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Jesus teaches us to love, respect and serve

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Bishop’s Homily Feb. 9

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at the Virginia Vespers service at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

“There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation” (1 Pt 1:6-9).

Perhaps we were caught off guard by the contrasting ideas presented by the words of St. Peter in the reading we heard moments ago. “There is cause for rejoicing here,” he said, but then in the next sentence warned, “You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials.” How can there be rejoicing when there are also trials? Our experience tells us that a daily trial is more often an opportunity for complaining than a cause for rejoicing.

As we pray tonight in this beautiful cathedral in Richmond, the city where our elected officials are called to work together for us and our great state of Virginia, we are mindful of the trials that exist in our political landscape, which is polluted by polarization and division. We can, most likely, all agree that it is hard to rejoice, and easier to be frustrated and to lose hope in the system that is meant to reflect our public conscience and guide and unite us as a people.

So, reflecting on the words of St. Peter, we are confronted with questions: Is it possible to find joy in such a contentious climate? Is it possible to be united when our trials only seem to lead to anger and division?

Our faith provides the answers. Yes, we can find joy and peace, even in the face of trials. Yes, we can achieve unity. We need only to look toward the source of all that is good: Our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in a political system marked by discord, the means of unity and joy are inherent in our Christian faith.

Firstly, our faith tells us to love. One cannot help but notice the anger that seems ever present in our nation because of the ill feelings that exist between people of different opinions and beliefs, yet we are called by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. At every moment in His public ministry, the love of Jesus poured forth in His interaction with others. It is a love beyond measure that knows no bounds. It is a love that reached to the marginalized, the disenfranchised and those most in need. As Pope Francis reminds us, “to change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.” Such love, inherent in our faith, cannot help but to bring about unity, even in the most difficult trials.

Secondly, our faith also inspires us to respect our neighbor. No matter how harsh the political climate may get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other, even those who disagree with us. The Lord teaches us that every man, woman and child, whether they be the refugees or the immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, the prisoners, the homeless or the sick, merit our respect as made in the image and likeness of God.

Therefore as Christians we are called to respect one another at all times including the way we speak to one another. While never compromising who we are and the Truth we profess, we must stop shouting and yelling and speak calmly and serenely even when we disagree. We must avoid labels, generalizations and disrespectful name-calling. The only name we call each other is my brother/my sister! Such respect, inherent in our faith, cannot help but to be a cause of unity. 

Finally, as disciples of Jesus we are called to serve. Our culture tells us that in order to be happy, we must put ourselves and our desires first. Therefore, it seems countercultural to put aside our own interests to reach out to someone else in need. If we do that, who is looking out for us? Yet in our hearts we hear our Savior’s command: “Be not afraid.” Be not afraid to leave our comfort zones. Be not afraid to go out to the neighbor in need, the one who is vulnerable and so easily forgotten or dismissed. Be not afraid, in imitation of Him, to bow in humility; to wash the feet of one another; and to serve and not to be served. When we see true service at work in our communities, we are drawn to it; attracted to it; inspired by it! Such service to others, inherent to our faith, is the means of achieving unity.

Love, respect and service all flow from the same source, Jesus Christ, the source of all unity. Jesus loved all, even those who rejected Him. Jesus respected all, especially those society shunned. Jesus served all, even to the end, when he gave up His life on the Cross.

When we seek unity through politics, wealth, security, power, comfort, popularity, or success, we will never find “cause for rejoicing” in the “many trials” of our lives. St. Peter points us to Jesus so that we do not face these trials alone, but always in and through and with Him and together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we continue to pray daily for our Commonwealth, may we do so with a renewed commitment to the Source of our unity, Jesus Christ and, with His grace, go forth with lives marked by the fruits of love, respect and service in times of blessings, in times of trials and all the days of our lives. For then and only then, do we have every reason to rejoice! Amen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017