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Bishop's Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

July 9, 2023

[St. Joseph Church, Waipahu (Pastor Installation), Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Patronal Feast; Gospel: Luke 1:26-38)]

I recently attended a webinar about what Christian churches could do to help address the enormous problem of homelessness in Hawaii, which has more homeless people per capita than any other state in the nation.  Two leaders from the River of Life Mission gave their testimonies.  They talked about making a major shift in the way they reached out to the homeless.  For decades, they provided three free meals a day with no questions asked to anyone who wanted to come.  They thought this was a good thing, but realized they were in fact enabling people to the point that they became content to be homeless.  So they took the risk to change their strategy.  Now they provide one meal a week, but in different locations, to smaller groups of people.  Those who serve have more interaction with the clients and are able to build relationships with them.  These relationships foster trust, and once they gain trust, they can move the homeless to programs that can help them with whatever they need to address the roots of what is making them homeless.  It takes more people and much more organization, but they have found that it is tremendously more successful in helping people turn their lives around.   One key ingredient in building trust, however, is that the volunteers are encouraged to witness to Jesus and his love, so that people’s lives can be turned around by him.

As we hear the reading from Zechariah, we know this is a prophecy about Jesus, entering Jerusalem as a king, not in royal splendor with horse and chariot, but mounted on the back of a donkey, the common person’s beast of burden.  It is this King who brings peace to the nations.  And so Jesus can enter the lives of those who live with so little peace, who have to sleep by day to guard against the human predators who prowl at night.  The presenters of the webinar spoke about several people whose lives were radically changed once they came to know Jesus as a real person and felt his very real presence and love for them.  And they came to know Jesus because caring disciples of Jesus first reached out to them in their physical need, then made sure the spiritual salve of the Gospel could open them to true salvation.

This model of reaching out to the homeless does involve professionals, such as psychologists and social workers; but the front-line workers are non-professionals, ordinary people who care enough to spend time with the homeless.  Sometimes they prepare meals for them, but sometimes they cut their hair, give them a manicure or pedicure, give them clean clothes, or provide them with midnight snacks to tide them over.  Just as Jesus praised his Father for not revealing his wisdom to the wise and the clever, but to the little ones, so the biggest difference is made by the non-professionals who simply want to put their faith into practice.

This weekend we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Peace, the Patroness of our Cathedral Basilica and of our Diocese of Honolulu.  Like her Son, the Prince of Peace, she also wants to bring peace into the lives of the homeless, the abandoned, the sick, and the confused.  Her own choice to be the Mother of the Messiah shows that God often chooses the meek and unknown to do his greatest work.  And so it is that Jesus chooses each one of us to witness his presence to someone in our lives.

One of the major causes for people living in the streets is domestic violence.  Besides reaching out to the homeless, what can we who are followers of the Prince of Peace do to prevent this?  How can we reach out to those who suffer such violence and let them know they are not alone?  How can we reach out to those who perpetrate the violence to let them know there are more humane and peaceful ways to solve problems?  Suicide and depression have become alarmingly common among young people.  What can we who know the love of Christ and others in our hearts do to reach out to those who feel so little love or purpose in their lives by letting them know how Jesus himself can give them such love and purpose?

All of this may sound so easy, but, no, it is hard work.  It demands that we step far out of our comfort zones to witness to Jesus in very concrete ways.  But if we do take this burden upon us, and put that yoke around our necks to move things forward out of the mud and darkness, we will find that the yoke is easy and the burden light, because it is a burden of love.  And if we take it up in whatever situation the Lord may put us in, we will not only find peace for our own souls, but will bring the peace of Christ to many others as well.