Homily by Bishop William Murphy – given on Columbus Day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan, NY on 10/12/15.
Some of you may be wondering why a bishop named Murphy is celebrating this Mass. I could not figure it out either. When Cardinal Dolan who is in Rome at the Synod asked me I said Yes but wondered why me? My name isn’t Di Marzio. My mother’s name wasn’t De Blasio. I am no Leonardo and my ancestors came neither from Genoa or Sicily. Then I realized. The Dolans come from Ulster, the northernmost county of Ireland. They know Italy is south of Ulster and Murphys are from the south, mostly from Cork. Wrong country; wrong port. The one thing my ancestors from Cork have in common with Columbus is that they went to Cork harbor, as many as could, to get on a boat and come to America. That’s why I am with you today.
Columbus was a man of the Middle Ages who made possible the beginning of a totally new age of discovery and invention. His faith in God was as much a part of him as his love of sailing. In a Europe that seemed old and stale, He re-awakened a new generation with his daring and with his success. When the Niña scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon harbor, it brought news of a discovery that gave Europe another chance. As my late friend, Sam Morison, describes it, “Columbus accomplished this with a maximum of faith and a minimum of technique, a bare sufficiency of equipment and a superabundance of stoutheartedness”. (S. Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea. P. 6.)
How did he do it? You can read Sam’s book. It is a masterpiece. Why did he do it? All kinds of reasons coupled to a faith that animated and accompanied him from his childhood in the wool weaver’s house in Genoa to his last days in Imperial Spain. Faith, courage and inventive skill, the skill of a sailor for whom the sea is a home fraught with challenges but loved beyond all telling.
And here we encounter the genius of our faith. Ours is not a faith that hides itself away. It is not a faith that closes its eyes to reality. Ours is a faith that embraces the world because we have a message that is meant for everyone. Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, rose from the dead and he has commanded his first apostles to Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever is baptized and believes will be saved. What Jesus commanded the apostles to do he gives as a charge to every disciple, male or female, priest or lay faithful, to all his disciples without exception. Columbus knew this. He lived it. As he made his grand voyages, he did so as Paul tells us with belief in his heart and a confession of faith on his lips. He knew, as did the priests and the seamen who went with him, that one who believes in one’s heart and so is justified, one confesses with his mouth and so is saved. For as Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
That same faith led them to the conviction that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, the same Lord is the Lord of all. And so they planted the faith in a land of native Americans of different backgrounds and differing lifestyles. They planted the cross and that cross bore a message that we share today: The Lord embraces all humankind and we disciples are called to share that message in our day as Columbus with the friars who traveled with him did in theirs.
My friends, there is a message in this for all of us today. E giusto celebrare questo eroe, il grande scopritore del nuovo mondo. He came from the old continent with an ancient faith that evangelized the new. Old and new received a new beginning. Our day finds us caught in so many different and differing voices. Yet as St. John Paul II so often called us: It is time for a new evangelization, time for a renewal of heart and mind and witness we offer to the world. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ: the only news that is always new and the only news that is always good.
The visit to New York by our Holy Father Pope Francis gave us all a chance to be revivified, regain our courage, renew our confidence and proclaim with our lips what too often we keep hidden in our hearts: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD. St. Paul is right: Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes from the word of Christ. Christopher Columbus learned that as a boy in Genoa. He lived it as a man whose courage and skill, whose faith and hope changed the face of the world and gave new hope to one and all. We share his vision. We share his faith. We too have been called to live a voyage of discovery and witness to God’s message to a world that needs our challenge. We can and we must sail together facing the headwinds that stiffen our resolve, using the tailwinds of a faith ever ancient, ever new. So today we celebrate the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and we commit ourselves to bring our faith and our culture into a world of many challenges and even more needs. With the same courage and the same faith of our Hero, we sail it together: We will live Jesus Christ. Proclaim Jesus Christ. Witness Him and open up new hope and new life for all who seek truth, joy peace, life and love.
May I close by asking us all to make our own the prayer with which Columbus himself began his voyage of faith and hope and discovery:
Jesus cum Maria
Sit nobis in via!
Jesus with Mary
Be with us on the way!