On the feast of St. Margaret of Scotland, November 16, this is the homily I delivered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Maryland on the occasion of the opening Mass of the fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
How grateful we bishops are to you, Archbishop Lori, and all who are gathered in this beautiful Basilica of the Assumption. Please also know of our blessings to Cardinal Keeler and Cardinal O’Brien, your predecessors.
How blessed were the ears of the blind man at Jericho’s gate to hear the voice of Jesus. The blind man had shouted so loudly to get Jesus’ attention, and his heart must have been overwhelmed when he heard the tender and gentle yet firm and penetrating voice of the Master: “What do you want of me?”
Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints record others whose words or actions emerged from a request to God in prayer. King Solomon in I Kings rightly asked for an understanding heart, and so much more was given him besides.
In the year 167 BC, the beleaguered sons of Maccabee found themselves being persecuted for their faith at the hands of the Persian Antiochus Epiphanes, who changed their places of worship into gymnasiums, destroyed the scrolls containing the Word of God, and promoted a religious syncretism. Some say were it not for the faithful witness of the sons of Maccabee, the true faith of Judaism may well have died. So when they prayed to “remain faithful,” God heard their prayer and provided strength for their faithful witness.
Jesus heard the prayer of that blind man whom Mark names Bartimaeus, so desperately persistent, who not only was able to see, but who also followed Jesus that day and glorified God, leading all present to do the same.
A photo of a stained glass window depicting St. Margaret of Scotland from a chapel in Edinburgh by photographer Kjetil Bjørnsrud.
Our saint of today, Margaret of Scotland, likely requested many things in prayer. Born in 1046, she lived 47 years. Together with her husband Malcolm III of Scotland and their eight children, she is a witness to a joyful and fruitful marriage and one that overflowed in generosity to those around her. Fr. Leonard Foley in Saint of the Day Volume 2 called her “…a truly liberated woman – free to be herself – which for her meant to love God and serve others.” She died in Edinburgh, Scotland and was quickly recognized and honored for her holiness and generosity. Fittingly, we celebrate the votive Mass for those who practice works of mercy as she likely prayed: “Lord, let me love You by serving my family and the poor in Your name.”
For what should we bishops ask the Lord Jesus? Do we ask for an understanding heart; faithfulness in the midst of cultural challenges; the ability to lead with a credible moral voice; the ability to see the voiceless and vulnerable in our midst and never harden our hearts; or the opportunity to rest in Jesus?
David Brooks in his new book, Road to Character, distinguishes between two types of virtues: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The former are all about the talents needed to get ahead in life; the latter, about the deep and lasting ones that follow us into eternity and stay in the hearts of those who remember us after we die. These eulogy virtues include integrity, understanding, bravery, and honesty. These virtues lead to self-respect rather than brash self-confidence and self-esteem.
Fr. Don Senior in his soon to be released book, The Gift of Administration, cites a Greek word used for an administrator in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: kubernetes. It means to steer… to guide as in steering a ship through rough waters. The bishop servant leader seeks the charism of steering a straight course.
So, amid the steady stream of problems and challenges and daily decisions that a bishop is asked to make, maybe we ought to ask for all of these virtues:
Lord, give us an understanding heart, a credible moral voice that shows forth a faithful witness, the eyesight to see as Jesus sees and, like Margaret of Scotland, the ability to be truly liberated, which for us means to love you, our God, and to serve others in your name. Help us to steer straight.