March 8, 2017
Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the Rite of Election March 5 at S. Mary’s Cathedral
Father Brendan was telling me about a group of students from his seminary who made their way to the Holy Land for a twelve-day sojourn. By chance, their visit overlapped with the Muslim holy season of Ramadan, a period of intense fasting and prayer.
What struck these Catholic pilgrims was this: they knew it was Ramadan practically from the moment that they stepped off the plane. It was in the way the people moved, spoke, and related to one another; it was evident in their business dealings and their family affairs. Ramadan could be seen and visually experienced, almost tasted.
When I heard about their impressed account of this phenomenon, I wondered: were someone from, say, Saudi Arabia, to travel to the largely Christian North Country during our penitential season of Lent, would he or she notice anything, in particular? Would Lent be in our movements, our gestures? Would he or she know, just from watching us, that anything of religious significance was underway? If the answers to these questions are “no,” we’ve got a problem.
In many ways, these modern times of the 21st century, we have made a compromise with Christianity. We will allow our faith to exist, as long as it doesn’t show up publicly, as long as it remains ensconced in the privacy of our minds and feelings. In accepting this compromise, we Christians have gutted our faith, rendering it invisible, irrelevant and have cleared the way for the blandly secularized society that surrounds us.
As Satan tempted Jesus in the desert to cow-tow to the magnificence of the world, we, too, are enticed to leave our faith in the closet.
That’s why it’s so important that this afternoon, that you, our catechumens and candidates, who seek to be received into the Catholic Church do so in a public fashion and that we express our support and gratitude to you and to Almighty God for your response to God’s call.
We celebrate publicly your faith journey, our faith journey, here at beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral.
We need a change of heart in our society today. The great French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville admired America greatly. He was convinced that America held the secret for all governments of the future. And so, in the mid 1800’s he traveled to America to learn the secret of her genius and greatness.
The French statesman wrote: “I sought for the genius and greatness of America…in her fertile fields and boundless forests—and it was not there. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and matchless
Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.”
He said that America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great again—no matter how loudly we shout that popular political slogan!
If there is one message that our nation needs to hear and take to heart right now, it is the message of de Tocqueville. The first step in heeding the message is to begin with ourselves. Lent is a season when Jesus invites us to search our hearts and rediscover the secret of our greatness. It’s a season when Jesus graces us to a new resolve and new determination to become the kind of persons our Father in heaven created us to be.
We must not be content with being mediocre. In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis wrote that we “must refuse to settle for mediocrity.” When we settle for being average, we are just as close to the bottom as we are to the top.
This Lent we are challenged to respond to the Lord’s call to become holier. Therein lies our greatness. Therein lies the important Christian witness we must give to our neighbor. Therein lies the hope for our children and the generations that follow.
If we, as Catholic Christians, continue to just roll over and continue our disinterest, evil will prevail and we will become irrelevant.