The following homily was delivered by Bishop Ronald W. Gainer at Mass for the Solemn Opening of the Sesquicentennial Anniversary Year held at Holy Name of Jesus Church, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 3, 2018 . Click here to view a video of the homily.
“There is work to be done … there is work to be done, and it is the transcendent work of Jesus Christ. There is work to be done, and there is so little time for its doing. There are … priestly souls to be sanctified in the Holy Spirit of God, … flocks to be fed, … lost sheep to be found and rescued, … little ones to be taught, … youth to be trained, … poor and sick and suffering to be befriended. There is Christ, ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ to be made known and loved and followed, and made to reign in the minds and wills of men in private and public life, in home and family, in employer and worker, in school, in leisure, in politics, in government – in every field of man’s activity and experience. There is work to be done. It is the work of Christ and only we … can do it.”
These words were preached by the longest serving bishop of our Diocese, Bishop George Leo Leech, on December 16, 1943. It was the occasion of the Ninth Synod of the Diocese of Harrisburg that corresponded with the conclusion of the 75th Anniversary of the Diocese. The work of that Synod established statutes that regulated the life of our Diocese for many decades, and, still impact the experience of parish life today.
What is striking in Bishop Leech’s message to the priests of the Diocese is the strong emphasis he placed on the truth that the work of the Gospel is urgent and necessary in the everyday life of the all of the members of the Church. In 1943 the world was in the throes of the “raging war” that stole young men from families and parishes across the Diocese. But, in the midst of the anguish of that world scene, Bishop Leech pointed toward the “transcendent work of Jesus Christ.”
“Transcendent” because the work of the Gospel is never trapped in a single place and time, but is like Christ Himself, “yesterday, today, and forever.” “Transcendent” because the work of the Gospel points us toward a goal, a purpose, that far exceeds the limits of earthly life and worldly success. “Transcendent” because it encompasses you and me and every other person who today claims membership in the Church of Jesus Christ, daring to embrace that Divine desire that we “may be one” as the Father and the Son are one.
The Oneness of the Church is a transcendent mark of Catholic identity. While it is not “of this world”, the Church is a sign “in this world.” As with all signs it points beyond itself, it points beyond us, toward Jesus Christ, toward the Kingdom of God, toward a destiny for humanity that is beyond anything we could conjure up for ourselves. The opening prayer of today’s Mass addressed the God, “who never ceases to gather to Himself from all the nations a people growing together in unity through the Spirit.”
This People, the Collect continues to pray, has been entrusted with a “mission” that inserts us into the heart of the human family as “the leaven and the soul of human society.” For God is not content that merely “some” find oneness in Christ, but that all of humanity become “the family of God” through the power of renewal and transformation in Jesus.
This is our work – the transcendent work of evangelization and renewal – so necessary and so urgent.
Our identity as the Church here in south central Pennsylvania comes with a mission. The words of Saint Peter are true for us: we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people” uniquely belonging to God. If we dare to accept that identity, then we cannot shirk the mission of “announcing the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” For we cannot “be” the Church without also “doing” the work of the Church.
This calls each of us, bishop, priest, deacon, religious, married, single, young adult, youth and child, to a commitment toward something bigger than our own ambitions, our own plans. For by the grace of Baptism, we have been called to radiate the light of Jesus Christ into our world. This means reflecting the light of Christ in our homes, our family lives, our married lives, our friendships; it means carrying the light of Christ into our workplaces, our businesses, our politics; it means carrying the light of Christ into the marketplace and on the street corner, whenever we encounter the one who is suffering because of prejudice and intolerance, the one who is ignored and unwanted by society, the one who suffers because of our corporate and political indifference, the one who has been told they are not worthy of respect or love. To these people and into these places, we must “be” the authentic Church; we must “do” the work of the Gospel.
Doing a “transcendent work” does not give us any excuse to flee from the serious problems of the world nor the thorny struggles of the Church. Rather, it gives us the perspective to enter into the fray with a strength that does not originate in human effort, a wisdom that far exceeds human ingenuity, and a determination that is the fruit of faithful conviction.
To be the Church and accept “the transcendent work of Jesus Christ” as our own, means to imitate the Good Shepherd as prophesied by Ezekiel. Here, we learn that what concerns God must concern us as well: “I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark.” My brothers and sisters, there are many who have been scattered because it was cloudy and dark.
In this anniversary year, it is not my intention to impose on the Diocese a new program, a new series, a different mission. I intend for you and me simply and with a greater intensity to return to the truth of who we are called to be as the Church in the world today. Our work has already been given to us by Christ. Yet, we know that there is much that challenges the undertaking of that work today.
Some of the challenges to our work come from outside forces: the masses who have allowed themselves to be formed by a culture that rejects who we are and mocks what we believe; the insidious efforts of the Evil One who seeks our downfall at every turn; the changing landscape of thought, morality and values that conflict with what we hold most important. From these challenges we must not hide, nor can we give in. These challenges urge us on to greater fidelity and integrity in living out the Gospel communally and personally.
Other challenges come from within the Church, when individuals have failed to be faithful and integrate the Gospel into their lives. We bear the signs of the sins of those who have been unfaithful, disfiguring the face of Christ which should be mirrored by the Church. We cannot undo the sins of the past, but we can and must repent of them and never short change the work of reparation. The only credible witness to those who judge us harshly, who have been hurt by our corporate sins, who doubt our capacity for doing good, is that you and I truly allow ourselves to be faithful to what Christ has made us to be. Our fidelity in living out the demands of the Gospel in all their dimensions will witness to others its ageless power to shape and transform human lives.
What does this look like? We must set aside those barriers and tear down the walls that separate us from each other. We must become one – one in our desire to know, love and serve Christ with every fiber of our being; one in our faithfulness to the teachings of Christ and His Church; one in our common worship; one in our outreach to those who are in need, those who are marginalized, those who are suffering, those who are in pain. We cannot bear light into the darkness of the world unless we are joined together with Christ. We cannot hope to have an impact if we work on our own, disengaged from one another. We are stronger together, for we share a common source, a common history, and a common call.
Together, let us recommit ourselves to the work of the Gospel and to the unity of our local Church. As we revisit our history, retell the stories that inspire, the stories that bring smiles, and even the stories that disturb us, we begin to see again a unity, a communion, forged by the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus Christ. These last one-hundred fifty years have been guided by a power that is bigger than any single one of us, greater than any bishop that shepherded the Diocese, superior to any pastor who once served in our parishes, higher than any religious who once taught in our schools, bigger than any one parishioner whose sacrifice built up our churches and institutions. This transcendent power still abides with us today. May it help us to go forth to do our parts in shaping the future of the Diocese of Harrisburg and allowing the Divine desire of the Father to fashion all into one family, united by His Son.
Bishop Leech ended his allocution seventy-five years ago with these words of sending. They remain 75 years later a fresh challenge for us. May they send us forth into this anniversary year to do the work that must be done today, tomorrow and the years ahead:
“Go forth, then, ambassadors of Christ, for you are sent by Him into the world He has redeemed. Go forth to the work of Christ which, by His personal call and your willing oblation, now claims your talents, your energy and, if need be, your very lives. … Go, with your example to show them the way, with your wisdom to teach them, with your prudence to guide them, with your wealth of heavenly grace to make them saints. Go, and God speed you, to your appointed work and your sure reward, for ‘your names are written in heaven.’”
 Most Reverend George L. Leech, “Allocution of the Most Reverend Bishop” at the Ninth Synod of the Diocese of Harrisburg, December 16, 1943. “There is work to be done, my brother priests of Harrisburg, there is work to be done, and it is the transcendent work of Jesus Christ. There is work to be done, and there is so little time for its doing. There are our own priestly souls to be sanctified in the Holy Spirit of God, our flocks to be fed, our lost sheep to be found and rescued, our little ones to be taught, our youth to be trained, our laity to be led, our poor and sick and suffering to be befriended. There is Christ, ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ to be made known and loved and followed, and made to reign in the minds and wills of men in private and public life, in home and family, in employer and worker, in school, in leisure, in politics, in government – in every field of man’s activity and experience. There is work to be done. It is the work of Christ and only we, the ‘other Christs,’ can do it.”