Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the last 45 years of my life Sunday after Sunday I had been publically professing my Catholic faith saying “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. Therefore, with so much pride and joy I want to tell you my people, even in the midst of everything going on in the Catholic Church, I stand with the Catholic Church; born Catholic, raised Catholic, stay Catholic and I will die Catholic. I am Catholic, yesterday, today and forever. A great system of 1.2 billion should not be judged by its worst adherents but by its best, those who actually live up to its standards. Judge the Catholic Church by its saints, not by its hypocrites. The Church is not only the nursery of the saints, but a hospital for sinners.” If being hurt by the Church causes you to lose your faith in God, than your faith was in people and not in God. Jesus did not say ‘follow Simon Peter’, but he said “follow me’. In the midst of the scandal, confusion and stumbling block, as your pastor I am standing here with a contrite heart and pray “ I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, as shepherds we have greatly sinned in what we have done and what we have failed to do. “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole Catholic Church”!
Today I have Good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that it happened in the Catholic Church, the church and its leaders allowed this to happen! The Good news is that all these allegations are not brand new incidents. They are all the issues of the past. As I said in my letter in the bulletin, last week, we have zero tolerance today and also we have a very strong system in place making sure that it is not happening again. I have been with the diocese for the last 14 years and since then; we do not have a single incident in the diocese of Memphis. This tragedy is going to bring greater purification within the church. The most horrible thing ever happened to humanity is the death of Jesus. The greatest blessing ever happened to humanity is also the death of Jesus. God can turn the most horrible incident into a dive renovation. Let me tell you what it did to me personally. I became more prayerful, I learned the importance of promoting confession, rosary, fasting, attending daily Mass, and doing penance for the purification of the church. To St. Louis, this year, we have the greatest number of people joining the RCIA program to become Catholics! Please remember that it has been the history of the Catholic Church that the church flourishes when we have crisis.
I grew up in a parish called St. Mary’s. In fact my small town was dedicated to Mother Mary and the name of the town was Mariapuram after Blessed Mother. We had almost 350 families in that parish and everybody knew everybody. When I was in 4th grade, we had new Pastor Come. His name was Emmanuel. He got my attention on the second Sunday at the Mass. On that Sunday he said that he was going on a week of silence, prayer and fasting because a young man from our parish killed himself. He said, as a pastor, that tragedy happened under his watch and he was taking responsibility for it. He said ‘he has only one mission in life going to heaven and helping as many as he can to get there’.
He was a very holy priest who transformed my parish from maintenance to Mission. During his 10 years as a pastor, the church attendance grew from 60% to 110% because he converted many Hindus to Christianity. From that small parish, we had almost 20 people went to the seminary and became priests and 25 young ladies became a religious sisters. My high school class mate who joined the seminary with me was recently ordained as the Bishop of my local diocese. Fr. Emmanuel my parish priest was real. As I child I was deeply influenced by his holiness. Every day I would see him, after school, kneeling in front of the Blessed Mother and praying the rosary. We had poor people in the parish. But running soup kitchen was not his priority. Day after day, he gave Jesus to people and Jesus helped people to get transformed. Within 10 years, the parish community was completely transformed, financially and spiritually. He love for the Lord and His people inspired me so much that thought to myself I thought to myself, when I grow up, I want to be like him.
I am a Catholic priest today because I was indeed influenced by 100s of Holy priests and religious sisters. I have personally seen and experienced how these holy men gave up everything to serve God with love, joy and commitment. There are almost .05 million priests in the universal Catholic Church. Study and survey show that 2% out of .05 million have caused problems. Now let me tell you out of the 12 people Jesus the son of God called, one of them was a crook and a traitor. It is a puzzling question that why Jesus called him and kept him until the last minute! How wonderful it would have been if everything is perfect in this world? Husband and wives are always happily married and children are obedient and human beings love and respect each other. How many of you will never get married just because there are divorces? How many of you will abandon your mother because she is not perfect?
I have always thought about why some priests are failing? The reason why they are failing is because they are standing in the battle field. Who is getting wounded in the battle field? People who are fighting at the front row? Some priests are failing because they are being attacked five times more than ordinary people. I remember asking this holy priest. How much temptation do you have? Five times more than a married person has. That is why the people of God every single day fasts and pray for the priests and support the priests. Remember, the first thing I asked each of you when I came to St. Louis was to pray a Memorare every day for your priests. We need them very badly.
Two people perfectly happy and loving getting married. But divorce takes place when they fail to set priorities. In the same way, crisis happens in the church, when we follow wrong priorities. We failed to keep the main thing the main thing. That is the tactic of Satan. He wants us to have wrong priorities! Over the years, everything else became the priority of the church but Jesus and the sacraments. The schools, the hospitals, the groups and organizations, the ball games, the movie stars, the social and political issues, running soup kitchens etc became the priority of the church. The real hero (Jesus Christ) became Zero and zeros became heros! We started worshiping, the bishops, the pastors, the principals, the DRE, the youth directors so on and so forth. As the saying goes, don’t worship the pastor, but worship the One the pastor is talking about. We failed to promote the fasting, praying, going to confession, spending time before the Eucharist, praying the rosary, focusing on family values, purifying the souls etc; etc. My dear friends, may this crisis be an opportunity for us to return to the values for which Christ Jesus established the church. May this crisis be an opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes! May this crisis help each one of us on a personal level to rediscovering Jesus Christ and the Church He established. 9/11 was a catastrophe hit the USA at an unexpected time. At that time, we were in a different mindset thinking nothing and nobody could touch us. Satan cunningly proved us very well that he working hard 24/7 brining, confusion, chaos and destruction. 9/11 taught us great lesion. May this 9/11 in the Catholic Church teach us a great lesion making sure that it will not happen again!
The primary duty of Christian is to save his or her soul. Let’s focus on what is within “my control”. Am I a practicing Catholic? Do I go to confession? Do I practice the gospel values? Am I a good father and Mother? Am I a hypocrite? At the day of the judgement, the Lord will never ask you, please give a report on the Catholic church? All the Lord is going to ask us is a report on our souls. Let’s focus on what is within our capacity. We can’t fix the whole Catholic Church. We can set the right priorities for my personal life and the life of this parish. Brothers and sisters, I am not a member of the church. I am the church! You are not a member of the church. You are the church! Don’t leave the church but lead the church!
Few years ago, Bishop Steib gave me this book called “Divine Renovation”. I always thought of myself a pretty good priest. But this book brought so much light to my ministry, the mistakes that I make as a clergy without knowing about it. It also speaks about the mistakes, parishes and congregation make in our journey to heaven without knowing about it. I offered this Book to St. William in Millington and they really enjoyed it. I thought I could share this information with you that would definitely enhance our church family. Book Study of Divine Renovation will begin on Wednesday, September 12th and will be held on seven Wednesdays. The sessions will be repeated on Sundays beginning on Sunday, September 16th.
A homeless man by the name St. Francis of Assisi heard the Lord calling one day “‘Francis, go and rebuild my Church’. Today we heard Jesus opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. To rebuild the church we need to allow Jesus to open our eyes to His truth and our ears to His word so that stepping out of our comfort zone we can also become a little St. Francis in helping Jesus to rebuild his church.