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Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily! (mp4 file)

     “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into marvelous light.”  Those words from today’s second reading are so important that they appear twice in the scriptures: once, in the Book of Exodus and again in the First Letter of Peter.  And I considered them so important that, when we were renovating the Cathedral nearly 25 years ago, I asked that they be carved into the stone floor around our baptistery where they are to this day.

      “Chosen race…royal priesthood…holy nation…God’s own people.” The late, great Jesuit preacher and theologian, Fr. Walter Burghardt, refers to these as four ‘titles of honor’, and that they are, and I would add that they’re way ahead of other titles of honor the Church is fond of using (Your Holiness, Your Eminence, Your Excellency – even Very Reverend!). In the Jewish scriptures they were titles given to God’s chosen people, to remind them of who they were.  In the New Testament, they became titles for all the baptized. They point out the unique dignity, the high calling of each and every member of the Church. Let me say just a word about each of those ‘titles of honor.’

      First, Chosen Race. We who have been baptized into Christ are chosen by God. There is no chance here: only choice. And the choice is God’s, not ours. For reasons we will never grasp, God has chosen us, called us into this great community of the Church. God loves us passionately and unconditionally, loves us as individuals, loves us as a community of believers.  We are called, we are chosen.

      We are also a royal priesthood. For Catholics, this truth can all too easily be overlooked because when we think of ‘priest,’ we usually think of people like me.  But before anyone like me can be called ‘priest,’ all of us are priests!  That’s because all of us, in Baptism, were anointed and made one with Jesus Christ who is the priest. And the great priestly sacrifice he offered on the cross becomes ours here at Mass when we offer our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our very selves -- all that we are and all that we have -- offer them along with Jesus, the priest.  We are indeed, “a royal priesthood!”

      The third title is a holy nation. This has, of course, nothing whatever to do with nation in the political sense of th4e word.  Here, nation is another word for community. We are a holy community. Even with all our sins and failings as individuals and as a Church we are holy because God’s Spirit lives and breathes in us. The great St. Augustine used to begin his homilies by addressing the people as “Your holiness.”  Maybe I should start doing that!

     The fourth title is God’s own people. Another way of saying that is “God’s own possession.”  And we are that, my friends.  We have been purchased at a great price -- with the precious blood of Christ. We belong to God, we are “God’s very own….”
Now I realize that those exalted titles don’t always ring true for us, that we are often more aware of our dark side than of our dignity. We believe, but we also doubt; we hope, but sometimes we give up; we love, but not always. We can be all too human but that doesn’t for a moment deny that we are touched by divinity, infused with divinity. The early Church Fathers were fond of saying that, ”Christ became human so that humans might become divine.”  Think of that for a moment. It’s true!

      And, of course, it has profound implications for how we live our lives. Who we are should be reflected in what we do. Notice I said we. Every one of us. By virtue of our baptism, we are to preach the gospel, to live the gospel. St. Francis of Assisi put it perfectly: “Preach the gospel always,” he said, “using words when necessary!”  More important than any words we speak are the lives we lead, the principles we live by, the positions we espouse. These are the things that will make it clear to people who we are.
Let me offer an example.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel we have been called preach and to live is, to borrow words of Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, the gospel that deeply values and honors each and every human life without exception -- beginning with God’s precious gift of life in the womb and ending with God’s call at death -- fostering, nurturing, and supporting that life at every step along the way.

     This gospel of life is far-reaching: it includes life on death row, the life of the poor and homeless, the life of the mentally ill and the frail elderly, the life of immigrants and refugees, and, yes, the life of our planet. As Catholic Christians we are committed to all the life issues; we may not pick and choose among them. They are not items on a menu, they are “a seamless garment.” Pope Francis puts it this way, “All life has inestimable value. The sick, the old, the unborn and the poor are all masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

      The Gospel of Life.  We preach this gospel by carefully informing ourselves about the Church’s teaching on all the life issues, using our voices to advocate on behalf of human life whether in casual conversation or in communications with legislators, and by casting ballots that reflect a strong and unwavering commitment to life, to justice, and to peace.
My friends, I’ve offered but one example of what it means to live out our baptismal call. There are many. If we really are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” we’ve got our work cut out for us. We really do!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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