"The Conscience of our State"

(Homily for Fourteenth Sunday, Year B)

These past ten days since the death of Archbishop Murphy have been emotionally draining. The different prayer services and of course the funeral itself on Thursday were powerful events. For me the most moving moment was when his body was placed in the crypt below the Cathedral altar. The recently ordained priests of the Archdiocese lowered the coffin with ropes while a bagpipe played, "Amazing Grace."

I thought about Archbishop Murphy and all the wonderful works he had done as a priest and a bishop. I really have never known anyone who worked so hard and so productively as he did. If anyone deserves entrance into heaven for his good works, it would be Archbishop Murphy. But the bagpipe played "Amazing Grace" to remind us that none of us are saved by our works, but only by God's grace.

St. Paul testifies to that daily amazing Grace in today's reading from Second Corinthians. He tells how he was given a thorn in the flesh so that he would not become proud. We don't know exactly what that thorn in the flesh was. Some say a physical ailment, perhaps a cronic eye infection. Others an emotional disturbance--St. Paul was certainly a volitile man. Some even speculate the thorn was a spiritual difficulty. In his letter to the Romans, he says, "In my mind I love God's law, but in my flesh another law is at work... The things I love, I don't do. The things I detest, those I do. What a miserable man am I!" Perhaps that very spiritual struggle was the "thorn." Whatever it was, we do not know, but even though Paul asked God to take it from him the only answer he got was, "My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection."

Archbishop Murphy sometimes gave us priests a glimpse of his inner struggles. You always had a sense that he relied on the Lord's strength, his grace. That is why it was so appropriate that at the end, the bagpipe played, "Amazing Grace."

There have been many commentaries about Archbishop Murphy these past ten days since his death. To me one of the most revealing was by Governor Gary Locke. He said, "Archbishop Murphy was the conscience of our state." Governor Locke was referring to the strong stand the Archbishop made on behalf of the defenseless members of our society: the unnborn, the elderly, the terminally ill, the unemployed, abandoned mothers and immigrants.

But I believe there is something more to the governor's statement about him being the conscience of Washington state. In our society we have so exalted the individual conscience, that oftentimes we refuse to acknowledge a moral law beyond our own selves. "I do my thing, you do yours. I won't bother you, you don't bother me." I think we have a sense that this approach is just not working. At first glance it sounds OK, but what happens is that those who have power wind up pushing aside those who are weaker. We've come to the point if someone else's life is inconvenient to us, we can brush that person aside, even extinguish his life. We do it at the beginning of the life spectrum with abortion and we are now poised to do it on the other end with euthanasia. And in between the weak are constantly being stepped on.

We need a moral conscience bigger than our individual consciences. As Governor Locke acknowledged, Archbishop Murphy in some way took on that role. His role was like we heard about in the reading from the prophet Ezekiel, "Son of man, I send you to a people with rebellious hearts... whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know there has been a prophet among them."

Ezekiel was not eager to take on the role of prophet. He knew the people would say, "Who are you to tell us what to do?"

The same thing happened to Jesus when he went back to his home town of Nazareth. You would have expected the people to have received with honors. But instead of being proud of their most famous son, they reacted with envy.

The ancient Greeks used to tell a parable about that kind of envy. There was a farmer who grew what he considered a perfect field of wheat, every stalk just the same height. People came to admire his wheat field and they asked him how he made it so level. He said, "Simple, as soon as one ear of grain sticks its head above the rest, I cut it off."

That's what the people of Nazareth did. Instead of rejoicing over Jesus' success, they wanted to take him down a notch or two. "We know who you are! You are the carpenter's son."

There is an irony here. They thought they knew Jesus, but they did not know the most important thing about him: His Virgin Birth. They are like a lot of people today who think they know all about Jesus, but they don't know the central fact. As we say in the Creed, "He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

Because Jesus is divine, the only begotten Son of God, He is the Prophet par excellence.

Archbishop Murphy represented Jesus in that prophetic role. I consider it a privilege to have served under a man who was such a beautiful representive of Jesus.

This Sunday I am assuming a role which Archbishop Murphy gave me in the last round of appointments. He named me full time pastor of Holy Family parish. I thought about having an installation ceremony and perhaps asking Fr. Jennings to install me. but after being here two years, first with the Holy Family Hispanic community and last year as priest administrator, an installation ceremony would be a bit of an anti-climax.

However this Sunday after we recite the Nicene Creed, I will make the official Profession of Faith and Oath of a new pastor. It is a statement of belief in God's Word--both in Bible and in the living teaching of the Church.

If I can put it this way: As your pastor I come to you with the Bible in one hand and the Catechism in the other. We need them both. As Catholics we read the Bible in light of the whole tradition of our Church.

We have an example of that need in today's Gospel. It contains a verse which speak about the "brothers and sisters of Jesus," even names a few of them. Some people use this verse to deny the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the Catechism in the section on the Virgin Mary, reaffirms the teaching that Mary was "ever Virgin."

Let me read that paragraph to you:

"Against this doctrine (of Mary ever Virgin) the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus," are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary." (Mt 13:55 & 17:56) They are close relations of Jesus according to an Old Testament expression." (#500)

You can see from this example how important the Catechism is to help us correctly understand the Bible and our Catholic Faith. As your pastor one of my dreams is that every one of our homes has a copy of the Catechism--and that it doesn't just gather dust, like our Bibles used to--and I'm afraid sometimes still do, but that we read it and use it as a frequent reference.

I've read the Catechism twice myself, once in English and once in Spanish--and I find myself constantly referring to it. I say that not to brag, but to say that all of us need to continually renew our understanding of our Catholic faith. It is the most precious gift we have received.

This Sunday as I assume the role of full-time pastor of Holy Family, I do it with a certain trembling. It does involve speaking on behalf of God. I perhaps will say things that you may not want to hear. There are things in this Catechism which are difficult for people in our culture. As your pastor I will not hide them. But I hope I will not be "my" word, but that what I say will be based on the Bible--and on the Catechism. While I have a certain authority as your pastor, I am a man under authority. I do not speak my own word, but the word I have received.

On Friday evening we began a novena of prayer in honor of Archbishop Murphy. Each evening at 6:30 we will gather in the Church to recite the rosay in whatever languages are represented: Spanish, English, Philipino, Vietnamese. I am not only praying for Archbishop Murphy, but asking God to give me a little bit of the energy he had. (Altho maybe not quite as much, because I don't know if I want to work that hard.) But even more I pray for that Amazing Grace which alone changes peoples hearts. And I pray for our parish that we will grow in a deep love of our Catholic faith--and hand that on to our young people. May we have many years togethers.


Profession of Faith and Oath:

(At the conclusion of the profession of faith--Nicene Creed--the pastor recites the following oath.)

"With firm faith I also believe everything contained in God's Word, written or handed down in tradition and proposed by the Church, whether in solemn judgment or inn ordinary and universal magisterium, as divinely revealed and calling for faith. I also firmly accept and hold each and every thing this is proposed by the Church definitively regarding teaching on faith and morals. Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive."(From the Order for the Installation of a Pastor.)

More about Archbishop Murphy

From Archives (14th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2018: My Grace is Sufficient
2015: Building on Strength Week 1: Scripture as Word of God
2012: Mary Opens a Window (about "brothers & sisters" of Jesus)
2009: Some Requests
2006: How Jesus Handled a Put Down
2003: Insults and Persecution
2000: Separation of Church & State?
1997: "The Conscience of our State"

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