A joyous and happy Easter to all of you! We are so very blessed to have you here at St. John today, whether you are a dedicated daily Mass attendee or this may be your first time in a Catholic Church. Our Parish Family lives out our mission to know, love, and serve God and our community, and a big part of that mission involves welcoming anyone and everyone to the table of our Church. As the General Manager, I want to ensure everyone has a loving moment of encounter with their faith and their fellow man here at St. John. Please remember that as you exercise Christian patience as you are leaving the parking lot, as it may take a little longer than normal.
I want to divulge something to you. I was not always as involved in the church as I am now. Fifteen years ago, I had a major crisis of religious connection, which made me walk away from the church I grew up in. It was 2002. Along with various other programs I was involved in after 9/11 in Washington, DC, one of the tasks I had was supporting the FBI in deploying advanced technology in the field to assist with child abuse investigations. The side of humanity that I had to experience, the pure evil that emanated from these abusers, turned my stomach and soul, and made it difficult to not break down when I held my one year old son in my arms. Then, to deal with cases where priests were not only doing the same thing, but that the hierarchy of the church was as guilty in covering up these pedophiles’ actions, I was enraged. My wife remembers me storming into the house, saying I would never give another cent and I would never step foot into a church again. For years, I barely attended, and only then on “major” holidays, like today, Easter.
I know there are some of you in the pews today that may feel the same way. Or, perhaps there was no real reason you fell away from the church and have perhaps become a “CAPE” Catholic: attending Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter. Priorities. Questions. Disconnection. Negative experiences. Those are all reasons I know people felt their faith was not necessary, or was even wrong. I can tell you, however, after years journeying from that darkness to light, the Catholic faith is not only essential to my life, it fills my soul and makes me want to be a better person on a daily basis.
Part of that journey was the support of significant leaders of our Church, namely Father John, our Pastor, and of course, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis. His 2014 Easter Message showcases the direct focus of the Catholic Church:
That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.
With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!
Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.
Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.
Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.
Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.
Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.
Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.
The other path of my journey has been the realization that faith and church should not be disconnected from the rest of my life, to be marginalized as just an hour on Sunday. Faith is a way of life, and should be integrated into every moment and activity. St. John is renewing an environment to do just that for Naples with the Life Center, Catholic Youth Organization, and Catholic Adult Organization. These persistent and engaging sports and wellness, social and spiritual, and artistic and musical programs will provide every individual and family with opportunities to grow, body, mind, spirit and soul.
I look forward to seeing you all here all the time for these exciting activities that will hopefully give you the opportunity to go on your own faith journey, just as they have for me.