Hope in the Lord — Head into the deep

On Monday, November 14, I delivered the homily for the opening Mass – at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore, Maryland – for the fall Bishops’ meeting. Here is the homily:

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Thank you, Archbishop William Lori, and thank you, Josephite Father Ray Bomberger, S.S.J., and faithful people of St. Peter Claver Church for your gracious welcome.

Dear brother bishops,

We need to hear the sound of a voice and of feet moving: a voice of the Lord Jesus beckoning us to “head into the deep” – “duc in altum” – and, echoing Isaiah: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation.” (Is. 52:7) We need to “head into the deep” and “announce good news” if we are to reverse the rising violence and falling civility that plagues our nation. Thank you, Archbishop Gregory and the USCCB Task Force to Promote Peace and Unity, appointed in July of this year, for recommending that we come to St. Peter Claver Church in a community that has known rising violence.

We know announcing the Good News of Jesus is more than simply a quick visit on a bus. The announcement must be accompanied by dialogue rooted in Gospel truth – a dialogue that fosters responsible actions. These acts will occur only if each of us recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being – citizens young and old, black and white, in uniforms of blue, every human being.

Such dialogue begins but does not end with a prayerful presence. A voice of faith from the communion of saints, St. Peter Claver, guides us. He knew 400 years ago that a presence accompanied by prayer would move hearts away from violence as a solution to terrible conditions. St. Peter Claver’s clear and shining witness – approaching those burdened – came because he looked at each person he encountered with the eyes of Jesus, with a vision of dignity.

St. Peter Claver did not come with the feet of a distant observer but as one who had heard the voice of Jesus, as one with a heart moved to engagement. For violence to fall and civility to rise, everyone must do a part. The dignity that is ours as children of God is a gift, but it is also a task. When as a youth I did wrong, my dear mother quickly brought me to my senses by a simple sentence: “What you just did was beneath your dignity.” We need to be lifted by each other with grace to the dignity that is ours.

For half a century, January 1 has occasioned a message of peace from the Holy Father. This January, Pope Francis will call us to a path of non-violence. Earlier this year he spoke of indifference as the barrier that has led us simply to blame others for our woes. This September 9, on the feast of St. Peter Claver, I was gathered in a packed church in West Louisville. The Church was filled with people of faith and good will, including our mayor and chief of police. On that occasion, I recalled the new word for peace given to us by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1967: development. We might say today: opportunity.

At that prayer service we prayed to overcome indifference so that “peace might begin with me.” Our prayer was all about first steps:

 Greeting each other on the sidewalk when we passed.

 Giving opportunities for education, housing and work in places marked by terrible deprivation.

 Honoring those who safeguard our neighborhoods each day.

This evening, we bishops come together from places throughout our nation – places filled too often with dashed dreams, violence and lack of civility. We come to be present, to see with our own eyes, so that we might humbly take a step and lead others to do so. The path of dialogue, difficult as it is, begins with that prayerful witness and humble beseeching.

This evening we hear a voice. What did the voice of our Savior sound like to the hesitant fishermen on the Galilean Sea? When He told them to head into the deep, could they hear a voice understanding of their fears and hurts? They had tried this before. Did His strong and confident voice give them the heart for another fresh start? For twenty centuries that voice has changed hearts, mostly one at a time but surely within a community. Change our hearts, Lord Jesus.

I am told that Flannery O’Connor, a favorite Catholic novelist, once spoke of health as a movement – a movement from gratitude to sorrow to mission.

 We come grateful that God has created each of us as His children, in His own image.

 We seek forgiveness for the times we have not treated others with the dignity they deserve or have not lived up to the dignity that is ours.

 We are sent on mission by the voice of the Lord Jesus, risen and glorified, which confidently says, “Duc in altum…head into the deep.”

I hear the sound of a voice and the sound of feet moving. Surrounded by rising violence and falling civility, the voice says, “Head into the deep. I am with you.” The feet bring the Good News of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May this holy celebration of the Eucharist at St. Peter Claver move our hearts to holy dialogue, grounded in respect. May the peace of Christ reign, and may violence fall and civility rise. Amen.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

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