A Bishop's Hidden Life

(Homily for Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

After speaking about secrets being made public, Jesus tells his disciples: “What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” I can understand how some people have taken this as invitation to gossip. We assume that the secrets are acts of misconduct. After all, positive acts do not make very good copy. I’ve been a priest over three decades and so far no reporter has done a story titled, “local priest performs twenty baptisms,” or “Father Bloom makes it one more year.” It would hardly be newsworthy. But suppose I were to embezzle fifty thousand dollars from the parish, head for the Tulalip Casino and play the slot machines till I was broke. When I step outside, I find the police waiting for me. The Seattle Times probably would take an interest in that story.

Now I don’t blame the newspapers. To focus on the wrongdoing of others is part of our human nature. That will change when the last day arrives. Yes, all sins and misdeeds will be made known, but in two different ways. Those who have alienated themselves from God will react to the disclosure by becoming defensive. As they try to justify their actions, they will harden their hearts.* On the other hand, to those destined for life it will mean astonishing mercy - but not without first passing through pain and remorse. God will then wash away the shame; no bitterness can enter heaven. At that moment we will see the true beauty of the saints. Part of heaven's joy will include proclaiming their deeds for all to hear.

Let me give an example. It involves our new auxiliary bishop, Joseph Tyson. I had the privilege of getting to know him when he was a seminarian and I was in residence at St. Mary’s in the Central Area of Seattle. One evening I returned to the rectory to find the kitchen table covered with slices of bread, along with opened jars of peanut butter and jam. Seminarian Joe Tyson came in and began making sandwiches. At that time the future bishop was as skinny as a pole, but I knew even he could not eat that many sandwiches. “What are you doing?” I ask him. He explained to me that a number of homeless men lived under the freeway bridge. He was going out to talk with them and was bringing some sandwiches in case they were hungry. I was impressed, in fact, deeply touched. I have to admit, however, that I did not go with him. I went to bed.

No one would know about this little episode – except that I am telling you now. But someday it will be shouted from the housetops: not so much to give Bishop Tyson glory, but to praise Jesus for his grace working in that young man.

Last Monday, we had a magnificent ceremony at St. James Cathedral in which Bishop Tyson, along with Bishop Elizondo, was ordained to the episcopate. It was a glorious moment - for me and for many others, it was a day of deep emotions. Nevertheless, in heaven what might shine through most brilliantly could be the night Bishop Tyson visited those street people.** Some of them may be at his side to help tell the story. In the case of Bishop Tyson I believe there will be many other acts of valor and self-denial that will never be made public, but which will make a great difference for the life of the Church. Any missteps, for sure, will receive wide circulation in the diocesan rumor mill – and perhaps even the press – but I do not believe they will tell the whole story.

Something similar applies to our dads as we celebrate Father’s Day. A dad may have achieved success in the corporate world or performed life-saving surgeries. Still, those deeds may have small value compared with when, in spite of being dog tired, he sat down to talk with his son. Or the moment he wanted to shout at his wife, but held back because the kids were present. The triple by-pass will be small potatoes in comparison to the time spent with the child.*** Such small acts, completely unknown to the world, seem so small now, but they will eventually have the force of tsunami – and by God’s grace will carry away the burden of inadequacy and shame.

Surprises will abound in heaven – although not the kind we think about now. You often hear people say, “Nothing surprises me any more.” They are referring to the cruel, thoughtless acts which make up so much of daily life. But when we are transformed, something will surprise us: the unnoticed acts of sacrifice and courage. Those deeds will cause delight because they token God's grace. As such they provide opportunities for praising God. By his grace we are “worth more than many sparrows.” In the Communion of Saints, inferiority and competition will vanish. We will then delight in proclaiming the good deeds of others - from the housetops.


*Peter Kreeft has written a new book which examines that frightening possibility.

**Archbishop Brunett probably had not heard about Bishop Tyson's nighttime foray. Nevertheless, it does coincide with a citation from St. Gregory Nazianzus which the archbishop used in his ordination homily:

Not even the night should interrupt your tasks of mercy. Compassion and care for others is the one thing that cannot admit of delay...When we perform an act of kindness, we should rejoice and not be glum about it. If you undo the shackles and the irons of injustice, your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will rise up quickly.

***The operation did give a soul more time to repent, but it also occasioned presumption, a false sense of invincibility. The time with the child, by contrast, was unalloyed.

Spanish Version

From Archives:

Twelfth Sunday, Year A, 2008: The Ugly Truth
2005: A Bishop's Hidden Life
2002: Secret Acts Made Public

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Homily for Quinceañera Mass (also sample Ritual)

Bulletin (More Changes at Holy Family - Tom Weber, Gary Samaniego)

Dark Data on Marriage

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