Homilies of Archbishop Thomas Wenski during Ad Limina Visit to Rome
At the Papal Basilica of San Lorenzo - May 6, 2012
Welcome to Rome, the Eternal City. I am grateful to all of you for joining me for this pilgrimage and "ad limina" visit. Every five years (or so) bishops travel to Rome to meet with the Holy Father and his Curia. We come to render an accounting of our stewardship for the local Churches entrusted to our care by the "grace of God and the Apostolic See." Besides meeting with the Pope and his collaborators here in Rome, we also have the opportunity to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the founders of the Church here in Rome.
All this is done to strengthen - effectively and affectively - our communion with the Bishop of Rome. This unity in the Church is achieved "cum Petro et sub Petro," with Peter and under Peter.
In today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks of how Saul, whom we now know as Paul, upon arriving to Jerusalem, tried to join with the Disciples. They, of course, were a bit apprehensive - for they knew of Saul's reputation as one who had persecuted the Church. He was the one who held the robes of those who stoned the deacon Stephen, the Church's first martyr.
Groucho Marx once said that he would not want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. But thank God for Barnabas. He vouched for Saul and he was received by the disciples. Saul understood that he would not have a life in Christ apart from the "brethren of the Lord." And, as Jesus said in today's Gospel, all the branches, if they are to be fruitful, must be joined to the vine. Saul therefore had to join the disciples if his ministry was to be fruitful.
Today this is important for us to understand. Many in our post modern world today want to be "spiritual" - but they want to be spiritual without being religious. As one person wrote in one of our national news weeklies: keep Jesus but lose the Church. Many, it would seem, want to have a relationship with Jesus but without the Church. And so we find people who say that they believe but they do not belong. (And we also see people who belong but who do not believe.) But as Jesus indicates in the Gospel today, this is not possible. One of the ancient Fathers of the Church wrote: You cannot have God as your Father if the Church is not your mother.
This Church of Rome, founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul in their blood, is in a real way the "mother" of all the other churches. Our union with this Church of Rome then is expressed in the communion of mind and heart with Peter and his successors. This communion enables us to remain united with Jesus - and thus to be fruitful in the world.
Of course, the Church is not just a "club", it is more like a family. And isn't it great that we belong to a Church that would have us, sinners though we be, belong to her as members. Saul joined the disciples and so have we - and united as branches are united to the vine we are called to bear fruit. As Jesus says, "whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. For without me, you can do nothing."
At the Basilica of St. John Lateran - May 7, 2012
We are making our pilgrimage to Rome during the Easter Season. During these weeks the first readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles which tells us of the beginnings of the early Church. Today's reading tell us of one incident in Paul's missionary journey where after the healing of a lame man, Paul and Barnabas, are mistaken for gods. Perhaps this event also answers the question that Judas, not the Iscariot, posed to Jesus as to why he reveals himself to his disciples and not the world. Judas is hoping that Jesus perhaps some great miracle or theophany - so as to perhaps startle the world into believing. Jesus prefers a much simpler way. Yet that way led both Peter and Paul from Jerusalem to where we are today - to Rome.
In today's gospel Jesus describes the disciple as the one who loves him. The disciple follows Jesus not because of some marvelous manifestation or theophany. He follows Jesus because he loves him. And if anyone loves him he will obey his teachings or "keep his word".
The teachings of Jesus are not just some interesting thoughts about God and the world. Rather Jesus has revealed God and opened the way to share in God's life. The commands of Jesus are not just a set of rules like a traffic code - they are a description of a pattern of life that reflects God's own life transposed into human circumstances. Love for Jesus involves both an attachment to him and a oneness with him and his interests, which naturally leads one to obey him and walk as he walked. One obeys what one loves. In fact, our patterns of obedience reveal what we really love.
Peter's love for Jesus and his obedience to him is illustrated by a legend surrounding Peter's martyrdom here in Rome. It was also the subject of a famous novel by the 19th century Polish author, Henryk Sienkiewicz entitled: Quo vadis? Quo vadis? means, Where are you going? According to the story - or legend - Peter was fleeing Rome when along the way he encounters Jesus heading towards Rome. Quo vadis? Peter asks Jesus - who then replies I'm going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter understands. And he returns to Rome - to be crucified.
After his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times: Peter do you love me? And three times, Peter replied: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. This triple affirmation of his love for Jesus contrasts with Peter's triple denial of him on the eve of Jesus' Passion. After Jesus' Resurrection - and certainly after the Pentecost experience - Peter and the other apostles were filled with the promised Spirit who would remind them of all that Jesus told them. They and Peter were never the same. And Peter's love as did Paul's love for Jesus led them to Rome where they preached the gospel and where they died at the time of the persecution of Nero. For them, Jesus' love was enough; it was the source of their joy and their "pattern of obedience"; it led them to indeed walk as he walked. Peter died crucified and Paul was beheaded. In this way, the way of keeping his word, obeying his commands, they came to share in God's life. And this way must be our own.
At St. Paul's Outside the Walls - May 9, 2012
"Remain in me as I remain in you", Jesus tell his disciples in the gospel reading we have heard for the second time this week - first on Sunday and now today Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter. Perhaps, the gospel is repeated for the sake of emphasis - for, as Jesus also says, our fruitfulness is conditioned on our remaining in him.
Our ad limina visit is certainly one way - and by no means an insignificant way - of helping us bishops to do just that. And we come this afternoon to the tomb of St. Paul to pray for precisely this intention - that we remain with the Lord and that our ministry be fruitful.
In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas go - not to Rome yet - but to Jerusalem. They go to Jerusalem as we have come this week to Rome: to consult "with the Apostols and presbyters". The first major controversy in the early Church was the question of the circumcision of the gentiles - and as Acts tells us there was great controversy about the issue - and great dissension. The reading ends with must be an example of Semitic understatement. "The Apostles and presbyters met together to see about this matter."
What was at stake was the very identity of what came to be called Christianity. Were those who followed Christ to be a sect within Judaism; or did they have a larger, broader, more universal mission. In other words, did Gentiles have to become Jews in order to be Christians? Paul, of course, argued that they did not. To insist on circumcision, would mean - Paul insists - that it is not Jesus who saves but rather Mosaic law. In making his point, Paul had to faced down Peter, but in the end Paul and his arguments prevailed.
At first glance, our meetings with the various dicasteries that serve the Holy Father in his role as universal pastor of the Church might seem to be far removed from that meeting today's first reading introduces; but certainly - as successors of the apostles - our meetings this week are in continuity with what is described in the reading; and, they do have the same purpose: to strengthen our communion with Christ and with one another. For again, it is only in this communion - this remaining in the Lord - that we can hope to bear fruit.
The issue which brought Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem - the issue of the circumcision of the gentiles - is not the issue that brings us here to Rome. And actually there is no one single issue that brings us to Rome - but rather a whole range of issues that challenge us as pastors as we attempt to faithfully hand on the gospel in its integrity to the world today.
Paul and Barnabas, we are told, in the first reading "brought great joy to the brethren" as they recounted how the Gentiles recieved the gospel. They were also beset by no little controversy and dissension over just how those gentiles were to be recieved. We bishops as we face the challenges of shepherding our local churches know a little bit about controversy and dissension; but, like Paul, we also know of the joy of not only having had encountered the Lord but also we know the joy of sharing him with others. And like Paul and Barnabas with the apostles and the presbyters we find strength in one another and in him who has called us, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told Peter to strengthen his brothers - and Peter's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, in calling us to Rome for this ad limina visit does just that.
The proper prayers of today's Mass are taken from the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The ad limina visits do not solve all the problems of the world. But, we are convinced that to the problems that have always troubled human hearts, the answer is found in Christ.
We continue to grapple with the various issues and challenges we face as bishops today - and they are not insignificant. We grapple with issues surronding the life and dignity of the human person, with religious freedom, with the understanding of marriage as a permanent union between one man and one woman necessary for human flourishing in society; we deal with welcoming the stranger, with feeding the hungry; we struggle with the challenges of transmitting the faith in a world closed to transcendance; we deal with our human fraility and with the reality of sin in the Church and in the world, we deal with these things and much more. Our meetings have touched on many of these issues - and we have been affirmed and strengthened in the Lord Jesus Christ thanks to the unique ministry of Peter - who allows us - in the midst of all the tensions in the world and the Church- to remain in the Lord and bear fruit.
And so, here at the tomb of Paul, we pray - we do not pray for worldly success or approval. We ask for boldness, freedom and courage. And, as we anticipate the Year of Faith that will begin in October to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we pray through the intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul that we do no lose the courage of faith, the courage to proclaim the faith as Peter and Paul did here in Rome.
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