
Being a member in one parish and attending mass in that parish regularly is very important for practical reasons. Few weeks ago, this person came to me asking for a letter of good standing. I have never seen this person before. I looked that person up in our system and they are placed as inactive, not contributing, not attending mass, and not engaging any ministry here. How can I vouch for that person saying he is a practicing catholic? My dear brothers and sisters, my humble suggestion to you , be a member in any one parish, doesn’t matter where it is, where you feel at home where you and your family can thrive.
Acts of the Apostles say ‘the community of believers was one heart and mind’. The foundation of our Catholic faith is our faith in the Holy Trinity. God the Father is the lover, Jesus is the loved one and Holy Spirit is the glue that makes that love perfect. If there is dysfunction, that is the end of Holy Trinity. God created the angels to serve Him. A group of Angels, under the leadership of Lucifer disobeyed and brought disunity. God created Adam and Eve in love. By their free will they disobeyed and broke the harmony. That disharmony we can see in families, communities, parishes. That will collapse the system and harmony. Today let’s remember the foundation of Catholic spirituality: Harmony and obedience. “If today you hear my voice, harden not your hearts” says the Lord!
Jesus said to Peter today; ‘when you grow older, I will take you to place you do not want to go. Two years ago, I did not plan to come to St. Louis, but He sent me here. On the 1st day, as I was touring the campus, I said to the Lord. Lord, it’s going to be intense. But I give you my 100% yes. From that day to this very day, I am 100% on board with His mission. The amazing blessing at this parish is that we have a parish full of people who knows how to be successful in life. Therefore, I am asking you my dear brothers and sisters, Let’s work together, hand in hand, as a community of believers to know Him and Make Him known. Are you ready?