‘A hundred-fold in this life and eternal life in the next’

On Sept. 24, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood. During the Mass, the bishop formally installed Father Robert Sullivan as the new pastor of the parish. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

Dear sisters and brothers, it is my great joy to be here once again, this time to participate in the celebration of the rite of installation of pastor for Father Bob Sullivan. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here and know the great work that is being accomplished because of the extraordinary spiritual legacy of former pastors, including Msgr. Martin Muller. They have inspired Our Lady of Sorrows not to settle for half-hearted measures, but to rise up and be leaders in both the parish and diocesan communities. Thank you for your witness for all.

In addition, I welcome all who are here today and those who may be accompanying us on livestream. In addition, I welcome our priests with us today.

Now, the installation of pastor is a simple rite and one not often seen. However, today, you will witness it as we make our way through the simple ritual formalities. At the outset, however, allow me to reflect for a moment on our readings.

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians concludes with a very straightforward message: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” 

That is the message I’d like to linger on a few moments with you today as we “seek the Lord” in our lives here in central Alabama. The joy of the Gospel is something that touches the lives of all believers and somehow at times confounds us by its logic, mighty deeds, and the extraordinary experience that left the audience spell bound. 

The Gospel today takes up the tension that occurs between the “so-called” generosity of the employer and the laborers. The passage itself focuses on something more than what meets the eye. From the point of view of the employer or the giver of work, he went out five times to search for laborers for his field. Those unwanted or disenfranchised, those looking for something, were invited to work in the field and in compensation received a generous “full days wage.” Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like that landowner. Whether we work there or whether we are a Christian, for a day or 100 years or more, we will receive that “just” compensation that defies worldly logic.

But, think of it: Christ seeks us out and offers us something we cannot give ourselves. We long for that something, but we miss it when we try to take shortcuts or try to figure out like we sometimes did in class when we thought, “What’s the least I can do to get by - to pass this course?” Or, what’s the least amount of work I can do to get paid my compensation or hourly wage? What Christ offers in this parable is for us to think differently and not according to the terms set forth in the Department of Labor or defining a bargain between management and labor.  It is rather a work that is set forth in the vineyard the cooperates with God, the vineyard’s owner, that seeks to find happiness, fulfillment, joy, and wholeness. St. Paul reminds us, “Life is Christ, and death is gain!” What a joy we have obtained in following Christ!

How do we do that? I am reminded of how the disciples followed! Their turning to Christ was not the project of some perfectly reasoned argument that was convincing. Their following Christ was not the preponderance of the teachings that He set forth or proclaimed. Their turning to Christ was not because it offered a life free from burdens that life imposes.

If that were the case, then my own faith itself would depend on a perfectly waged argument in which one wins a debate through logic, or my faith would depend only on the fact that I somehow “agree” with what Christ taught. And when I don’t agree, I leave. Or my faith would depend on the fact that I am free from suffering and pain and the worries of life.

As we know, there is suffering and pain and misunderstandings. We see it evidenced all around us and in the more dramatic moments of life. 

Our relationship with Christ is a very different reality. The key ingredient is an encounter with a person who connects with me in such a way that I have to ask myself, “Who is this man before me?” Isn’t this what St. Paul learned from his own experience? So dramatic was his encounter – his chance encounter – that we say he was literally and figuratively “knocked off his horse!” For him, everything changed! For those who followed him, everything changed. He could boldly assert, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, life is Christ and death is gain.” Or, we might say: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ!” The good news of Christ – the joy of the Gospel - is to live a new way, not according to the terms of culture or society in which we find ourselves, but a way that gives bold witness to joy, interior happiness, and a new, fresh way of thinking of all the factors and aspects of life.

Our task as Christians is not remaining idle all day, looking for that something that will intrigue or arouse my curiosity only to deflate or disappoint me later; rather, it is to hear the Lord inviting us into His field, His vineyard – into a relationship with Him, following Him, even though we may not have a clear path forward. Nevertheless, we know the goal, the destiny. Our Lord promised that we would experience the 100-fold in this life and even more in the life to come.

That comes as a result of having the same attitude as Christ that prays “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Those who have gone before us, remind us that it can be done. This life in Christ is possible – for those on the fringes, the peripheries of society, as well as those who are actively engaged.

If I were to look at some of the words used to define the reality of a pastor, we could talk about the mundane things a pastor has to do, the “L’s” - leaks, locks, lights, lifts, libraries, litter, and loot. Those may define the practical things a pastor oversees, in the world of maintenance, but there is more. There is also liturgy and life in all of its dimensions from baptisms, to first Communion, to confirmation prep, the marriage, funerals, schools and faith formation of various kinds that represents his mission. It is the mission of the Church in which he will represent Christ Who asks people to come into His vineyard. That is to be mission-minded and keep looking to Christ and look forward to our oneness in Christ for eternity. The task is great, the mission is great, the possibility of a future is great. It is founded on Christ Whom we have the privilege to meet every time we are here or encounter someone who is seeking Him.

Finally, I remain a committed Christian and Catholic, not because of what a priest said or did, or how excellent the PSR or parish school was but because here, in this community, I find the experience and closeness of Christ. I celebrate it with others who are with me on the same journey. We accompany one another on this tremendous adventure in life that promises the hundred-fold in this life and eternal life in the next. What a hope we have been given, my friends. May God bestow upon each of you an abundance of grace this week.