Homily – 27 September 2015 — A Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Every so often an event happens, a person comes along, that makes us pause in our lives, to think and talk to each other about what really matters in life. The visit of Pope Francis is one of those occasions. Many of you have followed his apostolic journey and have your own comments and opinions. I am privileged to have this chance to share some of mine and how I thought of our parish as I listened to the Pope.
There is little doubt Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. We are moved by his humble demeanor, his non disparaging speeches, his warm smile and his focus on lifting up marginalized people to dignity. For the Pope all people matter as does our common home.
The title pope is derived from the Latin word Pontifex and means bridge builder. One of this Pope’s constructive tools is a concept known as integral ecology. He puts issues of human rights, the environment and economic justice all under one umbrella. He believes that care for our fragile planet is synonymous with caring for one another. These urgent concerns require undivided attention to assure there is a future for our children and people of all ages especially often forgotten elderly persons.
In addressing Congress he reminded us that political activity must promote the common good of all persons and be based on human dignity. This activity he claimed requires a spirit of solidarity and commitment. He graciously pointed out how four well known citizens of our country took action to assure that all people regardless of sexual orientation, class, race, creed or religion could live out their dreams without fear of rash judgement, prejudice or denial of religious and personal freedoms.
The Pope reemphasized these remarks in his speech at Independence Hall on religious liberty and immigration. “It is imperative that followers of various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and respect of others.”
There is a lot for us to think about in light of these papal nudges for living in a better way. This weekend in our parish we draw upon the memory of our patron saint, Vincent de Paul. In his lifetime France had serious problems: inflation, falling wages and rising taxes. Religious divisions at that time resulted in bloody wars. It was acceptable practice for Catholics to kill Calvinists and to be openly anti-Semitic. In this context Vincent and co-worker Louis de Marillac built bridges to ease the pain especially for those who were most vulnerable.
Today we keep St. Vincent’s memory kept alive by working in the food pantry, sharing resources and love with RISSE,  ministering to those in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, supporting our sister parish in Panama and innumerable unnoticed acts of kindness toward one another. Here in this parish we do our best not only when we gather to worship God but also by our cooperation with other agencies in the Capital District.
The Pope urged the United Nations General Assembly not to be satisfied with merely identifying problems, making to do lists, drawing up proposals or even writing checks. He encouraged the members to take action, to stop environmental degradation which causes human degradation. He called upon all of us to lead lifestyles that do not deprive others of the same goods and opportunities that we cherish.
In his homily at the liturgy in Madison Square Garden the Pope called us to be purveyors of “A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others.” This afternoon our young brothers and sisters will learn about building relationships, tearing down walls that divorce people from greater opportunities in life. We imagine our youths will discuss not only those issues that they worry about but also the concerns the Pope encouraged all of us to ponder.
In the first reading today we heard how God shared the spirit given to Moses and Miriam with other people in the tribe. Moses wondered wouldn’t it be nice if all of God’s people were prophets. (The word “prophet” here does not mean someone foretelling the future. It means, rather, someone who tells it like it is.) The disciples in the gospel were not of the same mind. They were suspicious of others outside their club who were also doing good work. Jesus encouraged them to understand that good deeds are welcomed no matter who carries them out. It was an “invitation to the disciples to look away from their own distinctiveness and privilege to find goodness wherever it exists.” 
Jesus’ mission grew out of an apocalyptic worldview. His prophetic sharpness was derived from the seriousness of the issues at stake. This is the same agenda that Pope Francis has. The Pope said “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.” I think the Pope was talking to all of us — to be prophetic, to care for others, to be bridges over those troubled waters that drown people in oppression. It is a call to take action to lift the lowly up out of despair and lead them to new horizons filled with hope and mercy.
1. Refugees & Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, Inc. is housed in St. Vincent de Paul church.
2. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 153-155