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‘Taking a risk to go into the depths’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

September 21, 2022

Editor’s Note: The following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily delivered at the Marriage & Consecrated Life Jubilee on Sept. 11.

This Sunday’s Gospel Parable of the Prodigal Son is like a kaleidoscope: it offers countless beautiful insights into what it means to follow Christ. No matter how many times we hear this familiar story, we can walk away with new insights, even on an occasion such as today’s Jubilee celebration. One of the insights from this parable that we can often overlook with great danger as “practicing Catholics” is the peril of living our faith only on the surface, of not letting it penetrate the depths of our hearts.

Today’s Gospel story teaches us that it is possible to live “in the Father’s house” without really getting to know the Father. The younger son didn’t really know his father. He didn’t know how much his father loved him and how eagerly his father wanted to bequeath him prosperity and joy. As a result, he paid his father a colossal insult by demanding his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive. It was a way of saying that his father would be of more use to him dead than alive. He was self-centered, hard-hearted.

The older son was not much better. On the surface, he seemed to do everything right, but he had no idea about how much his father cared for him, and so he resented the celebration at this brother’s return. His heart, too, had no room for His Father's love. He, too, was self-absorbed, hard-hearted. Although they had lived their entire lives under the same roof, the two brothers had never opened their hearts to their father; they had closed themselves into the petty little world of feeding their selfish desires.

We can do the same, you know – spending our whole lives as “practicing” Catholics, going through life with the right motions and looking great on the outside, but not opening our hearts to the Father, not getting to know Him on a personal, intimate level. Oh, we say the Our Father, God knows how many times, but do we pray it?

I was recently listening to a report on BBC that dealt with climate change and its effect on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. It reminded me that a few years ago, two of our priests accomplished a feat that they had hoped to do for a long time: scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. This led me to reflect on an image that I’ve used at other times and perhaps you’ve heard me mention it before: the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving. We can live our Catholic faith on the surface, meeting obligations like going to Mass, but not really engaging in the faith life of the parish or desiring to learn more about our faith. It’s like snorkelers – seeing the beauty of God’s creation from the surface, as far as the length of the snorkeling tube allows. But to experience the truly remarkable wonders of what the deep of the water has to offer, one needs to go scuba diving. The richness of the two experiences cannot be compared.

Now, it means taking a risk to go into the depths. One priest came back and showed me close-up photos of him within arm’s reach of sharks in the deep. (Sometimes, I would just as soon not know what my priests are up to!) But, you know, opening ourselves to God is also a risky way to live our lives. We make ourselves vulnerable. We must trust. If we don’t, we could easily end up separated from the Father for good, ending up eating corn husks, missing out on the joyful celebration of the Father’s love.

Clearly, you who have been faithful for so many years to the Lord’s call to be holy, living your lives as consecrated religious or as husband and wife, you know what it means to make yourselves vulnerable, trusting in God and sacrificing for the sake of others. We cannot live out our vocations faithfully by merely snorkeling. We are so blessed – you have not lived your Catholic faith on the surface. You have entered into a fulfilling Christian vocation because you possess a tender, open heart.

You know that doing the minimum to get by feeds a superficial faith that cannot provide the nutrients for a healthy relationship with the Lord. Because many have not risked going into the deep, we now have generations who do not know, and sadly, many do not care to know the Father. So many hearts are hardened today. Lifelong commitments are hard to come by. Gosh, it’s a real corker if I am just a snorkeler.

This Jubilee Mass is an occasion for us to thank Almighty God for your faithfulness, for your witness to living the faith deeply. This is a time for us, as a family of faith, to ask our Lord to strengthen our relationship with the Father and continue to pray for our society that tragically ignores God. Congratulations to our jubilarians and to all who have responded to the Lord’s call to follow Him into the deep.

May God be praised…forever may God be praised!


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