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Bishop Burbidge's homily for Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth

This homily was given by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond Feb. 12 during 2019 Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth.


Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:6-9)


Saint Paul tells us, “Have no anxiety at all.” What a challenge this can be in our world today! As we gather this evening in this beautiful cathedral in Richmond, the city where our elected officials work, we are mindful that our current political and social landscape is darkened so often by a rejection of what is true, honorable, and just and by an ongoing polarization and division.


Reflecting on the words of Saint Paul, we are confronted with practical questions. How can we not be anxious in these times? How can we face and find our way through the darkness around us? In past weeks our state’s General Assembly has considered legislation that would have undone vital protections for the unborn, repealed health and safety standards for pregnant women and their children, restricted the exercise of religious liberty in offering health coverage, and legalized physician-assisted suicide. And in these final weeks of the session, important decisions remain about abortion funding in the state budget, the death penalty, family life education, and whether to expand our state’s surrogacy law.


Sacred Scripture tells us that Christ is the Light who dispels the power of darkness and who is the lamp unto our feet. Through faithful discipleship, we become powerfully aware that we do not walk alone through the darkness of this world; we walk together with Christ leading and guiding us. With one another in faith, we find the peace and strength necessary to walk in the light of Christ, to respond effectively to the challenges of our day, and to be freed from all anxiety and distress.


Walking in the Light of Christ draws us together as a community of faith in prayer. We gather this evening to make our needs known to God communally through our Lord Jesus Christ in praise, petition, and thanksgiving. We pray with and for those with whom we disagree, those who have done us harm, and those whom we may have harmed. This is the way Jesus taught us to pray!


Thankfully, we do not set out in this prayer alone, but rather we fervently ask, “Lord, make haste to help us.” We pray: Christ our Light, dispel the darkness of fear and hatred that only you can overcome. Christ our Light, cast away the shadows that blind us to love, forgiveness, and humility, and cast away the shadows that also blind us to your healing and saving power in our lives and in the world.


Being together in the Light of Christ inspires us to fix our gaze on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure” — all that is “worthy of praise.” No matter how dark the political and social climate may get, we are called to see what is good and true in every man, woman, and child, who are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are called to see God’s image in every person, of every race and creed and social status, including the poor and homeless, refugees and immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, inmates, and the sick. At every moment in His public ministry, Christ poured out His love on every person, without exception, and so revealed that He is indeed the Light of all nations. In our pastoral outreach and care for those in need, we help to radiate the Light of Christ!


Therefore, as Christians we are called to look for what is worthy of praise in every human being. While never compromising who we are and the Truth we profess, we must stop shouting and yelling at others; we must listen — truly listen — and respond calmly, even when we disagree. We must avoid labels, generalizations, and name-calling. The only name we call each other is brother and sister! In this way, we can truly be witnesses everywhere for Christ, the true Light.


 Working together in the Light of Christ challenges us to be the Light of Christ in the world. Saint Paul exhorts us, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen.” What we learn and receive and hear and see in Christ is the one who came not to be served but to serve. “Doing” what we see in Christ requires that we go out to our neighbor in need, that we bow in humility, that we wash the feet of one another. When we offer humble and sacrificial service in our communities, Christ our Light shines forth through us and so scatters the shadows of selfishness, hatred, and prejudice in our world.


 Saint Paul says, “Have no anxiety at all,” and he tells us how this is possible. Pray, seek God, and follow Christ. Undeniably there is darkness in our world, and this darkness is beyond our own powers — political or otherwise — to overcome. However, this does not mean that the darkness cannot be overcome. Indeed, it has been overcome! We are believers convinced that by His own life, death and resurrection, Jesus, the Light of the World, has once and for all dispelled the power of darkness. His victory is our victory!


Therefore, as we continue to pray for our Commonwealth, may we see it with hope as illuminated by the splendor of our Lord Jesus. What does this look like? People proudly professing and living their faith; people dying to sin and their old way of living; people letting go of hatred, bitterness, and jealousy and putting on love; people working tirelessly for the protection of all human life and the dignity of all persons; and people taking care of one another, especially the weakest of our brothers and sisters. In this prayer and work for our world, may we be freed from all anxiety and may the God of peace be with us today and always. Amen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019