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Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 39:30)

      “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 nearly 30 years ago, I asked 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, referred to these as “four titles of honor” and they surely are that, and I would add that they are 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 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 joys and our pains, and the joys and pains 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, of course, has 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 that conjures up images of otherworldly people looking like plaster statues, but that’s a caricature. We are holy, and the Church is holy because, even with all our sins and failings as individuals and as a Church, God’s Spirit lives and breathes in us. St. Augustine used to begin his homilies by addressing the people as “Your holiness” – and his reference was to the people, not the pope!
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 sometimes more aware of our dark side than of our dignity. We believe, but we also doubt; we hope, but sometimes we lose heart; we love, but not always. We are 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 as Church. 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 and live the gospel of Christ.

      Let me offer an example. Yesterday, a couple hundred people – women and men from all over Western Washington – gathered in the Cathedral Hall for an experience – not the first, but a memorable one – of what it means to be a synodal Church. I realize that’s a fairly new word for us, but synod and synodality are things we have talked about for more than a year now, and many of you took part in synodal gatherings – listening sessions – here last spring - all in preparation for two really important sessions of the Synod which will take place in Rome beginning this fall.

      Yesterday’s gathering in our hall, like all our previous synodal gatherings, was powerful. The focus was on women and their role in the Church. People from all over the map – and I really mean ‘all over’ – prayed together and listened together. Stirring prayers were spoken aloud and equally stirring prayer took place in silence. And when the participants were given some simple yet profound questions to ponder together – questions about what kind of Church the Spirit is calling us to be and where women should fit into it - they did so, first, in that pregnant, fruitful silence where the Holy Spirit speaks most profoundly. Following that, they shared the fruit of their prayer and reflection with one another. I found it an electrifying experience.

      All I could think of was that this is the Church we are called to be; the Church Christ wants us to be, the Church Pope Francis longs for us to become: a church where all voices can speak and all voices count. Not a Church where authority speaks and it’s all over. There is a learning curve, for sure, and a long one, but it is a new moment, a risky moment, a holy moment, a moment with angst for some, but a moment filled with great promise for many. Pope Francis knows that this sort of Church is the great dream of the Second Vatican Council and, as I witnessed this unfolding yesterday, I could only give thanks to God for the grace of living in this moment.

      My friends, let me return to where I began: to those words from the second reading that speak to us every time we pass through the baptistry of this Cathedral. Those words are coming to life in new and exciting ways in our time and we get not only to witness that, but to be part of it for we are, indeed, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…called out of darkness into marvelous light!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303