Mass for the Faculty and Staff of Archbishop Murphy High School
My stepdad teaches freshman and sophomore science at Highline Highschool down in Burien, WA. But he is also a graduate of Kennedy Catholic Highschool similarly located in Burien, the same school that I graduated from and my mother, his wife, graduated from. So I have asked him a few times now why he does not switch over to his Catholic alma mater. His answer is the same every time: he cannot afford the pay cut.
Now, I know nothing about the finances of Archbishop Murphy High School or the Everett area public school districts, but I’ll bet most of you did have to take some kind of pay cut to teach here. And maybe for some of you the difference in salary is more than outweighed by avoiding the disciplinary issues or politics of the public districts; but I would bet again that for a good number of you, that what made the pay cut worthwhile had something to do with the mission of Archbishop Murphy High School.
Now, if many of us are here for the mission and have made sacrifices for the mission, we have to ask ourselves an incredibly difficult question about the elephant in the room: Given the horrible revelations coming out of Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., is our mission still valid? Is Catholic education, is the Catholic faith, still a force for good in the lives of our students and our greater communities? Can you, as Catholic educators, still stand in front of your students with an authentic love for the Catholic faith, or even, at bare minimum, can you still at least pay lip service to the Church that allowed so many children to be betrayed by men who claimed to minister on behalf of God?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, these are difficult questions, and ones that I do not feel right lecturing you on. I am struggling with the same questions: The Church that I love, that I have given my life to, has been shown to have a large, cancerous growth rotting it from within. The mission that permeates every fiber of my being was betrayed in a most gruesome way by men who dress like me, who talk like me, and who were entrusted with the same tasks with which I have been entrusted. I am reminded once again of the many victims all over the country, but especially those victims who suffered at the hands of Seattle priests in the Seattle Archdiocese. I am reminded of our need to support them and to pray for them, and I wonder if anything I can do will matter in the face of their suffering.
But even as I struggle with these questions, I always end up with the same conclusion: yes, our mission still matters because Jesus still saves.
Nothing we have learned these last few weeks has changed the fact that God himself became man so that he could enter into our wickedness and death and defeat the grave from within. No depraved priest or corrupt bishop can take away the Resurrection, the greatest reason for our hope, the reassurance by God that our ultimate destiny is to be recreated in Christ free of sin and death. Even when Jesus was betrayed by Judas then, even when Jesus was betrayed by these clerics now, he remains the savior of the world, and he continues to save us and save our students.
In fact, our first reading leaves no doubt about how much God despises wicked shepherds. “…because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep … I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths. For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”
God himself will tend his sheep. God is on the side of the innocent, of the traumatized, of the victim. God is on the side of the Church, the true Church, not the Church represented by cabals of corrupt self-serving individuals, but the Church of his sheep, of those who have remained faithful to him and continue to walk in his ways. Jesus continues to love his sheep and to save them.
And how does Jesus continue to save?
He continues to save through his radical example of love, reminding us always what our model is, asking us always to conform our lives to his.
He continues to save us through his power to heal, both in body as he did for the hemorrhaging woman, and in soul as he did for the woman at the well.
He continues to save us through his Resurrection, his victory over death, his recreation of our bodies and souls in the divine image, capable of divine unity.
And yes, as horrible as it may seem at the moment, Jesus does continue to save us through the Church. He wanted us to receive his grace most powerfully through the sacraments, through our baptism, through the Eucharist, through sacramental confession. And Jesus did entrust these sacraments to a Church, overseen by fallible shepherds. Still, the corruption of the institution, though deep, is temporary, while her mission of grace will always remain.
We should also remember that it has always been and it will always be Jesus who performed these sacraments, even though at times he performed them through the very priests who were betraying him. This is the assurance given to us by our theological tradition: that the grace of the sacraments is always present, even when the minister is unworthy to be an instrument of that grace.
But, for my money, the way in which Jesus saves us most powerfully is his cross. You know far better than I do that high school students, especially now, are carrying impossibly heavy crosses. All of them have been shamed or excluded on the omnipresent social media. A small but significant number carry the shame of a sexual encounter gone wrong, or a suicide attempt, or a past abortion. Far more students than we realize experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at home or at the hands of another student. And what can we offer them? A kind word and a compassionate supportive environment are a given, but what more? What can we possibly offer them that matches the gravity of their burdens? We can offer them Jesus. We can offer them a God who loved them so much that he chose to suffer with them. A God who chose to carry his own cross. A God who will carry their crosses, too, if they will let him.
My friends, if we let the Evil One impede our mission, he will have won a double victory. Our episcopate and our priesthood have been given over to corruption – not in every member, but enough that every member is now viewed with suspicion. It will take much of my lifetime to atone for these sins. But if we allow the betrayal of some to drive us away from the beauty of our faith and the salvation of Jesus, then we will never find healing for ourselves, for our students, or for the victims. Only Jesus can save us from this corruption. Only Jesus can save.
So in case you had any doubts as this school year begins: Yes, your mission still matters, now more than ever. As Catholic educators, you are on the front lines as field medics, healing the wounds of a broken world and a broken Church through your teaching, your mentorship, and your accompaniment. God is still shepherding his people and Jesus is still saving all those who come to him. Thank you for bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs it, one lesson plan and one relationship at a time.
- I was not originally going to post this homily, as a sharing a homily that was intended for a specific group always feels a little bit like a betrayal of the trust established in that small group. But it was a faculty member who suggested I post this, and I believe he is right that I should do so.
- This homily is slightly modified from its original version thanks to the theological insights of Dr. Brian Taberski.
- Featured image found here