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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: June 28, 2022
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Today we are gathered to honor our jubilarians and senior priests who have given of themselves so generously in the service of the Lord and his Church. As we look back over these past years, we see how the Lord has guided us in marvelous and unexpected ways through situations these our brothers could never have foreseen on the day of their ordination.
You may be wondering why we have today’s Gospel for Tuesday of the 13th week, instead of the expected Gospel for the vigil Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul. The practical reason is that I prepared the wrong readings. But the spiritual reason is that apparently this Gospel of the calming of the storm contains a message that the Holy Spirit wants us to hear.
Here Jesus brings his disciples safely through an experience of their own powerlessness in a time of real danger and fear.
We need to remember that in this imperfect world, there are more storms yet to come. That’s why Jesus gave his disciples that experience out on the lake in today’s Gospel. He wanted to prepare them for what was to come, not only in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also in their ministry after Pentecost when they would go forth to bring the light of the Gospel into a very dark world.
In our Gospel Jesus gets into a boat and the disciples followed him. We can think of that boat as representing the Church, and full of faith and trust, we have followed Jesus into that boat. And then it says that a storm came up “suddenly” that was so violent than the disciples felt like they were going to sink — the boat was being swamped by the waves.
And isn’t it true those of us who have served many years as priests have experienced something very much like that in our own ministry? We have been blindsided by scandals within the Church and in society, we have been troubled by division among a small number of Church leaders that the media blows way out of proportion and in the process ignores the profound unity that exists in the Church and among our bishops and priests.
It is true that we have a shortage of priests, but we have shaken Jesus awake and said “Lord, save us!” and he has. He has raised up more priests from our midst.
I have ordained 46 priests for the Diocese of Little Rock in the last 14 years (all but one of which are still in active ministry) and three Benedictine priests for Subiaco. Moreover, the Lord has brought to us many missionary priests from outside the United States, including currently 11 priests from Nellore, India, plus our 25-year jubilarians, Father Peter Le and Father Polycarp Ssebbowa, from Vietnam and Uganda respectively; plus Spiritans, Divine Word Fathers, IMS priests and so on. And then there are our Benedictines from Subiaco: Father Mark Stengel is celebrating 50 years and our Carmelites from Marylake: Father Henry Bordeaux is celebrating 60 years.
Think of all the turmoil we have seen over all these decades.A flood of priests leaving ministry in the 1970s, including some of the most prominent priests of the time — devastating to the morale of those who remained and scandalous to our people. As a teenager, I remember this well — not an easy time to discern a vocation to the priesthood at the very time when so many were leaving and so many of those who remained were struggling. Our boat was being swamped by the waves. But then look what has happened since. Also for us, the Lord has rebuked the winds and the sea, and calm has followed the storm.
And let’s not forget the many blessings of this time, especially all the people coming here from Vietnam and Latin America as refugees and immigrants — new arrivals who have enriched our Church greatly. To us the Lord has said, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Of course, we need to remember that in this imperfect world, there are more storms yet to come. That’s why Jesus gave his disciples that experience out on the lake in today’s Gospel. He wanted to prepare them for what was to come, not only in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also in their ministry after Pentecost when they would go forth to bring the light of the Gospel into a very dark world.
A world not unlike the dark world of our own time. They are to remember, as are we, that the storms can serve God’s purposes too. They teach us to trust in the Lord, the master of the storms, the one “whom even the winds and sea obey!”