Church of the Nativity
A. I am delighted to be with all of you for Sunday Mass during this time of ongoing Easter joy and on this special occasion when we will be breaking ground for the long-anticipated new church, here at the Church of the Nativity.
B. It is a day for us to give thanks to God for his many blessings and to thank those who have gone before us in faith. It is also a day to think of those who first built Nativity Parish and those who served as pastors, associate pastors, and staff members through the years. We remember them gratefully, for we are standing on their shoulders.
C. So now, as we prepare to build a new church, we recall how, under the leadership of Father Michael White, Nativity has been “re-built”, not only in its physical structures but indeed in its pastoral life and outreach. This is surely a moment for you and me to express our deep appreciation to Father Michael White, your pastor, and to all his devoted co-workers!
II. Vision and Hearing
A. For quite some time now, as you’ve driven onto the grounds of Nativity, you have seen the signs on the lampposts that proclaim in bold letters, “VISION”. You have also listened, I should imagine, to not a few pep talks about “VISION” and received communications, flying under the heading of “VISION”. We are not talking about bifocals or contact lenses, but a vision of faith and life proclaimed here at Nativity with relevance and resonance for daily living.
B. But where does that vision of faith and life come from? If you ask St. Paul, he would say that “faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17), just as Jesus says to you and me into today’s Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice.” Vision comes from hearing, from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd.
C. And what is it that the Good Shepherd wants to say to us, the members of his flock? Does Jesus merely wish to convey to us information about God, interesting and important as that might be? Is the Lord wishing to give us a bag of rules for daily living? (So many people think of the faith as an amalgam of moral strictures which limits our vision rather than expanding it.) …I suppose you can tell from the way I posed these questions, I don’t think the Good Shepherd is out merely to give us dry information or to impose upon us a set of rules designed to make life miserable. No, when we, the sheep of the flock, truly listen to the voice of the Lord and allow his words to resonate deeply in our hearts, then we begin to have vision, a vision of faith – vision by which we peer into the merciful heart of the heavenly Father. For Jesus, Pope Francis reminds us, is the face of the Father’s mercy. He knows us; he loves us; he leads us to vision of pure love.
D. And how does the voice of the Good Shepherd reach us? Surely through the Scriptures, above all when proclaimed in the Liturgy, but also through preaching, the Church’s teaching, and the witness of our lives. The voice of the Good Shepherd reaches us through our pastors, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, myself as your Archbishop, Fr. White, your pastor, and through many dedicated people, lay and ordained, who listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bear witness to his love.
III. Vision and Worship
A. If the vision of faith comes from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, that vision is deepened immeasurably in our life of worship. In today’s reading from the Book of Revelation, we share in the vision of John the Beloved Disciple, as he glimpses the great liturgy of heaven where Christ is seated “at the right hand of the Father.”
B. Here we see the Lamb who is our Shepherd, the Lamb who was slain for us and for our salvation. Here we see the depth of the Good Shepherd’s love for us. God’s Son was not content merely to give direction for our lives; rather, he became one of us, he assumed our flesh, our humanity, and died on the Cross and rose from the dead to lead us from the death of sin to the new life of grace. This is the very heart of the faith we share as Catholics, its “source and summit” – for when we gather on Sunday for the Eucharist, the high point is the reenactment of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. For when we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified and risen, then our eyes are opened to that vision of peace and joy in heaven where the Lamb once slain lives forever (cf. Easter Preface III). This is where we come to see that our faith is not merely a matter of words but rather is matter of sharing in the great deeds of salvation which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, accomplished for us and for our redemption. This is why we are a sacramental church, a church founded on the Sacraments, for it is through sacramental signs that we touch the life of Jesus, share in his saving deeds, and begin to see even amid the challenges of this life the vision of the life that is to come, in heaven.
IV. Vision and Charity That Evangelizes
A. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see Paul and Barnabas at work, sharing openly their vision of faith in Jesus Christ. They were joyful, they were courageous, even the face of opposition. Never did they lose their temper, never did the utter an unkind word never did they resent the suffering they had to undergo for the sake of the Gospel. Rather, they were “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” and they became “a light to the Gentiles” … “an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” And from the beginning they did this by preaching and worship but also by charity, by outreach to the poor and needy, practicing what St. John Paul II called “a charity that evangelizes” that is to say, a charity that bears witness to the Lord “the true light that enlightens everyone” (John 1:9).
B. As the light of Christ dawns upon us personally and as it shines brightly in this and every parish community, we find ourselves facing the same challenge that faced the Apostles. We cannot keep this vision to ourselves. Once we encounter Christ and allow him to walk with us through life, we undergo what Pope Francis calls “a missionary conversion” – we will want to share this vision of life and love with those around us— members of our families, co-workers, friends, and neighbors. We will want to take up our role in the work of evangelization including those who called to a special vocation as priests and religious. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I think of the young men in this parish who are considering a priestly vocation – pray for them – we need many good priests for parishes throughout the Archdiocese.
A. As we proceed with this sacred liturgy and then to the groundbreaking, let us rejoice and give thanks, for it is the Lord who must build our house of worship so that we will hear his voice and thus see the merciful heart of God, so that we will worship “in spirit and truth” and thus peer into the liturgy of heaven, so that we will catch sight of him who is “the light of the world” and thus go forth from this parish to proclaim the Name above every other name by the witness of our charity, becoming ourselves “an instrument of salvation even to the ends of the earth!”
B. May God bless us and keep us always in His love!