‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you’

The bishop speaks to his brother priests during retreat

On Oct. 18, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass for the priests of the diocese during their annual retreat at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

Dear brothers, I am most grateful for this opportunity to be with you today here at St. Bernard’s for our fraternal moments together on this retreat. Again, I acknowledge Bishop Baker, Archbishop Marino, and Bishop Boullette, our retreat master. I don’t ever remember having four bishops on a diocesan retreat for priests. Again, the hospitality of Abbot Marcus and the monks is a further reminder of the generosity with which our Lord welcomes us with all of our imperfections.

The opening antiphon for the Mass for the Feast of St. Luke sets the stage for our reflection today with its timely reminder from the great prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings of peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation!” 

However crazy the world is today or seems to be, we are taken right back to the fundamental needs of our human heart – to wait for a word – glad tidings, good news, an announcement that will rouse us, to lift us up, to heal us, to save us. It comes not merely as some fantastical idea, but through a person so that we cannot just imagine them in our minds but truly hear the words, know the voice, and see the coherence of life that makes an astonishing claim: God loves you; the love of God knows no bounds; His mercy endures forever!

I think precisely of the people who have been searching for something that will make sense, that will fill their hearts with joy, and that will free them from bondage to sin. They indeed hear the words of this man Jesus who awakens in them something that they have to respond to. Either what He claims is true or we are a bunch of fools. In other words, why would God promise us something if that something is not indeed attainable? 

St. Luke eloquently puts before us so many indications of the fulfillment of God’s promise: love for the poor, the experience of mercy in the parables of the Good Samaritan, Zaccheus, the tax collector, and the Prodigal Son, for which Pope St. John Paul II called St. Luke the “Gospel of Mercy.” It is also the gospel of the lost and found – the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost Son. In addition, St. Luke also gives us the Acts of the Apostles where we see the early Church struggle to get its bearings in terms of its organization and how it overcame early difficulties. It reminds us that the human condition is also present in the institution Christ established as we seek, with the help of God’s grace, to fulfill God’s plan in the organization of believers into communities of faith – parishes, institutions, missions, associations of the faithful as People of God in which there is a certain hierarchical order established by Christ Himself.

One such community and group is highlighted in the first reading today in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It starts very simply from a worrisome reflection from Paul’s heart: “Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me … Luke is the only one with me.” Demas is an interesting individual for which there are only three references in Paul’s letters (Colossians, Philemon, and here in II Timothy). We only know he was part of the company of Paul, but something happened, especially when St. Paul notes, in particular, that Demas became “enamored of the present world” and deserted their company. It should be a good reminder for us to reflect upon what in the world tugs at us, enamors us to such a point as to pull us away from Christ and the communion we have with believers! With God’s grace, we can see beyond the human inconsistencies, we can persevere in our faith because in the end, we have every confidence in the promise of God: Christ will prevail – in the end He will claim the victory. 

It seems that our task is almost impossible as laid out in our Gospel today! Well, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” We too, pray that many young men and women may hear God’s call through the noise and distraction of the world – the lure of the world - for which some may lose this amazing chance at serving Him with their gifts and talents more deeply.

Today, more than ever, there is an urgency to proclaim: “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” We bring only the simple message of Christ - “Follow Me!” no matter what your vocation is!

As priests – incardinated, extern, and religious - here in the diocese of Birmingham, we count on each other to be faithful to our calling so that we can wield an abundant harvest for Christ. Again, I can’t thank you enough for what you are doing as servant leaders dedicated to the event of Christ and reflect upon the noble words with which we began our liturgy today: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him, who brings glad tidings of peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation!” May God bless you all!