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A truly 'Catholic' community

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. Helen's 50th anniversary

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the 50th anniversary Mass for St. Helen Parish in Lauderdale Lakes. The Mass was celebrated Oct. 14, 2017.

Wow…50 years since St. Helen’s parish was established here in what is now known as Lauderdale Lakes. Now how many of you were here 50 years ago? Not too many! Well today we should give thanks to God for those first parishioners and the priests who served them. With faith they built up this community – its school, its parish hall, its church. They built not only for themselves and their families but for you and your families. An occasion such as this 50th anniversary affords us the opportunity to remember the past with gratitude. And we do so; at the same time, today is an occasion to celebrate the present with enthusiasm – for there is much to celebrate. St. Helen is alive and kicking. The school continues to form future generations of productive citizens and faithful Christians. With its rich diversity of young and less young, of some well-to-do and of a lot of people struggling to make ends meet, of people of European, African and Asian origins, this parish community is truly a “Catholic” – a universal – community.

So today, we remember the past with gratitude, we celebrate the present with enthusiasm and, very importantly, we look to the future with confidence.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, during the kickoff Mass for St. Helen Church's 50th anniversary, urges his listeners to stretch even more to welcome people to church.

Photographer: JIM DAVIS | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, during the kickoff Mass for St. Helen Church's 50th anniversary, urges his listeners to stretch even more to welcome people to church.

An Irish author, James Joyce, once described the Catholic Church as “here comes everybody.” In a way, St. Helen’s looks like that wedding feast after the king had told his servants to go out into the streets and byways and invite anyone they might find. And the servants filled the banquet hall with all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good. Jesus’ parable today is to be understood as an allegory – those first invited refused to come. The good news was first preached to the people of Israel but when they resisted, the apostles went to the gentiles. The exclusive synagogue – and excluding synagogue – is replaced by an all-inclusive and welcoming church where the wedding feast of the Kingdom is foreshadowed and anticipated by the banquet of the Eucharist where we share in the bounty of Christ’s body and blood.

Now, the word, parish, is derived from the ancient Greek – pa-roi-ki-a -; the Spanish, parroquia, is much closer to the original Greek than its English equivalent. It meant a sojourn in a foreign land, or a community of sojourners. And so, when the Hebrew Scriptures were first translated into Greek, pa-roi-ki-a was used to describe the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.

As Catholic Christians, to say that we are parishioners of this or that parish is to identify us as members of a pilgrim people called forth by God. To say that we are parishioners is to acknowledge that we sojourn in the way that his Son Jesus opens before us. We, Catholics, as members of the new People of God, the New Israel, established by Christ on the foundation of the 12 apostles, we know that here on this earth we have no lasting dwelling place, for our citizenship is in heaven, our true Promised Land.

Our parishes, where the community of sojourners meet, are then like way stations along our pilgrim way. St. Helen’s, of course, is much more than just a simple way station or rest stop: It is an oasis in a world that too often appears to be a desert. Here, as a community of faith, hope and love, you join with your brothers and sisters – your fellow Catholics — to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our parish life is not therefore something merely incidental to us as we make our life’s journeys. Our parishes ideally should be schools of prayer and schools of communion –the places where our love of God and neighbor come together and thus parishes –as way stations along our sojourn – keep us from becoming “of the world” and they enable us, as we sojourn in the world, to be always “for the world.”

Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, once observed that globalization has made us all neighbors – but it hasn’t made us brothers and sisters. Pope Francis has spoken about terrorism and the growing conflicts throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, as an undeclared World War III.

What can make us brothers and sisters is our encounter with Jesus Christ who teaches us what fraternal charity is and reveals to us the truth of our transcendent vocation to communion through him with the Father. This encounter is never primarily or only “between Jesus and me.” Catholicism is a communal religion – we are saved as members of a family, a community, a body – the Body of Christ.

Of course, the history of this parish – like any history forged by fallen human beings – is full of lights and shadows. We should not be surprised that the Church which Christ founded to save sinners is – well – full of sinners. In the parable, the good and the bad are invited into the wedding feast.

Yet, the Church is holy – and she is holy not because of us but because of the Spirit that is given to her. Despite the shortcomings and foibles of her human members, the Church of God has continued to grow here in South Florida – and here at St. Helen’s. As parishioners, you are called to be “missionary disciples” inviting everyone you find to come to the feast. We do that by sharing the “Joy of the Gospel” — which we won’t do if we are, to use Pope Francis’ words, “sourpusses.”

St. Helen’s, after 50 years, has a special vocation, a calling – it is the responsibility of each one of you as parishioners – and that is to be a living sign, a witness in the midst of a world of fragile peace and broken promises of what a reconciled and reconciling world looks like.

In the parable, Jesus tells us that “all are welcomed” – come as you are. They say that at these ancient wedding feasts, if you couldn’t afford to bring a wedding garment, the host would provide you one at the door.

So, come as you are; but don’t stay as you were. The parable is an allegory – that is a lot of symbolic language – so it’s not really about a dress code for church. Thank God! Because here in Florida we are quite relaxed aren’t we? The wedding garment refers to the interior disposition of our hearts. As Jesus said when he began his ministry, “change your hearts and believe the Gospel.”

In Colossians, St. Paul tells us how to dress so that we will never be thrown out of any banquet. “…be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness, and humility, gentleness and patience. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and to complete them, put on love.” (Col 3: 12ff)

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