Sunday, June 09, 2013

"The effect was stunning"

Here is Deacon Pat Cunningham's final homily to Holy Spirit Parish, San Antonio, Texas. The two paragraphs before the peroration are pertinent to the cause of good liturgy.

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

In the pre-Christian world, there was an inchoate understanding of human life after earthly death. The Hebrew’s picture of human existence in the nether world was one of gloom, shadow, even an inability to praise God. I think that the young man raised by Elijah in today’s OT reading is the most likely source. He is otherwise unknown to history; we don’t even know his name.

But when the widow’s son in the village of Nain died, there was more than a prophet present. It was Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary, who responded to her laments. Jesus knew the value of a widow’s son, because he himself was a widow’s son. But Jesus did not need to take the boy to a separate room, stretch out on him three times and hurl prayers at the heavens. No. He touched the bier where the boy’s body laid, said “young man, arise,” and the word of the very Word of God had the power to raise him from death. The lad got up and began to speak.

I believe that the return of the boy from death was accompanied by a tale of hope. By raising him from death, Jesus had opened up a window of hope for the millions of souls who had led good lives, but who dwelt in Sheol, the valley of the shadow of death, for thousands of years in gloom. When in their gloom they heard the word of Jesus–young man, arise–they realized that their captivity would soon be over. The passion, death and rising to new Life of Jesus was foreshadowed by the temporary raising of this young man. He would eventually die again. But the Resurrection that Jesus brings by his suffering and death, shared with millions of Christians reborn in baptism, would be a permanent divinization, a sharing in the undefeated life of the Trinity. Everlasting life. That hope, I think, is what the young man was jabbering on about. He was yanked from Sheol by the very Word of God.

This is the good news–because of the suffering, death and resurrection of the God-man, Our Lord, forgiveness of sins, healing, and a blessed eternal life in God’s presence is available to every human being. The Church stands as the sacrament of Christ’s redeeming presence in this world. Her ministry is just as needed today as it was two millennia ago, maybe more. When at the end of each Mass the priest or deacon gives you your week’s mission–go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord–we all then take the spiritual energy given to us in this Eucharist and–however we can–share it with everyone we see.

This is the last homily I will preach at Holy Spirit. On July 1 I will begin my diaconal ministry at St. Pius X Church. This change may surprise many, just as Deacon Tom’s assignment to St. John Neumann’s parish may have. For two generations Catholics of our diocese have assumed that a deacon would serve in his home parish from the day he is ordained until the day he dies or retires. But the Archbishop has spent two years studying with lay and clerical leaders the mission of our diocese to evangelize the spiritually hungry people of South Texas. Over the past decades we have not done our primary task very well. Our mission as Catholics is not to come to church and be entertained. Our calling is not to please ourselves, to “have fun.” Our task is to attract former Catholics and needy non-Catholics and non-Christians to Jesus Christ in the Church. The Archbishop knows as Einstein did that insanity is thinking that we can do the same things over and over again , expecting different results. He knows that keeping priests and deacons in place year after year can promote stagnation in clergy and people alike. Moreover, it fosters an unhealthy clericalism, in which the laity wait around for a priest or deacon to tell them what to do.

I am completing my sixteenth year of ministry at Holy Spirit–twelve of them as an ordained deacon. It has been a blessing to minister here, and I thank God often for that blessing. I have baptized many of your children and grandchildren. I have attended the dying and buried the dead. I have proclaimed the Gospel in speech and song and shared my teaching skills with the RCIA classes. Moreover, our biweekly prayer for vocations has borne fruit. I recently learned that there are seventeen men of various ages who have asked to enter our diocesan seminary for our diocese, and three men who will graduate and be ordained to the sacred priesthood. The power of God is working in this diocese, and I am grateful that my feeble efforts have in a small way moved us ahead.

Let me leave you with two challenges for the future. Deacon Bill Peche died without seeing the fulfillment of his dream to make this parish a center of evangelization, particularly among the many poor men and women of this area who live in the dozens of apartment complexes. Take up his challenge and find ways to reach out to them, to bring them to Jesus Christ.

And, if I may borrow a marketing term, emphasize to northside San Antonio the uniqueness of the Catholic Church. Work to make this parish a place of goodness, truth and especially beauty. The beauty of our Liturgy is attractive, but only when it is attractive both in substance and in style. For forty years the American church has tried to make its music more and more like what is heard on radio and i-pod. In direct opposition to the fifty-year-old mandate of the Council, we have abandoned real choirs, real chant, real polyphony, and the pipeorgan. Last week I heard a group of Assumption seminarians singing at Mass. They were chanting. The effect was stunning. All over the U.S., in one parish or another, people are re-discovering our artistic heritage in art, music and architecture. Do what you can to promote this. As Jesus told us, the wise steward brings from his storehouse both the old and the new.

Because the people of San Antonio are yearning for what they do not know–a personal and community relationship with Jesus Christ. They can find it in the Catholic Church, but only if we reach out to them effectively. That is primarily the task of the laity, not the clergy. St. Paul experienced the Risen Christ directly, and his life and the history of the world was radically changed. Help others to do the same–to experience the transcendent love of Christ in the Church. That is our high calling, and that will be our eternal joy.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: