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Fifth Sunday of Easter
during the coronavirus pandemic
May 10, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily
(homily begins at 24:30)

    “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 are from the First Letter of Peter – we heard them in the second reading - but they draw on important passages from the Jewish scriptures – from Exodus and Isaiah. They are words that speak about the vocation of God’s holy people. So important are they that, when we were renovating the Cathedral over 25 years ago, I was eager to have them 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, liked to call them “four titles of honor” and they surely are that, and I would add that they’re way ahead of – and far more important than other titles of honor the Church is fond of using (like 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 typically 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 really the only priest. And the priestly sacrifice he offered on the cross becomes ours here at Mass when we offer our lives, our pains and our joys, and the pains and joys of the world - offer them to God 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 the word. Here, nation means community. We are a holy community. Holy, I know, can be an off-putting word suggesting people like plaster statues, but holy we are. 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!”  Often, more important than the words we speak are the lives we lead, the principles we live by, the positions we espouse. These are the things that tell 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.”

       And this is how Pope Francis put it in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete and Exsultate”: “Our defense of the innocent unborn…needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly…the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection."

      The Gospel of Life. We are to preach this gospel in all its breadth and depth, using our voice to advocate for it, and our vote to elect candidates who demonstrate a commitment – not to only one - but to each and every one of those issues that Pope Francis and Pope John Paul talk about so passionately.

      My friends, I’ve offered but one example of what it means to live out our baptismal call. There are many. As “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! And where better to start than here at the Lord’s Table where Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life becomes our very life!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303