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'I thank you for who you are'

Archbishop Thomas Wenski's homily at Mass honoring men, women in religious life

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the annual Mass honoring men and women in religious life, which was celebrated Feb. 11 at St. Mary Cathedral. The Mass coincides with the annual celebration of the World Day of Consecrated Life.

Today we gather here at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Mother Church of our archdiocese, to honor our religious sisters, brothers and priests who, this year, are celebrating jubilees. We thank you for your witness. To paraphrase St. Paul in today’s second reading, you, through your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, really “do everything for the glory of God.”

Our celebration today is closely linked to the World Day of Consecrated Life, a commemoration begun by Blessed John Paul II in 1997. This World Day of Consecrated Life is observed on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord because as Blessed John Paul II explained, “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one's life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”

Today, we honor our jubilarians – but in doing so, we really wish to praise the Lord and to thank him for the great gift of consecrated life. Through a multiplicity of charisms and the edifying fruits of your lives given totally to the cause of the Kingdom, you jubilarians have enriched and gladden the Christian community.

Of course, while our jubiliarians do appreciate this honor (I hope), they with characteristic humility have not sought it out. Nevertheless, we do celebrate you. We Catholics like celebrations: and in honoring you, we want to promote greater knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God. Celebrations like the World Day of Consecrated Life and today’s celebration of our jubiliarians are important – for they allow us to acknowledge before the Lord the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in you.

I thank you for what you have done and continue to do in and for the Church; but more importantly, I thank you for who you are.

We all are immersed in a world which is often agitated and distracted; we all get taken up sometimes by the press of responsibilities. Hopefully, this simple gesture of honoring you, our jubiliarians, with this Mass this evening, will help all of us to return to the sources of our vocation, to take stock of our own lives, and in doing so, to confirm the commitment of our own consecration.

As Archbishop of Miami, I want you to know of my appreciation and my esteem for all that you do. I need you – and, I hope, that you believe that we do need each other, in fulfilling the mission that the Lord has entrusted to us.

I’ve only been back in Miami for about 20 months – so I am still in the early part of my tenure here. I’ve met most of the religious here in the Archdiocese but there are some religious, some communities, I have not yet have had the opportunity to meet. But I want to meet and get to know you. I’ve started inviting different communities to my home for dinner – hopefully, before too, too long, I will have had all of you over for dinner.

The better we know each other, the better we can work together in the unity of purpose that should characterize those who have left everything to follow Christ.

In a world of fragile peace and broken promises, the Church – and the Church’s ministers – need to be united more than ever if our witness as Catholics is to be both coherent and convincing.

Today, when we see our nation divided in sharply partisan ways, when in debates ideology trumps facts, we would be naďve to think that there are not forces – worldly and other-worldly forces – that seek to overcome the Body of Christ by dividing it.

For much of this nation's history, Catholics were regarded by many of their neighbors with suspicion if not with hostility because of the prevailing prejudice towards the Catholic faith in a predominantly Protestant America. Yet because of a healthy secularity promoted by our civil order and the Bill of Rights' first freedom, the freedom of religion, Catholics were able to put down roots in this country, build our churches and worship freely. We were also able to build institutions that not only served their fellow Catholics but also the broader community.

Today, that healthy secularity that provided for the separation of Church and State but not of Religion from Society, that healthy secularity that guaranteed the freedom of people of faith to serve the common good through hospitals, schools, orphanages and other charitable institutions is increasingly under siege in America today. A radical secularism has emerged that seeks to reduce religious belief to just a "subjective opinion" and to privatize faith by denying it any public expression. Such a radical secularism promotes a world view in which God is excluded; it pretends that society can organize itself, that people can live their lives, as if God doesn't matter.

Let no one deceive himself or herself. The on-going flap over the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services' mandate to force Catholics and others to violate their consciences is not about contraception or access to contraception. Contraceptive devices are easily found at corner gas stations; and a few universities have begun to sell "the morning after pills" like soda from coin-operated vending machines. What's at stake here is the first freedom of the Bill of Rights: our freedom of religion; and our freedom to serve according to the dictates of our conscience.

In his Lenten message for this year, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us Catholics: "We cannot be silent in the face of evil." To adapt to the prevailing mentality, out of human respect or convenience, to fail to warn our brothers and sisters against ways of thinking or acting that are contrary to truth and right conduct is to fail in the charity that we owe them.

The heart of Christian life, the Holy Father insists in his Lenten message, is "charity". As Christians we are to express our concern for each other through the exercise of what the Catechism calls the "corporal" and "spiritual" works of mercy. Opening our hearts to others and their needs is an opportunity for each one of us for salvation and blessedness.

And over the years we Catholics have done just that - through our parish ministries and schools but also through our universities, our hospitals and our Catholic charities. All of this, of course, would have been impossible without the labor and sacrifice of religious congregations and institutions, especially those of women religious.

As I said earlier, Blessed John Paul II linked the World Day with the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple because he saw this feast as “an eloquent icon of the total offering of one's life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”

We honor you today because your lives offer an antidote to the spirit-deadening secularism of our time. Through your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, you witness how meaningful, how fulfilling life can be when one does “everything for the glory of God.” In a word, you show us that God does matter.

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