Archbishop Lori’s Homily: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Live-streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Live-Streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

June 21, 2020

Fear is a powerful human emotion. It strikes in the depths of our hearts when we confront violence, death, illness, loss of livelihood, or shame. Fear can paralyze us just when we most need to convert retreat into advance. Fear can prod us into making bad choices – hasty, ill-considered choices, with lasting detrimental consequences. Fear can hang over our lives like a cloud, a cloud that casts gloom on our relationships with others and robs us of joy.

We are no strangers to fear. Almost no one, including those who lead heroic lives, is fearless. Sometimes, our fear is plain for all to see, but more often, we hide our fears and bury them inside our mind and heart. Frequently, we make decisions based on fear, rather than hope, so much so, that our lives can become one long exercise in risk management. Is there not a point in our lives when we should be free of fear – not only external fear but also the fear we carry around inside of us?

Jeremiah Foreshadows Jesus 

It should be comforting that heroically holy people are also no strangers to fear. Our first reading spoke of the outright persecution the prophet Jeremiah faced. Jeremiah knew that many powerful people were conspiring to kill him, because, on God’s behalf, he had proclaimed some very inconvenient truths. “I hear the whisperings of many [said he] … Denounce! Let us denounce him!” (Jer. 20:10) Even Jeremiah’s friends had turned against him and were looking for an opportunity to entrap him and to do him in. Unless he were made of stone, Jeremiah had to feel intimidated by the plots that were being hatched against him.

But Jeremiah did not fold like a house of cards. This great prophet was convinced that God was with him. In face of persecution and fear, he entrusted his cause to God as to a mighty champion. Instead of giving in to fear, he sang the praises of the God who had called him: “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord [said he], for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked” (Jer. 20:13).

It is not too hard for us to see in Jeremiah a foreshadowing of Jesus. In the Lenten Gospel readings, various plots against Jesus begin to unfold. First, we see leadership taking note of that wonder-worker from Nazareth. Then there is concern over who he claims to be, namely, the Messiah. When many people begin to follow Jesus, concern morphs into a firm resolve to do away with him … Plots crystalize that culminate in a mock trial and a hasty execution of God’s Son.

Like Jeremiah, Jesus knew he faced betrayal, suffering, and death. Over the objection of the apostle Peter, Jesus predicted that he would suffer and die. Referring to his impending death, Jesus cried out: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished” {Lk. 12:50; cf. Mk. 10:38-39). As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ anguish was palpable as he, the sinless Lamb of God, took upon himself the sins of the world (cf. Jn. 1:29). Like Jeremiah, but more so, Jesus embraced the saving will of his Father, and as he was dying, cried out, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46). And because he gave his life for us in loving obedience to the heavenly Father, Jesus was exalted and received the Name above every other name (cf. Phil. 2:9).

Jeremiah, Jesus, and Us 

Now, as we meet Jesus in today’s Gospel, he is preparing his disciples for mission. Jesus advises them that the going will be rough. Just as he, the Master, was subject to maltreatment, persecution, and death, so too, they, the disciples, would fare no better. In addition to personal hardships of every sort, the disciples, like Jesus, would suffer ridicule, rejection, persecution, and death. Yet, Jesus tells them, “Fear no one!” (Mt. 10:26) The Lord instructs them to proclaim openly what he taught them in private. They were not to shrink from proclaiming “the Gospel without compromise”. Rather, they were to speak boldly about Jesus, not telling people what they want to hear, but rather, what they need to hear, even if such Gospel honesty would lead to their demise. Jesus goes on to tell them not to fear those who can inflict bodily harm or death, but to fear the One “who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna” (Mt. 10:28). In other words, the only thing we should truly fear is losing God’s friendship, a loss that leads to spiritual death, both in this life and in the life to come.

What Jesus said to his apostles, he now proclaims to us. Indeed, he is teaching you and me what it really means to be missionary disciples. He is telling us that if we want to be serious about our faith and if we are intent on sharing our faith with others, we had better be prepared for discomfort, for rejection of our message, and even for persecution. You don’t have to be a street corner evangelist to experience this. If the subject of religion comes up at dinner with family or friends, and despite the sinfulness of far too many in the Church, you actually defend the faith you profess – you might be ready for a barrage of criticism. In a situation like that, we are tempted to clam up or to water down the faith, or simply change the subject to something non-controversial – like politics! Or what if you find yourself with fellow Catholics and assume that everyone in the group is like-minded – only to discover that your co-religionists reject some Church teachings? Upholding those teachings, however thoughtfully or charitably, may be costly. It’s all too easy to let the conversation ride and take its own course. But when we succumb to fear, we miss precious opportunities to bear witness to Christ and to invite others to share our holy Catholic faith. To top it off, such fear is misplaced. We should not fear ridicule or rejection on the part of others. Instead, we should remember that we are precious in the sight of God. Even the hairs of our heads are numbered – and in my case, the count is low.

This Sunday, Jesus offers us the authentic path to freedom from fear. We can become free of fear only by entrusting our lives, whole and entire, to him who is our Brother, our Teacher, our Savior, our Sovereign Lord. When Jeremiah and Jesus entrusted themselves to God, they found the strength to accomplish their God-given mission. It is no different for us, who are Jesus’ disciples and members of his Body, the Church. As the Divine Liturgy of the East urges us, let us be united with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints in entrusting “ourselves, and each other, and our whole lives, to Christ our God.” Or, perhaps all this can be brought home by the famous words of St. Theresa of Avila, who wrote: “Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing affright thee. All things are passing. Patience obtains all things. God alone suffices.”

May God bless you and keep you always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.