Diocese of Rockville Centre


Homily of Bishop William Murphy

     Jesus’ words in the Gospel (Luke 4) we just heard were startling to his hearers in that tiny Nazareth synagogue.  And that is exactly what he meant them to be!  Decades later Luke chose to recount this moment at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because he recognized the extraordinary claim Jesus made from the beginning.  The question “who is he? is presented in the Infancy narratives.  That question in turn gives way to “What kind of Messiah will he be?”  This is an important question if you recall your ancient history.  The time of Jesus was a time of Roman domination, Roman power, Roman hegemony.  Local despots made deals with Rome for local power.  Corruption was rife.  Exploitation of the people was commonplace. The Herodians and Romans vied with one another.  And in response to that power and domination, corruption and exploitation, many came claiming to be messiah, to set people free from Roman rule, local corruption.  Some were political.  Others, revolutionaries.  Others wide eyed bomb throwers of every stripe.  

Jesus’ answer goes beyond all that!  He will be a prophetic Messiah in the way Isaiah predicted one day there would be such.  Later Isaiah, like all prophets, was steeped in Torah and faithful to the promises made to the Chosen People.  But he extended the promises to the Chosen Ones to embrace all humanity.  “My house will be a house of prayer for all nations” is God’s promise made through him.  Jesus announces that He IS that prophetic messiah, come to set captives free, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and announce this as the acceptable time, the new moment from God given for all.  

Thus Jesus comes to be the prophet of God’s truth.  He is God’s answer to all the cries of the human heart.  He will free us from sin and death.  He comes from the Father and freely and deliberately accepts his destiny, a destiny that is now ours.  For if we die with him we shall live with him.  We may be unfaithful but he is always faithful because he cannot be unfaithful to his own self!  

When we bishops are sent to you, we come to you as He did and in imitation of Him.  Ours is not a politically partisan or merely social or economic message.  Ours is not to be revolutionary or protective of the status quo.  Ours is to speak the truth in love and to do our best to make our words and actions resound Christ for your good and the good of every society and every community.  We confidently make our own what Christ says, knowing that his truth is the best guarantee of human happiness and flourishing.  The confidence Paul displays in his letter to the Roman comes from the same source as ours: We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… we boast in hope of the Glory of God…And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  That spirit should have an influence on our lives and, to the extent that it remains of God, will duly influence all aspects of human living.  How could it not?  May I point to two contemporary examples, friends in this life, united in the Spirit God pours forth.  Blessed John Paul II spoke God’s word and that word transformed the political world of east and west as we knew it.  Blessed Mother Teresa spent a life with the poor and the dying and her example has set a new modern standard for all disciples of Jesus.  

That same applies to us in our own contemporary society.  Thomas Jefferson, in one his many letters, said to a friend, The God who gave us life is the God who gives us liberty.  When either one of these gifts of God, life or liberty, is threatened we bishops must and do speak out.  Is there any doubt where the Church stands and what her bishops teach regarding life and threats to life such as abortion and euthanasia?  Must we not be equally committed to the defense of liberty here and around the world?   

You all know our positions on threats to human freedom and God-given liberty of conscience and religious faith and practice.  We seek to protect personal and institutional religious freedom and conscience and will continue so to do.  As leaders of the Church we have presented our arguments to all three levels of government.  We have entered into dialogue with an administration that listens but does not hear.  It is a dialogue with the deaf, but we will continue.  We have supported legislation in Congress and we will continue, though, there too, there are those who give lip service to what is guaranteed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Having received empty promises of accommodation from the administration, several dioceses and Church agencies, including our own, have appealed to the courts and we will see where that will go, hopeful always in the justice and the probity of our position.  

We have sought to educate our people and appeal to them to join us so that the voices of those who respect conscience and religious freedom might prevail over mandates and regulations that we see as intrusive on human life and freedom of choice.  The leadership of lay men and women of all walks of life are crucial in this.  You may have heard  from a new group, The LI Citizens for Religious Liberty, that has organized to be a voice here and beyond for freedom of conscience and of religious belief.  

For some of us this is personally not easy.  But we take heart from a Jesus we call our Lord who proclaimed himself a prophetic Messiah and sent his first apostles into the world to proclaim his truth and his offer of salvation.  He offered glad tidings, liberty and a time acceptable to the Lord.  We would be unfaithful if we did less.  As Paul reminds us “For freedom Christ has set you free!”   

So, my friends, we, bishops, do not become discouraged.  Our strength comes not from ourselves or we would be bound to frustration.  We do not abandon the struggle because we have faith in the power of God’s word and the goodness of people who desire the truth that sets us free, a truth that proclaims life for everyone and freedom for the good, the true and the beautiful as God’s gifts for us all.  

We seek to change hearts as God promised through the mouth of Ezekiel.  I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put in you…I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes…You shall live in the land I gave your fathers.  You shall be my people and I will be your God.