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Courageous, strong, involved witness to God’s mercy

Bishop's homily

The following homily was given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Opening Mass of the Holy Spirit at each of the four Colleges/Universities and at the four diocesan high schools this fall.

World Youth Day, the Summer Olympics and the Year of Mercy. Why am I projecting before you these three events as we begin our reflection on today’s Scripture readings during this Mass of the Holy Spirit, early in this academic year? Why? Because from each of these events, we can discern several instructive and encouraging elements which assist us in our journey of faith with one another and with the Lord Jesus.

World Youth Day. Pope Francis’ counsel to the young people there and to young people worldwide, to us right here, right now, clearly pointed to courage, strength and involvement as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Summer Olympics. The participants practiced long and hard prior to the Games; they displayed relentless efforts as they played. And their entire attention was focused on the goal: winning the gold medal, or silver or bronze, but the gold was the ultimate goal.

Year of Mercy. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Community of His Disciples — and you and I are united to Christ as His disciples, the Church is, “called, above all, to be a credible witness to mercy.” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, n. 25). Whose mercy? God the Father’s mercy revealed in the Face of Jesus Christ (cf. Ibid, n.1). As we know, Pope Francis has proclaimed this Year of Mercy, which began on Dec. 8, 2015, and will end in November. The Year will end, but God’s mercy endures forever!

So, then, taking these several elements from the three events I referenced, we conclude: we are called to be credible witnesses to God’s mercy, witnesses who are courageous, strong and involved, witnesses keeping our eyes on the goal: experiencing God’s mercy ourselves and sharing it with others, because His mercy can lead us all to life everlasting.

However, to be such witnesses, you and I need to be transformed, that is, changed inwardly, because on our own, we cannot be the witnesses Jesus desires us to be. We need Him every moment of every day! We absolutely need Jesus Christ, Who gives us His transforming grace!

The Lord Jesus does come to our aid, especially by sending us the Holy Spirit to transform us more into His image and to make us courageous, strong and involved. I repeat, this is precisely why early in every academic year; we invoke God the Holy Spirit’s presence and assistance.

So, then, we must be courageous, strong and involved witnesses and disciples. But, honestly, so often we fail! We are like the Apostles before Pentecost. Yes, we have been mandated, from Baptism on, to be witnesses. To us too, Jesus speaks as He did to the Apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”

But, let us face reality. We live in a society and are immersed in a culture whose values and behaviors — patterns are contrary to what the Lord Jesus teaches us. We need all the more to be courageous, strong and involved. We need new hearts and new spirits, which, Ezekiel prophesied, would be given to us, as we heard in today’s first reading.

So often though, as I said, we are like the Apostles before Pentecost: fearful and paralyzed. But then, Pentecost happened! The Holy Spirit came and they were radically changed. At World Youth Day, Pope Francis referred to Pentecost and to this profound change. “Then in that situation [Pentecost] something spectacular, something grandiose, occurred. The Holy Spirit and tongues as of fire came to rest upon each of them, propelling them towards an undreamed-of adventure. This brings about a total change!” (cf. Prayer Vigil, World Youth Day, Krakow, 2016).

Pope Francis went on to say to the youth in Krakow — now to us: “The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes,’ but for young people with shoes, or better, with boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.” (cf. Ibid.).

Moreover, we too have a goal to achieve: the gold medal of living as a credible witness to God’s mercy. We too are running in a race: it is the race of deepening our personal relationship with Jesus Christ within the Community of His Disciples, the Church. The more we try to live, united with Jesus, His hand in ours, the more we begin to be more like Him, to reflect Him in our thinking, our speaking and our actions. Closely living with Him, we become credible witnesses to God’s mercy. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy. So, the more we are like Him, the more His mercy shines through us as we try to be patient, understanding, helpful to others, forgiving.

Of course, we do not resemble Jesus perfectly. We cannot because we are not perfect, Of course we have our struggles; at times, we turn away from Jesus and do not hold on to His hand. We sin.

However, even if we turn away and sin, Jesus never gives up on us! He calls us back to Him. In the Sacrament of Penance, He forgives us, flooding us with His mercy! He strengthens us in the Holy Eucharist, both Sacrament and Sacrifice.

What did He just tell us in the Gospel account? “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” So, then, we ought not to be surprised when we encounter personal struggle, or resistance, rejection and persecution from others. In fact, expect them.

As He promised, Jesus sends us God the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, that is, the Holy Spirit stands on one side of us to support and to sustain us while Jesus Himself stands on the opposite side. Together they will strengthen us to testify, to witness!

World Youth Day 2016 has ended, the Summer Olympics are over, but God’s mercy endures! This year, here at school and at home, reach out in prayer to God the Holy Spirit. Be courageous, strong and involved as you keep witnessing to God’s mercy while running the race that leads you and others to achieve the gold medal of a close relationship with Jesus now and one day in heaven. Remember, God’s Mercy endures forever!


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016