Homily for the Peace and Justice Committee Conference Opening Mass

(Print Version)


The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge delivered the following homily September 16, 2017 at Church of the Nativity in Burke. Theme: “Strengthening Our Community by Welcoming the Stranger”:


Three Marks of Discipleship: Encounter, Listen, Act


I do not have to tell you that recent events in our nation have painfully displayed the hurt and division that come from anger toward and hatred of our neighbor. Just in our state of Virginia, we have seen racism and bigotry in Charlottesville and violence on a baseball field in Alexandria. Here in our Diocese, where our Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services has a long and proud tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants, we can still find many who oppose these efforts to welcome the stranger.

How do we overcome this hatred and division in our country, neighborhoods and homes? By being faithful disciples of Christ, the source of unity, love and peace. Fortunately, in our Gospel today, Our Lord describes three marks of the life of a true disciple: it is one who comes to Jesus, listens to His words and acts on them. Thus, we seek to live as those who encounter Jesus, listen to Him, and act on His words, that we may transform our own hearts and heal our communities.

First, Jesus tells us that if we are to be disciples and bear good fruit, we must first come to Him. How? We come to Him through prayer, taking time each day to approach Jesus and spend time in His presence. We come to Him in Sacred Scripture, where the Word of God dwells in every line. We come to Him in the sacraments, where we know we truly encounter Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, where He is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. We come to Him in our neighbor, in whom we know Jesus dwells, particularly in the poor, the oppressed and the outcast.

How blessed we are to know that each time we seek to encounter Jesus, we find Him waiting, eager to be with us.

The second mark of discipleship is listening to Jesus. Pope Francis said, “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart…” (Evangelii Gaudium 171). 

Yet, listening to Jesus is not always easy today. Our lives are filled with noise—in the world around us and even in our minds and hearts. Yet Jesus desires that we be free from this noise that we may listen to the words of truth and peace that He desires to speak to us. Therefore, we must set aside some silent time each day that we may be apart from distractions. We must also ask Our Lord to remove what clutters our hearts and minds that is not of God. To bear good fruit, what does the Lord need to prune? Maybe it is the way we are too quick to be entertained by our media, our screens, and avoid the gift of silence. Perhaps it is a cross in our lives—and we all have them—that we have not yet entrusted to the Lord. It may be bitterness or anger that we bear towards our neighbor who needs to be handed to God for healing. Whatever it is, today we hear a wonderful invitation for us today to encounter and to listen.  

The third quality of a disciple of Christ is to act on the Words of God. This is the natural response when we hear God speaking to us—we allow Him to transform our hearts and our lives. True disciples of Jesus, those who bear good fruit, integrate what they believe with how they act. When others witness how you and I live our daily lives, they should see this unity between what we say we believe and how we treat everyone we meet, from our family member and friend to the immigrant and refugee, from our neighbor and coworker to the outcast and the vulnerable.

It is easy during these unsettling times to look at the world and judge the fruit we see in others’ lives. As Christians, however, we are called to ask ourselves, “What kind of fruit am bearing? What needs to change in my heart?” Each of us, when we are honest, can recognize the parts of our lives that we still need to hand over to Jesus by coming to Him, listening to Him and integrating His words into our lives. This is why encountering Jesus, listening to Him and acting on His words are so vital to transforming our hearts, that we may become the disciples who bring about transformation in the world around us through the love of Jesus.

A few months ago on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I had the opportunity to lead a procession through the streets of Alexandria where, only a few days earlier, there was violence and shootings on those very streets. As we processed with Jesus through the streets, it was incredible. It was so prayerful. There was a profound silence and reverence as people came out of the supermarket or the gas station to stop and watch. They knew something sacred and holy was taking place.

When we were done with the procession—I will never forget this—a gentleman came up to me and said, “Bishop, we did what we had to do today. We brought Jesus into the streets and the community that need Him so much.”

Dear friends, you are not carrying Jesus in a monstrance through the streets. But you are bringing Jesus into the streets that need Him so much, through your actions to welcome the stranger in our midst, through actions which can only truly flow from your encounter with Jesus and your decision to listen to Him.   

So strengthened in unity at this Eucharist by the very source of our unity and peace, we pray for the grace to become disciples known by good fruit, who become strong and sturdy under His care. Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, may we be faithful and joyful disciples of encounter, listening and action.