Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Acts 1:15-17, 20a,20c-26
1 John 4:11-16
John 17: 11b-19


May 27-28, 2006, Seventh Sunday in Easter, Cycle B

I was really struck by two similarities between this weekend's celebration of Memorial Day and what is expressed in our readings today.

As you know, Memorial Day is a time set aside to remember and honor members of our armed forces who have died defending our country, or maybe more pointedly, our way of life.

The first similarity I noticed was that the people who are in the armed forces, and especially those who have died in that service, generally are serving because they have responded to a call for service. The first cause is that the people in charge of our country saw a need for it to be protected and called on citizens to serve that cause.

Over the past few weeks we have been hearing a similar theme in the first letter of John and the selections from Jesus final prayer at the last supper from John's Gospel. As Fr. Butler has been pointing out to us, both of these scripture passages make it clear that in the first place, God loves us. Everything about our faith, or religion, or vocations starts with the fact that God loves us. Everything else is a response to that first movement by God.

The second similarity that struck me did so because what should be a close similarity is in fact a contrast, and I don't know why. From those who served in World War II or the Korean War in my parents generation, to my contemporaries who served in Vietnam to kids that I know who have just entered the armed forces, there is a clear sense of mission that drove them to join. All of them knew that to carry out that mission, they would have to submit themselves to all sorts of discipline: the discipline of training, the discipline of serving in far off places with sometimes the barest of necessities. Not one of them that I know, ever talked about those disciplines as being the end they were after.

The opposite seems to be true of our faith. Despite what we partake in Sunday after Sunday at Mass, what we witness in our baptisms, what we hear in scripture passages like today's where Jesus consecrates his disciples and sends them out to be his witnesses, almost no one I talk to about why they are Catholic, or what is this religion thing all about, talks about our mission. Very often they talk about the disciplines that we submit to (or don't) as if that is the main purpose of faith: to be good; to live a good life; to be a good person.

Now anybody who knows me knows that I am not saying it isn't important to know what is right and wrong, what the ten commandments are, what the beatitudes are, and what the Church teaches about morality and ethics. But to look at those as the purpose of faith is like a basketball player thinking that not fouling is the purpose of playing. Is it important? Sure; because if you don't know what the rules are and you foul out, you don't get to play the game. But I don't know of any great player that ever gave two thoughts to not fouling out as the primary focus of their game preparation.

Being good and moral and knowing what the Church teaches is the same. It is important because if we don't avoid sin, we cannot fulfill our mission. If anyone had any doubts about this, the last few years here in Boston have dispelled them. Because of the sins of a very small minority, the whole Church of Boston is unable effectively fulfill our mission.

As I reflected on why the sins of such a small percentage of Catholics could cripple such a large community as ours, it seems to me that one reason might be that the rest of us are not fully focused on our mission. A lot of us have the excuse that we were not taught about our mission but instead were led to believe that following the rules and being a good person were the primary goals of being a Catholic. Well it is time for all of us to give up that excuse, and to refocus on what it means to be Catholic.

Our mission, what we have been consecrated for, what we have been anointed for, is to be witnesses to the Gospel, the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand and that to make it real we need to love one another as Christ loves us. Being Catholic is not about going to Mass every Sunday. It is about going out into the world, one with Christ, one with each other to make God's love incarnate in that world. Going to Mass every Sunday is how we become one so we can do that. Being Catholic is not about keeping the commandments. It is going out into the world, one with Christ, one with each other to make God's love real in that world. Keeping the commandments is how we stay connected to Christ and to one another so that we can do that.

So let us remember those who have given their lives so that the dream of America can flourish. And let us be inspired by those who fulfilled that secular mission at the cost of their lives to fulfill our mission which has even more important consequences. We are consecrated in truth; we are protected by him who is truth; we have been given God's joy; and we have sent to bring that truth and that protection and that joy to the world. If we focus on that, all the rest will fall into place. If we don't, then the rest doesn't matter.


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