Monday, July 20, 2015

Homily, Apostolic Succession

XVI Sunday of Ordinary Time
San José Catholic Church
July 19, 2015
Austin, TX 

Hello. Good morning. My name is Deacon Sean DeWitt. I just ordained a transitional Deacon for the Diocese of Austin this past Saturday. I am originally from Dripping Springs just down the road. And I have been assigned here this summer through the end of August. The plan is that as I continue my studies for the next three years, that I return here during the summers, so I look forward to being with y’all this summer and into the future. As I mentioned I was ordained this past weekend, so I am very much a baby Deacon. I ask your patience with my mistakes and to pray for me as I learn to crawl and to walk this summer. 

We began our readings today with Jeremiah, that prophet chosen despite his youth to prophesy the Word of God to the nations. With God’s Word literally in his mouth, Jeremiah speaks out: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock.” Thus says the Lord: “You have not taken care of them and I will punish your evil deeds.” Harsh and threatening words but who are these shepherds? Who is it that God will punish? And who are these new shepherds who will faithfully gather together God’s people as one flock so that they might increase and multiply? 

It turns out that ever since the waining days of wise King Solomon, the son of David, the Kingdom of Israel had been on a downward spiral. Through the misdeeds of idolatry and infidelity to God, the Kings of Israel split the kingdom in two, setting up alternative sanctuaries of worship to foreign gods. This schism or division set Israel on a crash course for total destruction. The two factions soon succumbed to various wars and invasions ending in exile, deportation of the people, and the destruction of the Temple, the one true place of worship. It is against these kings that Jeremiah prophesies. He calls them shepherds not kings because ever since David—himself a shepherd before being appointed king—the kings of Israel were seen as a shepherds, the Lord God saying to David: “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.” So it is to these shepherds that Jeremiah prophesies words of woe and warning. 

As it says in the chronicles of Sirach: “Except David and Hezeki′ah and Josi′ah they all sinned greatly, for they forsook the law of the Most High; the kings of Judah came to an end; for they gave their power to others, and their glory to a foreign nation, who set fire to the chosen city of the sanctuary, and made her streets desolate, according to the word of Jeremiah”—Woe to you, shepherds (1 Chronicles 11:2).  

Yet God does not abandon His people. No, as Jeremiah continues, the Lord promises new shepherds whom God himself will choose. And while there were a few who came after Jeremiah who brought fidelity and unity back to Israel, true shepherds of Israel, this prophecy is not truly fulfilled until in the coming of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and His Apostles. Indeed, none would compared to the Lord Jesus, Son of the Father, and those apostles chosen by His own hand, saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Thus today we hear Jeremiah prophesy the appointment of the Apostles as shepherds over the Christ’s Church. 

But do not believe because of me! The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy is made even more clear throughout the Scriptures of the New Testament. At the end of John’s gospel, Christ says to Peter 3 times, feed my sheep. Who else feeds the sheep but a shepherd. Revelations recounts the names of the 12 Apostles written on the foundation of the city of the Lamb. In today’s Gospel, Christ Jesus Himself gets off the boat and has pity on the people who look like sheep without a shepherd. Who else did He leave behind when we ascended to His Father in heaven, other than the Apostles? 

And so it is, in fulfillment of the Prophet Jeremiah’s words, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd appointed 12 Apostles to be shepherds to guid and to unify His people into one flock that they might increase and multiply. Today we find these apostles, these true shepherds of Christ’s Church in the Bishops, called successors to the Apostles. As the Catechism states: 

“[T]he apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration” (CCC 1556). 

Yes, there exist long lists, maps, or family trees (so to speak) of the lineage of Bishops. Cardinal McCerrick, who is now 85, speaks often of his grandsons, jokingly the Bishops now being ordained by the Bishops he himself ordained years ago. Here in Texas, the Bishops trace all the way back through France eventually to St. John, the Apostle, via St. Irenaeus and St. Polycarp. 

The Bishop’s, successors of the Apostles, are those good shepherds prophesied by Jeremiah and promised by God to represent Himself in the unity of His flock. Look to our own Bishop Joe Vásquez. He proves himself a shepherd by the staff he carries, called a crosier, unmistakably the staff of a shepherd by the hook used to reign in stray sheep. That staff, brothers and sisters, is the very rod and staff of which we hear in the Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want…His rod and his staff give me comfort.” The staff gives us comfort because this desert through which he leads us is no desert of sand, but of rock. And as our shepherd leads us through these dark times some times he has to give us a tap or a nudge to keep us in line. Not hard, just a tap so we don’t loose the way. Sometimes in the dark we hear strange noises from wild beasts out to eat the sheep. Then the staff is a weapon of protection. Yet most times, although we walk through this dark valley, we fear no evil for he, our shepherd, is at our side with his rod and staff which by their subtle and consistent tap, tap, tap on the rocky ground we know He is there. This sound, the sound of our shepherd walking with us, before us, behind us reverberates in our hearts, less as a drill sergeant and his soldiers on the march (though this may have its place), but more as a conductor and his symphony. Would that when the Bishop, our shepherd, speaks, we being of one mind with him resound a chorus of song and praise to our God. 

The Bishop is an important, no, an essential aspect of the Church, a safeguard for us to identify the true Church. Indeed, in order to know the true Church it is often enough to ask if there is a Bishop. That is why we have a picture of the Bishop (and the Pope) and the front of every Catholic Parish. Only the Bishop, the true shepherd chosen by God in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, can truly sanctify, teach, and govern us. 

Even the Virgin, our Lady of Guadalupe knew this. Why else would she have sent San Juan Diego to the Bishop? She knew that in order to build a true Church she would have to work through the Bishop. Sure San Juan’s Bishop was imperfect slow to understand what Mary was doing. No one is perfect. Yet if even Mary obliged herself to work through the Bishop who represented her Son and Savior, should we not do the same?   

Let us pray for the Bishops, especially our own, Bishop Vasquez and Bishop Garcia, that in these trying times they may speak clearly and that we the faithful may adhere to their guidance as one flock. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

First Homily

XV Sunday Ordinary Time
St. Martin de Porres Parish
July 12, 2015
How good it is to be here, to be home. Bishop Danny, Rev. Fathers, Deacon, Seminarians, Family, and Friends, all. Thank y’all for coming this morning. It is really good to be home again. And as a Deacon, no less!

Indeed, after the great grace wrought by the Lord at yesterday’s Ordination, we cannot help but hear and see familiar images in today’s Gospel. After sometime together—those first disciples with our Lord—Jesus calls the Twelve to Himself, ready to send them forth; to give them their first mission. We can imagine the scene: the Twelve lined up one-by-one, poorly clad, roughed up after much travel, yawning probably, in much need of a shower and a haircut—a motley crew. Not much different, I am sure, than what you, Bishop, saw yesterday in the six of us who were ordained. These Twelve had been through a great deal with Jesus, their master and teacher. He had called them from their fishing nets, their tax collecting, political movements. They had seen Jesus calm the sea, cast out demons, heal the sick and cure the lame, give vision to the blind, and teach profound truths about God, His Father. Yes, after all that time, a little seminary so to speak, Jesus looked upon His disciples, His brothers, His friends. They were ready. And so Jesus called them, gave them authority to cast out demons, and sent them out two by two. Yet only temporarily, one might even say He gave them a transitional ministry much like I have received, for they were to preach the word, cast out demons, and take care of the sick. And it was a short time, since they returned in the time it takes to recount the death of John the Baptist. 

Yet while these images and scenes recall the grace and excitement of yesterday, this Deacon is a bit troubled. For according to the story, he is now to preach repentance; it says they went forth preaching repentance. 

I could skirt around this, focusing on other aspects of this passage, yet Mark is clear; he wastes no words. Matthew recounts Jesus commanding His disciples to preach that the Kingdom of heaven is near. Luke writes that Jesus sent them to preach the Kingdom of God. But Mark? No, Mark’s account of the Gospel, the Good News from which we hear today, places repentance at the center. Indeed, there is here a direct reference to the first proclamation of the Gospel in Mark’s account in which Jesus says “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” There is no mistaking the message. Repentance is the first word out of Jesus’ mouth and so it is to be the same for His disciples—they have learned something it seems!
Yet the idea of preaching repentance for any preacher—let alone in his first homily—is daunting if not terrifying, a true test. For as he begins to formulate his thoughts, he cannot escape that inner voice which reminds him of his own need for repentance and conversion. Indeed, he calls to mind his own struggles and apathy in responding to God’s call to repentance. This preacher is convicted by the first reading. There we hear of the prophet Amos who when told by Amasias to go away and prophesy elsewhere abruptly responds, “No, I am no prophet, nor am I from their company.”  This response is no different than my own when I first heard the call to be a priest. “No, I am not to be a priest. I am the son of an engineer and a horsewoman, and I want to play basketball.” But if the mercy of God which wipes away all sin is true, and it is, then I cannot allow this my own fault to keep me from calling others to the same repentance. For if not, then how would St. Peter, my own patron, who denied our Lord three times in His darkest hour come forth from that upper room at Pentecost and filled with the Holy Spirit, preach Christ’s saving message literally to all the world! St. Peter Rock of Faith! For if not, then how would St. Paul, infamous for his persecution and killing of Christians, return from blindness to be the greatest preacher the world has ever seen, St. Paul Apostle to the Gentiles!
And so I preach repentance, sorrow for one’s sins, contrition for acts contrary to the will of God. Often times we think of sin as breaking a rule or a commandment. This is not wrong. We do in fact have 10 Commandments and they can be broken. Yet, sin is more than breaking the rules set by the lifeguard at a swimming pool. Nor is sin simply a foul or penalty as in a sport—God has no yellow flag. These rules show us how to relate to God. And breaking them, sin, weakens, damages, or challenges that relationship. A perfect example of this dynamic is the honored practice here in our great state of Texas that men open the door for women. Such a practice is a social norm or rule which demonstrates how a man should relate to a woman. If he does not open the door, it is not a simple matter of breaking a rule; she does not roll her eyes at him because he broke a rule. No, she just thinks less of him. We cannot forget that the moral teachings of our faith point to a relationship with a person, who is Jesus Christ. Our sins threaten this relationship. 
Repentance is sorrow for one’s sins. Sorrow, not meaning sad and crying, though these may in fact come. Repentance is more than beating up oneself over a mistake, or apologizing profusely. When a child who had upset his parents says he is sorry, he is repentant. When a husband or wife apologizes for not taking out the trash or for forgetting how long they’ve been married, they are repentant. When a friend forgets an obligation or an important event, he is repentant. Yet, in all of these what is expressed by this repentance? What is the desire behind that word “sorry”? Relationship. A desire for a relationship. Repentance says I want to be in right relationship with you again. Or better, repentance expresses our desire to receive the love of the other again. On the lips of a friend, it means I want to receive the love of your friendship again. On the lips of a spouse, it is a desire to stay faithful to the marriage and receive their love again. On the lips of a child, it is a desire to be a son or daughter, to receive the love of a Father and Mother again. 

This is truly good news. This is the saving message of the Gospel. This is what Jesus and His disciples preached: Life-giving repentance, the expression of a desire to receive the love of God again. Is this not beautiful, this repentance. As our second reading from St. Paul reminds us, we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be adopted sons and daughters of God the Father through Jesus Christ. Our repentance, then, is simply our way of saying we want to be sons and daughters of God, we want to receive the love of God, our Father again. Simply put, this is what we do in confession. Yes, we apologize, we name and number our sins. Yet, in so doing so we express our desire to be a son or daughter of God through the Blood of Jesus Christ which washes us clean again! “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”