"Look, There Goes the Church!"
Homily of Most Reverend Thomas Wenski
Welcome Mass for Religious

Sunday, June 20, 2010
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - Pastoral Center

It is hard to believe that almost three weeks have passed since I was installed here at St. Mary’s Cathedral on June 1st. Today, as pastor of this cathedral parish I am happy to join Msgr. Hogan, your rector, and the other priests who join me in celebrating Sunday Mass; and today brings me here for the “last” of several official “welcome” Masses. And this week, I go to Rome accompanied by a goodly number of the faithful fro, both the Archdiocese and my former diocese of Orlando to receive the “pallium” from the hands of Pope Benedict XVI, But joining the parish community at this Mass as members of several of the religious congregations who serve in the Archdiocese. They come today to welcome me as the new Archbishop of this local Church of Miami.

I am most happy to celebrate this Mass with the Religious Priests, Sisters and Brothers who serve so selflessly here in the Archdiocese of Miami. As Archbishop, this Mass gives me the opportunity not only to meet with them but also to express my gratitude to them for all that they do and will continue to do in this Archdiocese – but more importantly, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers I want to thank you for who you are.

If we in the Church were only to acknowledge you for the things you do, we would be sorely remiss. That’s not to say you, in all the various ministries and particular charisms you represent, do not do wonderful and important things. And we are grateful; however, who you are, as consecrated religious, is the real gift. Pope John Paul II said it so well in Vita Consecrata: “Consecrated life is the gift of the Father to the Church through the Holy Spirit.”

The other day, I was reviewing a vocation video on religious life, and one sister was said that one day when walking in some downtown area, a little girl saw her, pointed to her and said to her mother: Mommy, look there goes the Church. For this little girl, the religious habit of this sister was an iconic representation of the Church.

The girl grasped a profound truth about the nature of consecrated life. You “consecrated” are the Church “concentrated” – as it were. Your lives as consecrated religious is at the very heart of the Church – because your radical embrace of the gospel makes manifest the inner nature of every Christian’s calling. Or, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the ultimate norm of religious life is the following of Christ (vitae religiosae ultima norma sequela Christi). You are vowed to live the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience which the world – and too often the faithful – see as simply renunciations. However, they are more than that – for each counsel in its own unique way is a specific acceptance of the Mystery of Christ lived within the Church. As I said, you are the Church concentrated. And through you and your witness, the evangelical counsels – “characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, poor, obedient one, are made constantly visible in the midst of the world.

In John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata, an apostolic exhortation delivered after the Synod on Consecrated Life in 1995, he describes religious life as an “Icon of the Transfigured Christ” - for the vowed life does proclaim and anticipate the future age when we will experience the fullness of the Kingdom. In this way, vowed religious are witnesses to hope. Your lives testify to the fact that God matters – and today when so much of society wishes to live as if he did not matter, it is not surprising that your embrace of your vocation is viewed by many with skepticism if not ridicule. The religious life is a “sign of contradiction” that challenges – and must always challenge the assumptions of those who do not take God in account.

Vatican II rightly emphasized all the baptized are called to holiness. Thus, all are equally called to follow Christ, to discover in him the ultimate meaning of our existence. However, like those chosen disciples, those whose baptismal consecration has developed into a radical response to the following of Christ expressed in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience have a “special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word”.

If as John Paul II asserts the religious life is an “icon of the Transfigured Christ” then the words spoken then by Peter: "Lord, it is well that we are here" (Mt 17:4) can be appropriated most fittingly by you in your response to your vocation to the consecrated life. You too can say: how good it is for us to be with you, Lord; to devote ourselves to you, to make you the one focus of our lives! Of course, those words of Peter were preceded with those spoken in today’s gospel reading, “You are the Christ”. These words were given in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Prior to any religious vocation is an encounter with the Lord – an encounter with the one we know to be “the Christ”. If we want to renew religious life and revitalize our religious communities, if we want to promote vocations to the religious life and to the priesthood, we have to continue to introduce young people to the person of Jesus Christ as he is known and encountered in the life of the Church, namely as Peter recognized him today, as Christ, the Son of the living God.

The “consecrated”, as I said, are the Church “concentrated”, you give us a unique witness to the implication of our own baptismal call to holiness. Your consecrated life is a gift to the Church that makes manifest the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.

I look forward to working with you all in the Archdiocese. I thank you for your welcoming me back home. In the name of all the people of God here in this archdiocese, I say again how good it is for us that you chose to be with the Lord, to devote yourselves to the Lord, to make him the one focus of your lives.


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