In these times of economic uncertainty, perhaps the last thing you want to hear in church on Sunday is a lecture about money. Listening to the Scripture readings, though, you might think that’s what you’re in for. In the Gospel, you heard it said that one cannot serve God and money. The prophet Amos condemned the citizens of Judah who could hardly wait until the Sabbath was over so that they could resume turning a dishonest profit.
Over a century ago, the famous lawyer and libertarian, Clarence Darrow, said this: “I believe that religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don’t believe in either as I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” While the quote is old, the sentiment is contemporary. To-day, increasing numbers of people say that they no longer believe in God, that they reject the notion of an after-life, and that they have left organized religion. This is especially true of young people, many of whom are Catholics. And we ask, “What’s going on?”
Edmondson Avenue, as you know, is one of Baltimore’s busiest streets. Every day, thousands of motorists pass by St. Bernardine’s Church, situated as it is in the heart of the City. Many people live in neighborhoods surrounding this church, and far too many experience poverty and violence. Others come back to this church for Sunday Mass from the suburbs, attracted by its sense of belonging, its vibrant liturgy, and its ministries.
In today’s Gospel, a scholar of the Law of Moses tested Jesus by asking him, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus responded by asking the scholar how he would answer his own question. The scholar replied correctly by quoting a Scripture passage that Jews recite daily as part of their morning and evening prayer: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all you heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” . . . and he added, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approved of this answer and urged the scholar to live the law of love. Love of God and neighbor is indeed the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10), and even more importantly, the path to life everlasting.
All of us here in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen are a little bit like the people we met in today’s first reading from the Act of the Apostles. That reading describes how the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ closest followers who came together inside a house in Jerusalem, praying for the coming of the Spirit. Now, outside that house, in the city of Jerusalem were visitors from many different places, speaking many different languages. Like those visitors, you have come from parishes near and far.
Throughout the past year, you have been celebrating 200 glorious years, 200 years as the oldest parish in Baltimore County. With an industry born of love, you have unearthed records, retrieved stories of faith and devotion, remembered the priests who served here, given thanks for all those whose faith, hard work, and generosity put the first church, the second church, and the school on firm foundations. In your recently renovated parish center, you have put your history on display, and in this way have made it accessible to parishioners and visitors. After Mass, we will be blessing a time capsule so that future parishioners will remember the pages of parish history which you, the present generation is writing so wisely and lovingly.
If you have ever been to Lourdes, then you know what a special place it is. It is a place of prayer, healing, and peace: a place where you can sense, almost palpably, the presence of the Blessed Mother; a place where miracles do take place, both spiritual and physical; a place where you experience ‘that peace the world cannot give’. Many times, I have joined the Order of Malta in accompanying the sick, our beloved malades, to Lourdes. I have held their hands and prayed with them as they prepared to enter the baths, and I have rejoiced with them as they emerged full of joy, touched as they were by the tender love of Mary and the healing touch of Christ. Whether or not a physical healings always take place, spiritual healings abound.
Nothing is more beautiful to my ears the sound of my mother’s voice. I am amazed and grateful to the Lord, that, at this stage of my life, my mother, at 102 years of age, is still alive. I call her every evening, usually around 6:15, and we talk for about ten minutes. Usually, she wants to know what I did that day – just like when I was a kid! So most evenings, I tell her what my day was like and how I spent it, and she tells me who called or visited her or anything else unusual that happened. Mom also gives me advice, urging me to get enough sleep or to be careful in traffic. You might say that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same!’ On this Mother’s Day, let us give thanks for our mothers, both living and deceased, even as the sound of their voices echoes in our hearts!
In the Gospel just proclaimed, we meet the disciples of Jesus, confronting for the first time the reality of his Resurrection. They are confused and amazed. Mary Magdalene visits the tomb early in the morning only to discover that the body of Jesus has gone missing. She assumes that it is the work of grave robbers. Peter and John run to the tomb to find out what was going on. John defers to Peter – for Jesus had made Peter the leader of the Apostles. But when John peers into the empty tomb and sees the carefully arranged wrappings – the Gospel that bears his name says of him – “He saw and he believed.” Even so, the same Gospel passage goes on to say that the disciples did not yet understand that “Jesus had to rise from the dead”.
During the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed through my hometown, New Albany, Indiana. I happened to be standing at the corner of Charleston Road and Indiana Avenue when a lineup of black Lincolns and Cadillacs whizzed past me. In the backseat of one of the cars was Senator Kennedy himself. As a child of nine, I was over-awed and ran home to tell Mom what I had just seen. Mom then asked me what I was doing on that street corner when I should have been home, doing my schoolwork … there was no good answer.