Archbishop Lori’s Homily: St. Patrick Parade Mass

Second Sunday of Lent; St. Patrick Parade Mass
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, Baltimore

By Archbishop William E. Lori

In a scene that was to repeat itself many times in our history, a priest by the name of Dolan and a physician by the name of Donovan met a ship in the Baltimore harbor arriving from famine-stricken Ireland. The year was 1847. Father Dolan wrote in his diary that the ship was “freighted with human misery and death” (Cf. Spalding, Premier See, p. 139).

These vulnerable men, women, and children – like Abram in today’s first reading – left behind their homeland and came to these shores in hope of a better life. They were fortunate to be greeted in our harbor by a compassionate priest and a devoted doctor, both of Irish descent, They assumed responsibility for the stricken people on that ship. They found shelter for the dying passengers. Father Dolan heard their confessions and anointed them while Dr. Donovan did his best to soothe their sufferings and to save any life that he could. They did not hesitate to take charge of some forty orphans on that ship and with the help of the Hibernian Society opened an orphanage to house them and to teach them a trade or to teach them how to farm.

Moved by the compassion of Christ and his victory over sin and death, Father Dolan – and many priests like him – and Dr. Donovan – and many Catholic lay persons like him – as well as countless religious sisters and brothers welcomed immigrants from Ireland and from many other parts of Europe and transformed their lives. Not only did they help them find housing, education, and employment but they imparted to them the Catholic faith with clarity and fervor and from these generations of Irish-American Catholics there arose leaders – leaders in the Church, including many Archbishops of Baltimore, and leaders in society: in the trades, in government, in the academy, in all walks of life. And most importantly of all, there arose from those generations of Irish Catholics strong, loving, and cohesive families that were the bedrock of Church and society. Not that there weren’t problems and serious problems at that – of course, there were. Yet, the transformation that took place in the mid to late 19th century can still be seen in these still early years of the 21st century. Indeed, many of you are here today to celebrate that glorious heritage, to keep it alive, and to pass it on to the up-and-coming generation.

Yet, it is a hopeless task to try to pass along one’s cultural heritage if it shorn from its religious roots, indeed its specifically Catholic roots. With each passing day this becomes more and more evident in European Union. St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis have all urged that the European Union not ignore the Christian roots of Europe. They have warned that doing so will lead to the loss of cultural identity – a loss that results in not greater unity among peoples but rather in isolation and confusion and a lack of cohesion . . . not to mention the loss of shared truths and values that protect human life and dignity and the common good.
This is surely true of the Irish and Irish-American culture. It was the faith which, centuries ago, helped to form the Irish culture and the faith which sustained that culture through times of war, persecution, and famine. It was the faith communicated in and through the Catholic Church and its institutions that transformed the lives of countless Irish-immigrant families and gave them a spiritual home in which to build their new lives. I think of parishes such as St. Patrick’s on Broadway, St. Vincent de Paul, St. John’s 10th Ward, St. Peter the Apostle in West Baltimore, St. John the Evangelist in Frederick, St. Paul’s in Ellicott City, St. Patrick in Cumberland – and many others besides! In these parishes and schools in the faith was transmitted and lives were transformed. To try to tell the story of heritage of Ireland in the United States apart from this is to rob the Irish-American heritage of its essential content, to render it a mere shadow of itself . 
That is why we should pay special attention to today’s readings which speak about the transformative power of the faith we share and teach us how to tap into the power of our faith during this holy season of Lent. The first step in reclaiming our faith and tapping into its power to change us is found in the story of how God called Abram to leave his homeland – to leave his country, his father’s house, his kith and kin, for a land unknown where he would become the source of God’s blessing for the whole world. Abram put his faith in God; he left behind everything he ever knew so as to become the source of a fruitfulness he could not imagine or envision. In these days of Lent, with special intensity, God is calling us to leave behind everything in our lives that hinders us from living our Catholic faith – every sin, every false idol, every lie, every grudge, every bad habit. Self-renunciation and penance is the key to what Christ wants to show us.

And what Christ wants to show us is his glory. We find ourselves today atop Mt. Tabor where Christ, who will soon be mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified, is revealed in the glory that was his before the creation of the world. Jesus’ appearance is dazzling – he is revealed as “the light of the world” – as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” The Father’s voice from heaven is heard: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” even as the Holy Spirit overshadows Jesus and the apostles with the very glory of God. Moses and Elijah are there on Mt. Tabor, conversing with Jesus, to confirm that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Friends, this Gospel brings us to the epicenter of our faith (Cf. J. Corbon, Wellspring of Worship, p. 91 f.), to that moment in time when the power of the death & resurrection of the Son of God to change us, to transform us, to make us alive and joyful in God’s glory, is revealed. This is what has fueled the Church’s mission for over 2,000 years. This is what will fuel it until the very end of time.

Peter, James, and John – who witnessed the Lord’s Transfiguration – did not understood what they had seen and heard atop Mt. Tabor until after the Lord’s death and resurrection – when they began to share in the Lord’s sufferings as they went about preaching the Gospel. So too, St. Paul writing from a prison in Rome, tells his co-worker, Timothy, “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God!” St. Paul goes on to describe God’s plan to conquer death through Jesus’ suffering so as to let “the light of immortal life” dawn in the darkness of human misery. The first generation of Christians realized that the path to new life and glory could only be found in sharing in the Cross of Christ (Balthasar, Light of the World, p. 56). Those who migrated from Ireland to the United States and those who received them with love and compassion understood this.
Now, it is our turn. As we look upon Christ transfigured in glory, let us not fail to see the Cross. And as we encounter the Cross in our daily lives, let us not fail to see the path to resurrection and glory. Indeed, let us in this Lenten season embrace the Cross through genuine penitence, resolve no longer to be half-hearted Christians but true disciples – and connecting or re-connecting with the Church’s sacramental life – most especially the Sacrament of Penance and regular attendance at Sunday Mass-let us follow the Lord from Tabor to Calvary and from Calvary to the new life of grace which Christ won for us by his Resurrection. Then will our heritage live as we embrace our faith and welcome those – newly arrived and otherwise – who stand in need of a love that has the power to transform their lives.

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

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.