Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily at the closing Mass of his "ad limina" visit March 20 at the Altar of Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica.
Pope John Paul II had a powerful impact on my life, so I am grateful to be able to preside at this Mass at his tomb. I was a student here in 1978 and I was in St. Peter's Square when he was elected -- the first non-Italian pope in four centuries, a pope from a communist country whom most people had never heard of. Indeed, when his election was announced, many of us thought "Wo-tee-wah" sounded African.
I was mesmerized and inspired by his opening address that first night -- "from a distant land, so far away and yet always so near in faith." I also had the privilege to be the deacon who proclaimed the Gospel when he visited the North American College in 1979 and to hold the urn of oil for him as he consecrated the Chrism during Holy Week of 1980. But for all these experiences and all the accomplishments of his pontificate, what I find most inspiring is how the Lord used him to bring us hope.
The Church in the 70s was sorely tested by Communist repression in the East and by secularism in the West. Many Catholics rejected Church teaching on key issues like artificial contraception, and we seemed powerless to stop the flood of priests leaving the ministry and the resulting decline in priestly morale.
So God sent us a pope who was able to draw on his faith -- which had been sorely tested ever since he broke unjust laws to enter that underground seminary in Krakow. And 38 years later, Jesus intervened in order to use him to free the physically paralyzed Church in the East from communist repression and the spiritually demoralized Church in the west from error. And of course, his adversaries didn't like this one bit.
In today's Gospel Jesus heals a man who was physically incapacitated and spiritually demoralized because there was no one to put him into the healing waters of the pool of Bethesda. And now 38 years later -- the same length of time that our future pope had suffered under the Nazis and Communists -- Jesus intervened to free him from both forms of paralysis, empowering him to take an active role in life going forward: 1) physical empowerment to pick up his mat and walk, and 2) spiritual empowerment, saying "Look, you are well; do not sin any more so that nothing worse may happen to you." And Jesus ignores the fact that he is violating the biblical prohibition against doing work on the Sabbath.
Why? Because, as Cardinal DiNardo said during the opening Mass of this "ad limina" visit, Jesus is the hermeneutical key that opens up for us the full meaning of sacred Scripture. So in this Gospel we see that the binding force of the Sabbath is limited and must be at the service of Jesus' larger mission to save us from the power of sin and death -- including this poor man who -- due to his previous immobility -- has already, in effect, kept the Sabbath rest all seven days of the week for the last 38 years -- he's got a lot of "comp time" built up. Of course, Jesus' adversaries didn't like the way he set aside their norms about how to observe the Sabbath.
My brothers, we have been chosen by the Holy Spirit to carry out in our own dioceses the same mission that God entrusted to Pope John Paul II for the entire world, serving a humanity which continues to suffer physical and spiritual paralysis -- including the spiritual paralysis of secularism and consumerism, and the resulting physical paralysis of unjust laws regarding immigration, abortion and now the specter of the administration's contraceptive mandate.
Today's Gospel reminds us that when laws are inhuman, they lose their binding force, be it the Sabbath rest applied to a man who hasn't moved for 38 years, or Nazi laws prohibiting men called by God from entering the seminary, or America laws denying the child in the womb its right to live and poor people their right to immigrate when circumstances so require.
When the Holy Spirit chose us for the episcopacy, we were given a more intimate share in the saving cross of Jesus Christ -- and you don't have to be a bishop for long before you realize that Jesus is the hermeneutical key for understanding not only the full meaning of Scripture but what this means for our share in Jesus' work of salvation today, filling us with hope and empowering us to set people free -- and sometimes setting them straight in the corner of the Lord's vineyard entrusted to our care.
Of course, there is a price to pay, which we freely and gladly embrace with sacrificial love, drawing strength from the example of our predecessors in episcopal ministry extending all the way back in time to St. Peter, who is buried just a few yards away in this great basilica.
As we return home from this "ad limina" visit, let us pray that the words Pope John Paul spoke the first night of his papacy apply also to us and to our people. We too come "from a distant land, far away;" may God grant that though we live "far away" we and our people always remain "so near in faith."
Audio from Bishop Taylor's homilies are regularly posted in English and Spanish on the diocesan website. Listen to them at www.dolr.org/audio/index.php.
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