After 2 ½ weeks of being away, it is a joy to be back with you celebrating Holy Eucharist, the Mass. Even though I didn’t speak a word of German, every church or cathedral where we went to share in holy Eucharist, I knew I was home.

I begin by offering a word of thanks. I thank Fr. Lou for his extraordinary care for you while I was away. I thank him for covering all the sick calls and daily Masses. I thank him most especially for his compassionate response to the upheaval in the church that we faced these past weeks. We are blessed with this fine young priest. Let us hold him daily in prayer.

I also thank Fr. David Noone for his presence among you, celebrating Mass in my absence and sharing with you the work of “Unbound Ministry.”

Though I had a wonderful time on vacation with two of my closest friends, Bishop Joe Tyson and Fr. Gary Zender, it was difficult for us during this time to be away from people we serve. We prayed for you daily. We also prayed for and felt deeply the pain, the trauma and the hurt that all victims of clergy criminal sexual assault and abuse. 

This is such a deep wound. It is imperative to keep the needs of the victims first and foremost in any action we take as a Church and a faith community.

We are facing an immense challenge as a Catholic Church in the United States as well as the universal Catholic Church throughout the world. There is need for continual reform and accountability. There is much upheaval and dissension which, unfortunately can all too easily be used and manipulated to stir disunity within the Body of Christ, the Church.

Therefore, I wish to offer two simple words from our readings today that may help focus us this Sunday. The two words are: authenticity and integrity.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time promoted adherence to the law with a genuine interior response and advocated ordinary day-to-day spirituality. The Pharisees, using today’s lingo, were the “conservative party” within Judaism. They adhered strictly to the Torah and the Talmud and were outwardly very moral people. The Pharisees sought to make the Law come alive in every Jew by interpreting its commandments in such a way as to adapt them to the various spheres of life. 

They were the leaders of the majority of the Jews and were revered by their followers for their religious zeal and dedication. 

Their main opposition was the party of the Sadducees, the scribes who were the “liberal party” within Judaism. The Sadducees were popular among the learned and high-class minority. 

Yet, there were some Pharisees who were caught up only in external prescriptions. They relied on themselves and their own righteousness. They believed that their own works — their doing what God commands and their abstaining from what God forbids — were what gained and maintained God’s favor and recommended them to God. These Pharisees self-righteously and hypocritically despised all others who did not meet the same standard of law-keeping that they met. 

This is the hypocritical attitude that Jesus condemns. This is what makes them inauthentic and not persons of integrity. The outer and the inner do not match.

This is why Jesus teaches that true integrity, cleanliness, righteousness, purity and holiness are from within, just as sin which defiles a person, is from within.

St. James in our second reading tells us to be “doers of the word, not just hearers.” This is where true integrity and authenticity are manifested. “By their fruits,” as Jesus said, “you will know them.”

My sisters and brothers, you and I, each of us are called to holiness, to be people who authentically follow Jesus Christ and live in the integrity of his gospel life and teaching.

To be authentic disciples is hard work. This takes honesty and self-reflection. This takes humility and prayer. This takes works of mercy, care and concern for the widows and orphans, for the poor and the needy, for immigrants and refugees, for the mentally ill, for the handicapped and for the forgotten and the lonely that fashion us into true, authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

This also takes an honesty that leads to repentance and change of heart, mind and action. 

This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation and frequent confession is so essential. This is why weekly Mass, making all Sundays sacred, is the foundation of a life of authenticity and integrity as a Catholic. Without the sacraments, it is all too easy to fall into pharisaism and self-righteousness not just about religion, but also politics, economics, ecology and immigration, to name but a few.

My sisters and brothers, we need each other more than ever. We need to help one another to truly be authentic missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to live lives of integrity rooted in Jesus Christ. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as the letter to the Hebrews tells us.

It is moments and events such as these that not only test our faith but strengthen it as well. Last week, Peter’s response to Jesus was a challenge to all of us when he said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

I recommend that you go to our website to watch an interview with Bishop Robert Barron concerning these issues facing us as Catholics. It is very thoughtful, honest and helpful in both understanding and responding to the challenges we face.

I wish to close with these reflections. For over 20 years as your pastor, we have prayed together, grown together, served together, learned together, struggled together and sought to follow Jesus…together.

Let us walk together during this time. Let us support one another and not walk away. Let us help one another through heartfelt prayer and respectful listening to heal the wounds and to confront the sin that face us as a Catholic Church. Let us do this together with deep sense of integrity as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, true sisters and brothers for one another.