Homily at Pontifical North American College
During the Synod of the Bishops on Marriage, I am staying at the North American College, the U.S. bishops’ seminary in Rome for men studying for the priesthood. Many years ago, I was here as a student and I continue to stay at the College when I am in Rome. On Sunday, October 18, I was invited to be the principal celebrant and homilist for the community Mass and below is the text of the homily I gave at that Eucharistic Liturgy.
As I begin I want to thank Monsignor Checchio for the gracious invitation to be the principal celebrant today and offer these words of reflection.
My brother priests, seminarians, brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Last evening with the Washington seminarians here at the College, we reflected on memorable moments of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Each one had his own, as do I, particular memory and I am sure each one here does.
When a reporter on the plane back to Rome said that Pope Francis had “become a star in the United States,” our Holy Father responded that he preferred the traditional title of “Servant of the servants of God.” This humility characterized the Pope’s meeting with the bishops of our country, saying that he came to speak to us as a “brother among brothers” as he shared some reflections to help the shepherds of the Church in our mission. But what he said in many respects applies equally to all of us in this chapel.
Today’s Gospel and the recurring theme in Gospel readings in the past several weeks reminds us of the centrality of the kingdom, how we are all to envision ourselves as servants of it.
We are reminded, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.”
The lesson in the Gospel today is clearly that it is not all about us. Faith, Church discipleship is not all about me. It is not all about us.
Rather, it is about the kingdom. And our focus has to be on the kingdom in its fullness that we strive someday to enter and that kingdom being realized here and now in the Church. Our call is to discipleship. But our call here at this College is to a very special relationship with Jesus, Lord of the kingdom but also head of his Church.
Discipleship must identify with the Lord in all aspects of his life and ministry.
The image of the Lord that emerges from the readings today is precisely the suffering servant depicted in the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah and more clearly understood in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews where we are reminded that we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness. That weakness however is intended for the glory of God. Jesus reminds us that our recognition that it is not all about us, our recognition that what is at stake is the kingdom, brings us to be willing to follow Jesus who says he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Where does this happen?
The working out of God’s plan, the manifestation of his kingdom, the realization of what he came to accomplish takes place in and through his Church. It is for that reason that Jesus challenges us to sustain the unity of that communion that is his Body.
Again and again, the Successor of Peter spoke to the bishops gathered in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington to hear him. He spoke of the importance of communion, both in the Church and throughout the human family. The world “is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere,” he said. “As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”
Yesterday at the Vatican celebration of the 50th anniversary of synods, Pope Francis spoke of the role of the Pope and reminded us that synods take place always with and always under Peter. It is precisely the role of Peter to guarantee the conformity of the synod’s work with the great tradition of the Church.
In the midst of these challenges, Pope Francis emphasized the need to be one, reminding us also that “we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.” Most especially, the Church, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over,” he said.
Jesus prayed that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22). Thus, just as it is his mission as Pope “to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ,” he reminded the bishops that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”
This effort is essential not only so that the Church might remain true to the Lord’s will that we be one Church, one body of Christ, but it is also indispensable for our powerful priestly mission. Our unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” Pope Francis reminded the bishops.
We who are gathered in this particular moment in the life of the Church have our vision focused on the Synod on the Family which is part of a process that began with the announcement in February of 2014 that the Church will be asked to reflect upon the challenges families face today and the mission of the family in our contemporary world.
The Synod, as it has done since, was established 50 years ago this week with the apostolic constitution Apostolica sollicitudo of Pope Paul VI, gathers around the rock, the Successor to Peter, the head of the Church and reflects always with and never without Peter and his vision, guidance and charism.
I have had the privilege of being involved in Synods in one way or another since the first one in 1967 and in seven subsequent ones as a bishop member. What Pope Francis has introduced is a refreshing level of openness and discussion that can only take place because of the fundamental, primary, primordial unity that is assumed among all of the members.
My brothers, in your formation in the priesthood that same bedrock unity has to be a given. We have to say to ourselves everyday it is not about me, it is not about us, it is about the kingdom, it is about the Church, it is about serving God’s people and we do that always with and never without Peter.