Homily Wed April 29, Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena @ Shsst- Fr. Michael UdoekpoReadings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; John 12:44-50
Witnessing the Light with a Pastoral Heart!
The Responsorial Psalm this morning, “O God, let all the nations praise you,” captures in a worship language the spirit of what we celebrate today; a missionary faculty, staff, men women, and student- disciples from all nations gathered on the memorial/feast day of Saint Catherine of Siena, to acknowledge God, to worship God, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed on us since the beginning of the school year, and to pray for the light of his resurrection and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Mission that lies ahead of us, the Church, particularly, our vibrant new graduates that will be sent forth this afternoon!
This is also perhaps our last major Wednesday community Mass before the long anticipated summer break. What an opportunity for all of us, to step back, take a deep breath, and re-appreciate, especially in the light of today’s scriptures, how blessed we are, to have been set apart, like Barnabas, Paul and Catherine of Siena for a special mission, in those various posts of our duties, here in our Seminary. What we do here in a way remains, and will always be a form of bearing witness to Christ, the light of the world, spoken of in today’s Gospel.
Here Jesus cries out, “whoever believes in me believes not only in the one who sent me, and who ever sees me sees the one who sent me. I came into the world as lights that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” In the Alleluia verse we read “I am the light of the world, says the Lord, whoever follows me will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).
Ordinarily, we know there are many sources of light on Earth, electricity, nuclear, waves are some of them. But the main one is the Sunlight. Sunlight provides the energy for living things through the process of photosynthesis. Spiritually, John’s Gospel is popular in the symbolic identification of Jesus as that “Sun Light”, that “Light of the world, “the source our energy and well-being. John the Baptist, who could have been anyone of us, testified to this light in the beginning of the Gospel (1:9). Nichodemus, who could have been anyone us, is enlightened by this light (3:19). The man born blind, who could have been any of us, received the gifts of healing from this Light (9:5). Christ, the Light!
Today’s Gospel, builds on this “Christology of Light,” to “the Discipleship of Light.” Emphasis is on believing in this light, accepting this light, following this light, walking in the light of Christ; bearing witness to this light, radiating his, love, his mercy, ethics, and values; spreading the Good News to all nations, as recommended by the psalmist, “Lord let all the nations praise you,” and as Paul and Barnabas did in Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading.
Here we are told before Paul’s first missionary journey, the prophets and teachers of the Antioch Church, with a cross-cultural and interracial backgrounds, if we go by their names: Simeon/Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a friend to Herod Antipas, led by the Holy Spirit set Paul/Saul and Barnabas apart for a mission to bring the Gospel to the Gentile nations of Seleucia and Cyprus! Particularly significant here, is the multicultural composition of a church fellowship, and the growth of the metropolitan city of Antioch which at that point became the headquarters of the missionary Christianity. Our multicultural Seminary Community can always relate to this.
To be in Christ is to be in mission. And the Church on earth is by her very nature missionary- whether we are called to stay in Antioch, Cyprus, Jerusalem or Milwaukee, to serve in the kitchen, chapel, library, class room , or in the office area, the adventure is Christ. What matters is how we generously, faithfully and pastorally responds to the gifts of the Spirit, as also exemplified by Saint Catherine of Siena whose memorial we celebrate today.
Born in Siena in 1347, Catherine joined the Dominican Third Order and was outstanding for her spirit of prayer, penance, selflessness and unwavering love for the church. At the time when the Church of the 14th century experienced great difficulties, and divisions Catherine showed her love for God, the Church and the Holy Father. She travelled from Italy to Avignon and successfully persuaded the exiled Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome, because that was the place from which Christ’s Vicar, like our popular Pope Francis ought to minister the universal and missionary Church from.
The Lord prepares us for the strategic opportunities each of us has, rooted in our particular Seminary Mission Statement! At 1:00 pm, today, we shall re-gather in the lobby for the sending forth ritual. Like the prophets and teachers of Antioch we will pray over our graduates, and our friends, whom we believe have received the same inner missionary spirit as we do. We pray that they will join us, go out like Paul, Barnabas and Catharine of Siena on a mission to teach, preach, write, the catholic faith, and witness to Christ, the Light of the nations, with their pastoral hearts!