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Religious women over the centuries have rightly been called Brides of Christ

Homily preached by Archbishop Wenski at Mass for Religious Sisters

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Mass for Religious Sisters at St. Mary Cathedral on Saturay, February 16, 2013.

Today, we honor thirteen jubilarians among the religious sisters who worked here in the Archdiocese of Miami: These women of faith hail from four continents and represent 10 religious congregations.  In honoring them this evening, we recognize not only their humble service but that of all who live the evangelical counsels as consecrated women or men in this Archdiocese.  Their pictures and a short biography of each of our jubilarians appears on the Archdiocesan website.  Several people have already posted comments – allow me to quote one of those people, Sister Lucia of the Marian Center.  She wrote:  “A religious vocation is a great gift for which we thank God every day.”  Together, at this Mass, we join the jublilarians in thanking God for this great gift, this exalted vocation.

Sisters, you belong to a variety of congregations and seek to live out – for the building up of the Church – a variety of charismas.  Many of the congregations represented by our jubilarians this evening have given long service to the Church here in Florida.  I would be hard to imagine where the Church here in Florida would be today without your dedicated presence and work here. You have touched – and continue to touch so many lives. I know that you have touched and shaped by life and my ministry.

Where the Church is at work – defending and promoting human persons and the common good – you, Sisters, are there.  And you are there not usually in those first places where you could bask in the approval of the crowds.  More often than not, you are in the last places – working often unnoticed and unappreciated. But this is precisely what makes your witness all the more powerful and prophetic.

While this celebration is closely linked to the World Day of Consecrated Life observed each year since 1997 on February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation, it is certainly not inappropriate to honor our jubilarians and all those in consecrated life on this vigil Mass celebrating the First Sunday of Lent.  The gospel today has Jesus withdrawing into the desert – a place of solitude where one can commune with God; but also as we see a place of temptation.  In his temptation in the desert, Jesus shows us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially in the midst of today’s secularized society.

Your fidelity to your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as was the case with Jesus himself, is a sign of contradiction. As such your lives are an encouragement to many  – and they are a challenge to others, to take a position regarding Jesus.

Lent calls all of us to that fidelity through a renewed commitment to our baptism – since on Easter Sunday, we all will be asked to renew our Baptismal Promises. As Blessed John Paul II said, to ask to be baptized is to seek to become holy.  For this reason, he continues, “It would be a contradiction for us to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity.” And so, during these 40 days, we work to address those “contradictions” in our own lives – through prayer, fasting and almsgivings – that divert us from the path of holiness.  To say “Yes” in fidelity to God’s will, the baptized are called to say “No” to sin, to say “No” to the temptations of unfettered power, disordered pleasure and vain riches.

This Jesus, of course, is not a remote figure remembered from a long past history.  Rather, for you, he is a living person, a person with whom one can have an intimate friendship, a friendship which has inspired you to follow him without compromise  

And because of this, religious women over the centuries have rightly been called Brides of Christ. This expression has its roots in the Scriptures.  St. Paul in Ephesians speaks of Christ’s love for the Church as a groom loves his bride.   Like the terms “People of God”, “Body of Christ”, the “New Jerusalem”, other expressions found in the Bible, this phrase, “Bride of Christ”, helps the community of believers understand better the Mystery that is the Church of Jesus Christ. As consecrated women, as you live out the implications of what friendship with Jesus means, you witness to and help illustrate the meaning of the vocation of the entire Church called to be the Bride of Christ.

In your journey – and today we recognize significant milestones along your way – you have contemplated the face of Christ both hidden under the veil of Word and Sacrament but also in the many disguises –some of them sometimes disagreeable, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta often said – of the poor, the marginalized, the abandoned, the frightened, the vulnerable. You have done this at a time of great cultural and social change.  Those of you celebrating 50 years began your religious life at the start of the Second Vatican Council – who could have predicted the various paths your journeys have taken?

But, your life’s journeys as vowed religious have been like that of the Virgin Mary’s own journey: pilgrimages of faith and consecration.  A pilgrim – of necessity - cannot be weighed down by extra baggage.  And for this reason the evangelical counsels help you mirror in your own lives Mary’s free response to the Lord’s invitation. Poverty, chastity and obedience lived according to the spirit of your own congregation’s rule of life have freed you for the journey.  May her prayers – and her example – continue to encourage you on your journey.  May you always echo her words in your lives:  before God, may you say with her – be it done unto me according to your word; before men, make you instruct them as she instructed the servants at Cana: - do whatever he tells you.

The consecrated life calls you to humble service within an exalted vocation: by belonging entirely to God, you belong entirely to your brothers and sisters.

And, in the name of these brothers and sisters whom you have served so well and so faithfully over the years, and for the service that you have given this local Church, I thank you.  We all thank you for your humble service – and for your exalted vocation.  Ad multos annos.

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