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The consecrated are the Church 'concentrated'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass to celebrate consecrated men and women

Archbishop Thomas Wenski's homily at Mass celebrating consecrated men and women. St. Mary Cathedral, Jan. 31, 2015.

In the first reading, Moses tells the Israelites: “A prophet like me will the Lord raise up for you from among your own kin, to him you shall listen.”

This prophecy was certainly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who was true God but also true man. And the prophetical witness of Jesus Christ who showed himself to be the friend of the least, the lost and the last is actualized in our day and time by you, consecrated religious.

I like to say that the consecrated are the Church “concentrated” for in living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, you express the deepest nature of the Christian vocation and the yearning of the Church as the “Bride” for union with her only Spouse.

A Jesuit auxiliary bishop said during the Synod on the Consecrated Life in 1994: “Consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it is born of the Church, it grows in the Church, and it is entirely directed to the Church.” (By the way, that Jesuit auxiliary bishop is now Pope Francis.) In a world of the ephemeral and the superficial, the distinctive sign of the consecrated life is a prophecy. Radical evangelical living, of course, is not just for religious it is demanded of everyone. But as religious you follow the Lord in a special way a prophetic way a way that serves to “wake up the world” to the reality of God and his love for us.

This year, the universal Church observes the 50th anniversary of two significant documents issued during the Second Vatican Council. Perfectae Caritatis, the council’s Decree on Religious Life, and Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church. Thanks to both of these documents, religious life undertook a fruitful journey of renewal which for all its lights and shadows has been a time of grace. This journey of renewal was to be rooted in the history of your own particular communities or institutes for the Vatican Council in calling for the renewal and updating of religious life also encouraged each religious family to return to their original inspiration, to their founding charism, and in doing so to rediscover and rekindle their initial enthusiasm.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People reminds us that the question we have to ask ourselves during this Year of the Consecrated is “if and how we too are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the ‘manual’ for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make.” He adds, “The Gospel is demanding: It demands to be lived radically and sincerely. It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day). Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.”

Today we honor all the men and women religious who serve this local Church. It would not be possible to tell the story of the history of this local Church without including the history of the religious priests, brothers and sisters who have ministered here in our parish, in our schools, our hospitals and nursing homes, in our other charitable institutions and apostolates. We thank you for your service and for your witness because we honor you not only for what you do but for who you are.

Yet in special year dedicated to the donsecrated life, Pope Francis reminds us that “we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows? Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path. For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have his own heart.”

And tonight in a special way, we wish to honor those who celebrate some very significant anniversaries. Our honorees this evening represent more than 400 years of dedicated service to God’s people and consecration to the Lord.

The presence of these jubilarians this evening allows us to gratefully remember the past even while we embrace the future with great hope. As Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord raise up for you from among your own kin, to him you shall listen.”

I encourage you jubilarians to tell your stories especially to the young. I encourage the youth to listen to the stories of these prophets. For these stories of vocation and service with many bittersweet moments to be sure witness to the Gospel of Joy, that to be a Christian is not a burden but a gift. To tell your story is to praise God and to thank him for his gifts.

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