Selected Homilies by Bishop David A. Zubik
Following is the text of Bishop David Zubik’s homily from his Sept. 28 installation Mass.
Join me in being excited about our faith
What an awesome responsibility it is to be a shepherd of such wonderful people — to be a shepherd of any people. And I would like you to join with me if you will in thanking several folks who have been teaching me what it means to be a shepherd.
First, the church of Green Bay. For the past four years, it has been my very distinct pleasure to grow in faith with the nearly 400,000 who belong to that church in northeastern Wisconsin. They have taught me what it means to stand tall and strong, to be courageous, to be more prayerful. At this moment I would like to ask any of the representatives of the family of the church of Green Bay to please stand so we can give you a true Pittsburgh welcome.
For 20 years, he has been teaching me what it means to be a man of the church. For 18 years, he has been, in fact, the shepherd of this local church of Pittsburgh. And while he moved on east and now leads the faithful of the archdiocese of our nation’s capital, we will always be indebted to the strong, courageous servant leadership of our 11th bishop, Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
For the last 15 months, he has taught me much about what it means to be shepherd. His very pastoral, caring concern for the ongoing transition of the church of Pittsburgh has endeared us to him — has endeared me to him — and we would fail gravely if we did not express in a very tangible way our gratitude to my brother — to our brother — Bishop Paul Bradley.
For the last 58 years, they have taught me everything that is important in life. They introduced me to God. They taught me the importance of the church. They taught me how to pray. They opened my eyes to see the gifts that God has given me. They challenged me to live those talents for the honor and glory of God and for the service of God’s people. They have taught me not only how to believe but how to love. And I ask you to please join with me as we thank God for my mom in heaven, and my dad here in the front row.
At 5:15 a.m. this past Monday, one of my friends here in Pittsburgh called me in Green Bay to share an interesting article that appeared in one of the local Pittsburgh newspapers. The story used a couplet that I hadn’t quite heard before. I knew the two words of the couplet, but somehow they didn’t seem to go together. The words were “sanctified scalping” — and to be honest with you I couldn’t quite figure it out. The article said people were scalping tickets in order to be able to come to a certain event that would take place at the cathedral. I certainly knew what “scalping” was about, but didn’t quite know how “sanctified” could connect with it. After the phone call ended, I began to think about it and I got really excited, really enthused. “Wow,” I thought. “If people were scalping tickets to come to church, how much they must be in love with God!”
And that, I trust, is why you are here today — because of God, to give honor and praise and glory to God. And if for some strange reason you are not here for that reason, then like the warning labels on some products, I would like to warn you that you might start to feel a little bit uncomfortable about what I am about to share.
Divine providence has such an important place in each of our lives. On July 19, the day after the announcement was made that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, was appointing me to come back to Pittsburgh, I boarded a very early flight to go back to Green Bay. One of the things about my spirituality that I need to be able to share with you is that whatever is my first journey of any given day begins with my praying the rosary, whether that’s on a plane, or in a car, or by foot. I need to connect with the mother of Jesus and my mother Mary, who is the mother of the church. I just finished praying the rosary and could feel the eyes of the person who was sitting next to me looking at what I was doing. It was clear he knew what the rosary was about. He looked at me and said, “Don’t fly much?”
And I said, “Well, you know that’s not quite the case because I’ve got 800,000 miles in flying, so I’m not just praying to make sure that the plane doesn’t come down. I’m praying because I love God.”
Over the course of the next half-hour we had one of those conversations that you couldn’t even plan for.
Each of us began to talk a lot about our love of God and then I asked, “Since you recognize what the rosary is, are you a Catholic?”
He said, “I once was Christian, but not any longer. I’m now a Buddhist.”
I said, “Really? What happened?”
With all due respect to our sisters and brothers of the Buddhist faith, my question was directed to someone who used to be a member of our church but has chosen to not be. “What happened?” I asked, and his answer intrigued me.
“You know, I don’t have anything against Jesus. I believe in what Jesus came to teach. I’m intrigued by the challenge he gives in life, but I haven’t really found anybody who genuinely follows him. I really haven’t seen people excited about their love for their faith in and their connection to God through Jesus. And so I left the church.”
I’ve been thinking a great deal about his answer, first as an examination of my own conscience and then as an impetus to the great responsibility which I begin here this day with and for all of you. And the question that I ask myself, the question I ask all of you, is this one: How excited are you, how excited am I and how excited are we about our God? Can people who see us day in and day out know without question that we are proud of our faith, that we are dependent upon God and that we are excited about doing his work?
You and I stand to learn a great lesson from that magnificent Gospel passage from Luke. We have heard it many times before and it is showcased during the Easter season. Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus — griping, complaining, finding that their expectations didn’t seem to be met — were so wrapped up in how they thought things should have been.
For one reason or another, they didn’t see things as they in fact were. Even when Jesus tried to open their eyes by sharing the Scriptures, they still couldn’t see him. Even though he tried to bless them with the knowledge of what it meant for them to be companions with him on the road, they still didn’t recognize him. It was only when they got together in that upper room that they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
Now my sisters and brothers, it’s important for us to get into the mind of the Greek language and to see that whenever the word “recognize” is used it means that there is already a familiarity, there is already a relationship that exists. They recognized Jesus not because of the color of his eyes or the shape of his hair or the height of his stature. They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. They recognized him for who he is: the Savior of the world.
Did you hear what Luke tells us happened next? Those two disciples hotfooted it as fast as they could, running east to Jerusalem to let everybody know about what they had experienced. They were excited about their faith. And if you have any doubt whatsoever about what effect that encounter made, take a look at those next to you and consider why they are here. We are here today because those disciples were excited about Jesus!
Some months ago, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a marvelous letter to the church: “Deus Caritas Est” — “God Is Love.” In it the Holy Father places before us a challenge that I would like to pass on to you today, and a challenge that I would like you to pass on to me as well — to be excited about our faith, to be very proud about that faith and how to live that faith with and for each other.
The Holy Father calls us to ask: Can you imagine what would happen to the world if every single one of us walked outside the doors of this church excited about our faith, and what that would do with the people with whom we rub shoulders? What would happen if those people did the very same thing and on and on. Can you imagine what would happen to the world in which we live? It would, in fact, become more the kind of place that God intended it to be in the first place.
And so my sisters and brothers of the church of Pittsburgh and beyond, God challenges you and me. I challenge you, too, as I hope you challenge me to be excited about our faith. God calls us to be people who depend upon him. I challenge you to be people who become more dependent upon God by the way in which you drop to your knees in the privacy of your homes, and in the way in which you consistently and actively come to celebrate the sacred Eucharist each weekend and invite people who haven’t been coming to come here, too. Because if we dare to do that you know what can happen. Other people are going to recognize Jesus through us.
God challenges us, and I challenge you to stand up for the absolute sacred value of human life from the first moment of conception to the point of natural death, and every other point along that spectrum. And when we, in fact, stand up for the sacredness of life and boldly proclaim that truth to the world in which we live, I guarantee you that like those first two disciples, other people will recognize in our actions the very face of God.
God challenges you and God challenges me to make sure that we never become so haughty about the gifts that we have in life that we turn a deaf ear to the poorest of the poor, that we adopt philosophical arguments on positions that hurt people who are on the fringes of society. The Gospel of our faith calls us to be the hands and the heart of Jesus to people who need his love. You know what will happen when we are the hands and heart of Jesus to others? The world will recognize in us the very person of Jesus Christ.
Challenge for life
My sisters and brothers, we have before us a great challenge. It becomes typified in a modern-day parable which I wish to share with you at this moment. It’s a story about our archenemy, Satan, who gathered together in his boardroom with his closest consultors.
As the devil looked out at them, he said, “You know, I’m really frustrated. We are not making any steps forward in getting people to forget about God, and I need you to help me with some suggestions.”
One of the aides of Satan raised his hand and said, “I know what we can do. Let’s go back to the world, and let’s convince the believers that there isn’t a God.”
And Satan said, “Well, that’s a half-witted suggestion, because people already believe in God. They see the beauty of the world and they realize it couldn’t come from nothing. And more important, they see the beauty of each other and know that they had to come from some divine power. Thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks.”
And a second aide to the devil raised his hand and said, “OK, let’s try this angle. Let’s go back to the world, and let’s let the world know that God gave up on them, that God is sick and tired of people sinning and making mistakes. They have no hope of going to heaven and they are coming straight to hell.”
Satan once again said, “Nice try, but that’s not going to work. The Son of God hung on a cross — this is a powerful sermon about the depth of God’s love, so that won’t work either, but thanks.”
Finally, a third aide of Satan raised his hand and said, “I have the perfect suggestion. Let’s go back to the world and convince it that there is a God, and that people should believe in him. Let’s go to the world and let them know how deep God’s love is for all, as typified in the death of Jesus. But when we go to the world, let’s tell the people they don’t have to worry about responding today. They can put it off for tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Let’s convince them they can procrastinate about living their faith.”
Satan said, “Marvelous idea. Let’s go to work. Let’s go to earth.”
My sisters and my brothers in Christ, the lesson of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus — in their encounter of the risen Jesus and their recognition of him as Christ Jesus — is that God needs to be recognized in us.
I dare you to join with me today, tomorrow, next month and next year to join me in being excited about our faith. And may we, by our words of love and our deeds of service and our prayer of belief, prove the Devil wrong. May we not put off until tomorrow what God really wants us to do today.