Jesus Our Shepherd
Luke 1:39-56
Vigil of Mary's Assumption

Homily for 14 August 2005
Fr. Frank Baiocchi

If you read last Sunday’s parish bulletin, you’ve already read this story: Pope John Paul II arrives at heaven’s gates where he’s met by the gatekeeper, Saint Peter. Peter says, “You’re lucky to be here, you know!” The pope responds, “What do you mean?” Peter says, “Well, God is very angry with you” “Why?” answers the pope. “What on earth did I do that was so bad?” “God doesn’t like your rule forbidding women from becoming priests.” “God’s angry at me for that?” says the pope. Peter insists, “Oh yes, she’s furious!” This pope, like many others before him, has put all women in a box.

Look here, everyone, see Jack in this box. He stays in here. He lives in here, and ultimately he dies in here. The inside of this box is all Jack sees, all Jack understands. He’s not in touch with what’s really going on outside the box. But Jack isn’t the only one in this box. Many of us are in the very same box; and if church leaders had their way, everyone would be! Today’s Church leaders, popes and bishops included, want all of us in this box, to think only as we are told to think, to behave only as we are told to behave. These same leaders proclaim that God gives them and them alone the power to make and enforce the rules.

Three weeks ago while officiating at a Milwaukee wedding, I met an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church from Madison, Wisconsin. He told me about a lengthy meeting their new bishop had with all the priests and deacons of the Madison diocese. I asked him what the bishop had to say. I thought perhaps the bishop might address the issue of low morale among his parish priests, or the concern of closing/merging parishes, or the loss of so many younger Catholics to evangelical faith communities, or how he intends to deal with the ongoing child molestation scandal, or even the lack of credibility within the ranks of the bishops themselves. No way did the bishop do that. This deacon told me this new bishop spent the entire time lecturing the priests and deacons about how important it is for them to observe the official rubrics while celebrating Mass and the sacraments. Apparently, priests at the Madison altars weren’t raising the hosts the required 6 inches above their heads at the consecration for easier visibility by the people. And the new bishop also complained that too many people were no longer genuflecting properly; they were simply bowing towards the altar. Oh my God! This bishop is not just putting these priests and deacons in the box. He’s stuck in there himself!

Dear people, the truth about our faith is not in the box! Today, we celebrate the feast of the Assumption. We honor Mary. Her life was not lived in any box. She responded eagerly to the Spirit’s promptings in her life as today’s Gospel portrays. The fact is we are all baptized into a faith community where the Spirit reigns, not church rubrics and regulations, and certainly not church authorities. Notice the biblical symbols of the Spirit we inherit at Baptism: The Spirit is at various times depicted as a flame, a dove, a wind! These are all symbols of freedom and openness. Flame warms and heats and illuminates us. Doves fly where they will. The wind blows refreshingly wherever it wishes. These realities cannot be contained. They do not and cannot exist in a box. In a box they all die there! There’s not enough oxygen in there to feed a flame, not enough space for a dove to fly, not enough movement for a breeze to generate. When the human spirit is imprisoned in a box, it too dies!

Those of you here at Mass last Holy Thursday evening remember the flyers left on our car windows in the darkened church parking lot: the gist of the flyers was that to be a “good Catholic” and faithful follower of Christ, you have to toe the line. You have to stay “inside that little box” they printed on their sheet. If you deviate one iota from the stuff in the box, you are a heretic and no longer praiseworthy. Apparently neither these Holy Thursday night stalkers nor our church leaders pay much serious attention to someone by the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the most out-of-the-box human who ever lived! He is led constantly by God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that dwells in our hearts and consciences. Following that Spirit, Jesus breaks every meaningless rule of his time and culture. He antagonizes the religious leaders of his day and time by constantly rebelling against their customs and regulations. To be a jack-in-the-box is not to be Christ-like; it is rather to be unlike Christ. To think in the box and to behave in the box is to deny the promptings of the Spirit within us!

So what do you say we all come out and stay out!! [Jack pops out.]