The end is near. You might be thinking, "Oh, the bishop's going to get really apocalyptic with us!" But I really just refer to the end of the liturgical year. This is the last Sunday — next Sunday is Christ the King — and then we wondrously start all over again. But I encourage us to listen deeply and reread these readings; they are powerful.
And the Lord answers that question that many are asking, "Is the end near?" But that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in Heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. So, we have the answer. We don't know. But we know Christ and we must follow Him.
The Gospel antiphon that we just heard: "Be vigilant at all times, and pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man." That is what the liturgy is teaching us to remember, brothers and sisters, that one day we will stand alone before the Lord our God who loves us profoundly.
But as Jesus, His Son, has told us, we will be judged. We're probably all familiar with a phrase, "All politics is local." I think there's a lot of truth in that. Ultimately what happens in Washington, yes it can mess things up, but day to day what happens here is most important — what happens here in our hearts.
So, I would change that phrase a little bit in our context, to urge us to reflect on the reality that all faith is local! You won't have a support group. I won't have a support group. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will not stand before the Lord together to answer, "Have we been true disciples?" I'll be alone. We will all be alone.
That is frightening, but it is also a joyful message if we follow Him! To be alone with the Lord who died for us, each individually, to be with Him for eternity — that is our choice. All faith is local — in our hearts! A husband can't do it for his wife. A wife can't do it for her husband. Yes, you are there to support each other; that's your vocation. But each man, each woman, each person has to choose to follow Christ. And we will be all alone before Him.
Let us make our choices today that being with Him alone is a glorious joy, and His mercy will wash over us for our imperfections. But may He say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." But He will only say that into the solitary heart we each bring before Him.
So, speaking of local and global or national, in a couple of hours I head to the airport to go to the USCCB meeting. And brothers and sisters, I have three basic points I want to speak about in regard to that meeting, for you, my flock — for the portion of the flock that I've been given is my responsibility, as you who are mothers and fathers, you've taken on a responsibility to guide your children, but at some point they will be on their own as well. As a bishop, I have the burdensome responsibility to guide you in Christ, and I cannot rely on any work; it's my responsibility, I will stand before the Lord, and He will ask, "Did you shepherd my people? Did you care for the poor? Did you protect life? Did you challenge to leave sin and find virtue?"
You may notice in the diocese of Tyler we have ceased to collect for Campaign for Human Development and for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). You may not have even noticed, but I made that decision because there are too many allegations of corruption of those Catholic entities promoting evil contrary to the Catholic faith. They are allegations, I don't know, but they are significant enough that I have said our dollars will go to our local Catholic Charities that receives no funding from anyone except you.
That corruption must be addressed. If the allegations are false, I will be the first to say the bishops of the USCCB need to sue those making false allegations, but the only response to 150 pages in some cases of allegations of deep corruption is a one-page letter saying, "Trust us."
Too many don't. We need proof. We need truth!
Another thing I must address with you as we approach this eucharistic altar, the question: Can anyone who aggressively and vehemently opposes Catholic teaching come forward and receive the Body of Christ in communion? The answer is an emphatic, "No!" I don't care whether they are president or a world global leader or an unknown child of God in the pew that only Christ knows is there; for any of us to vehemently call for abortion, support the desecration of marriage between a man and a woman — thus saying anyone can get married — when we support teachings that are contrary to the Catholic faith, again going back to the solitary life with the Lord, we must ask ourselves, "Am I in communion?"
The greatest love, the greatest mercy, the greatest charity is to teach another person the truth. The truth sets us free. There isn't enough truth in the world, in the Church and government and commerce and whatever aspect of the world — we need truth.
We have Him. He is the face of truth. Look to Christ and know that I have to make my choice to follow Him as you do. It's my responsibility as your shepherd. It's not the responsibility of any other bishop in the Vatican or the USCCB or anywhere else; it's mine! And I will do my best to guide you in His joyful light and remember always the joy of knowing Christ. We know His truth. Yes, it's challenging, but it is wonderous and it sets us free.
The last thing I must address is how this virus is being handled globally, nationally, in the Church, in dioceses. I am not here to judge anyone else's action. I have to stand before the Lord for my decisions, but I will not mandate a mask or a vaccine because it is your free will choice. Yes, it is my obligation to urge you to form your conscience, to learn what you need to know to make a well-informed free-choice decision, but mandates are evil.
There is something in the medical world called autonomy. God gave us our body. And we are responsible to make the choice to be stewards of the life God has given us. For me as a bishop to mandate what your choice should be is immoral for me to do, and I want to do my best to stand before the Lord — yes, I am a sinner — but I want the level of sin to be as diminished as possible if I were to die in a moment. I want to do my best to urge you to do the same.
As we come to the end of another liturgical year, brothers and sisters let us make that mean something, because the cycle of our faith is about life everlasting. The cycle of the world will end one day as this Gospel from Mark today reminds us so clearly. The moon will not give its light. The stars will be falling from the sky. Powers in the Heavens will be shaken. But in all that dust and smoke, the Lord will stand, the Lord of Life, the Lord of Love, and we know Him now.
Let us follow Him, and let us examine in each of our hearts as we come forward to this altar, because ultimately faith is local. Because yes, it is my obligation to speak and say, "No! The global or the national leader that is living contrary to the faith cannot simply be welcome to the Eucharistic altar without an examination of their conscience, without confession, without reforming their life, as I hope to reform mine. But ultimately whether a president or a monarch or a world leader or a cardinal or a bishop — whether any of us — make it to the Lord and the gates of Heaven are open for us, is up to us. That is ultimately what matters for each of us as a child of God.
Let us all make our personal choice to follow Jesus, our savior, to trust in His mercy. Please know that none of us are worthy to approach this eucharistic altar. In a few moments, I will take bread and wine in my sinful hands, but I assure you, I have gone to confession, I have done my best to be cleansed especially of any mortal sin, but even of the simplest venial sin. We must be as purified as we can be and then trust in the mercy. This is the mercy seat of the Lord. Mercy flows from His altar. But it is a desecration to make no attempt to repent and reform our lives and come here to receive Him.
Brothers and sisters, our greatest reverence in the presence of the Lord is to simply say, "Lord, I am an unworthy sinner. Let your Word be my forgiveness and healing." And we can do that before the Lord, absolutely come to Him and be fed and pray for our world, our Church, our nation.