After spending a few hours of fraternity with the priests of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, a church full of people gathered at the Co-Cathedral for a Mass of Thanksgiving. Below is the homily.
I hope tomorrow to add some video and pictures (added below).
Readings: Acts of the Apostles 17:15, 22-18:1, John 16:12-15
It seems like just yesterday we were gathered here for an Installation ceremony, or for the imposition of the Pallium. And yet, here we are just two and a half short years later – to give thanks for this brief sojourn of faith.
Our Gospel selection for Mass today comes from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel, as he prepares to ‘go to the Father’ through his passion, death and resurrection. The Father that Jesus speaks of is described by St. Paul in the first reading as “The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth … who gives everyone life and breath and everything.” “In him we live and move and have our being.”
Jesus tells his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will … declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
As you know, my episcopal motto is “Truth in Love”, and I have tried during my time among you to speak the truth of Jesus Christ and to be an expression of his love for you. For the moments, I have failed you in either regard, I ask your forgiveness.
A catch phrase today – which is a disturbing red flag – is heard when people say that they want to ‘speak their truth,’ or they want to provide others an opportunity to ‘speak their truth.’ I’m all for listening to people’s experiences and opinions, but when it comes to truth, I’m not interested in various versions of the truth. All we should want to hear is the one truth of Jesus Christ. One person’s truth cannot contradict another person’s truth. Truth is truth. Truth possess us, and when we hear this truth from the ‘Spirit of truth,’ it resonates deeply within us as sound, ordered, attractive and life-giving.
During our pilgrimage of faith these past few years, we continued to seek God together – and have also experienced the joy of discovering that he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:27) I have certainly enjoyed both experiences; of seeking God in your midst, as well as discovering his presence among you, here in Alaska.
I think of my first trips to each of the parishes in the Archdiocese, of the Good Friday Faith Walks, celebrating Masses in our parishes, at the Br. Francis Homeless shelter, Covenant House, the various campuses and chapels of Providence Hospital, our Catholic Schools, or the Alaska Native Medical Center. Of particularly vivid memory are some of the celebrations I’ve have shared with the Samoan Community, the Simbangabi Masses, or even the Mass with the King Island Natives and the many other ethnic communities that are found here in the Archdiocese or even in other parts of Alaska.
I recall the many fascinating evenings of prayer and discussion with young adults, ACYC or the many private visits I’ve had with many of you either in my office, your homes or elsewhere. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the many good memories I have made here with you, it is a good sample.
And, I would be remiss if I did not speak about the many conversations we have shared in this painful past year, seeking the face of God in the midst of pain, mistrust, misdeeds and betrayals. I have sought out and listened to the wise counsel of many of you. In you, I have found the presence of God. From you I have heard the voice of the ‘Spirit of truth.’ With you and for you, I have prayed and discerned to know where God is leading us as Church today. And while this journey still has miles to go, we are ‘on the way’ of healing, and of greater responsibility, transparency and credibility.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that God’s first book was creation. As many of you, I find the presence of God so readily in the beauty of this Great Land, where it seems God spent a little extra time carving his beauty into this landscape, and the life that fills it. I must admit, after arriving here in the month of November, and listening to people speak incessantly for six months about salmon – thinking to myself: “These people really need to get a life!” until I experienced for myself the first wonderful summer of those mystical, magical salmon!
Such wonders of creation teach me, and all of us, that the life of God, and much of this life, is a mystery, not so much to be solved as simply lived, experienced, and entered in to. Thank you for letting me enter in to the mystery and beauty of your lives, and your faith.
In addition to these experiences of encountering Christ in you, I wish to close with one more reflection.
Most of my days begin and end in my chapel, before the Blessed Sacrament. It is there, in prayer, I continue daily to seek the face of Christ and to listen to his voice. It is in that setting that I carry you before the LORD each day. It is in that prayerful Presence that I ask for the grace to become the Good Shepherd in your midst. It is ‘there’ that I daily pray ‘in and with and for the Church.’
Just this Sunday, I was passing through the Minneapolis airport. I was in casual dress, walking and visiting with a couple of friends before we each got on separate airplanes back to our respective homes. After walking and talking nearly half way through this large airport, the woman walking in front of us turned and said: “Pardon me, I do not mean to eaves drop on your conversation, but I must ask: ‘Are you the Archbishop of Anchorage?’” I said, rather surprised, “Yes, I am.” To which she replied: “I thought I recognized that voice. We are really going to miss you.” With that, she turned again, and was on her way. I immediately thought of the scripture passage: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
My friends, it has been my sincere pleasure and privilege to serve here in Anchorage as your chief pastor and shepherd. While we will now be separated by a few miles, you here, and I in a nearby suburb – Seattle … we will always be one in the heart of Christ. Let us continue to pray for each other, and above all, to pray, discern and listen for the ‘Spirit of Truth, who will guide us to all truth.’ Let us continue to seek and beg for the grace to ‘live the truth in love.’ (Ephesians 4:15)