Archbishop Wenski's homily at Multi-Cultural Mass of Welcome
This homily was given at St. Clement Catholic Church
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
There was an Irish author, James Joyce, who in speaking about the Catholic Church said that “the Catholic Church means ‘here comes everybody’.” Now, I am not sure that he meant this as a complement but he did understand what the word “catholic” meant. The word comes from the Greek and it means “universal”.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
We Catholics believe that when Jesus was born as a man in Bethlehem he came not for just one people but for all peoples, all races – of all times and places.. While Jesus’ mission was first to the lost sheep of Israel it was not to be exclusively for them. Jesus would tell his Apostles: Go out into all the world and preach the good news.
This would be something that the Jewish people would find difficult to accept. They knew themselves to be God’s Chosen People – and indeed they were, and they still are. But in choosing the Jews, God in no way meant to disparage or belittle those who the Jews still call the “goyim” – or the nations. Indeed, the election of the Jews was not a put down for those who were not Jews – for in choosing Israel as a people peculiarly his own, God wanted them to be “a light to the nations”, a light that would lead them to the knowledge of the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were elected by God not to be against the world but to be in a special way for the world.
The good news of salvation is “catholic” for all peoples. If Salvation is “catholic”, then the Church which Jesus founded to preach the good news of salvation must necessarily be Catholic as well. If the Church is the Father’s House, then all those who are God’s children through baptism should feel at home in their Father’s House.
Today the presence of so many ethnic groups that form part of our Archdiocesan community should show that all can and do find a home in the Catholic Church. Our diversity of languages, cultures, and races gives witness to the “catholicity” of the gospel message of salvation. This diversity does not divide the Body of Christ – it enriches it. Our unity is not founded on race or language or nation of origin – rather it is found on Christ. We acknowledge one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.
The Church is the Israel of the New Covenant – and we are a chosen people as once the Jews were chosen: to be a light to the nations. We live in a divided world and what divides us is not the diversity we see around us. What divides us is sin. If we are to be a light to the nations we must model what a reconciled world looks us.
This was the mission of Jesus who though he was the only begotten Son of God became our brother: he comes to make us members of God’s family: sons and daughters of one Father reconciled to God and to one another through Jesus Christ in the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Our world today is increasingly globalized: Pope Benedict XVI said that globalization has made us all neighbors but it has not made us brothers. It is the Church, the Church that is Catholic – that brings into its communion people of every race, language and culture - that must teach the world how to live as brothers and sisters.
Part of the globalization we experience today is the fact of migration. In a globalized world, goods and merchandise made in one continent are bought and sold in another, half a world away; information and money can cross borders in an instant; and, in a globalize world, people also increasingly move across borders – often in dramatic ways.
The Church teaches us not to fear the migrant – and the Church warns us not to mistreat the migrant. In a way, just as we call Jesus the King of Kings, we can refer to him as the Migrant of Migrants as well. In becoming a man like us, he “migrated” from heaven. He became a citizen of our world so that we in turn might become citizens of the world to come. And those who will enter into his heavenly homeland, will do so because, as he himself will tell us: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me”.
So we can draw a parallel to Jesus’ coming among us as man and a newcomer’s arrival in a strange land –in this way, perhaps we can contemplate the face of Jesus in the visage of the immigrant. The divisive debates on immigration reform, too often immigrants – especially the undocumented -are demonized, seen as threats, and not as our brothers and sisters, or even among the “least” of his brothers and sisters.
Xenophobic politics that focus on the “illegal immigrant” as a problem obscures the human face of immigration. Dramatic, “get-tough” arrests of poor low wage workers will not solve our immigration crisis. In fact, such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness. The real problem is not the immigrant but the broken system that cynically tolerates a growing underclass of vulnerable people, outside the protection of the law. Their labor is needed yet the present immigration regime does not provide them or their employers with the necessary avenues which would allow them to access the system and become legal. No human being should be reduced to being a “problem”. Such reductive thinking demonizes the “illegal immigrant” and ultimately dehumanizes us all.
Like the immigrant who arrives to our land, the Eternal Son of God through his Incarnation pitched his tent in our midst. And like Jesus who was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn, today, even while they toil as jobs that Americans can not or will not do, immigrants hear again what Mary and Joseph heard in Bethlehem two millennia ago: there is no room in the inn for you. And like many of you here today, Jesus too was a refugee, a political refugee forced to flee from the despotic tyranny of King Herod.
This is why the Church will continue to speak out on behalf of migrants everywhere. We speak out in defense of those, especially the young, who are trafficked across borders to be exploited in the sex trade. We will continue to advocate for a just and equitable reform of a broken immigration system that continues to separate families for unacceptable periods of time and that provides no path to citizenship for millions who work in jobs that otherwise would have gone unfilled. We will defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers for a safe haven from persecution and violence. And, thanks to our Catholic Charities, over the years thousands have been successfully resettled here in South Florida and across the United States to begin new lives. And, because every child of God should feel at home in his Father’s House, as a Catholic community we will continue to assure that – in our pastoral care and outreach to the newcomers among us – we will speak their Mother’s tongue.
The newcomer –regardless of legal status – is a human person, he is a brother, and she is a sister with a claim on our solidarity. And because of that solidarity we must build not walls but bridges.
As I said earlier as Catholics, if we are to be a light to the nations, we must model what a reconciled world looks us. We have to show that diversity enriches the Church and does not divide her – for our communion in Christ is greater than anything that could ever divide us. I want to encourage all of you – and all our ethnic apostolates – to contribute your gifts and your experience of the faith with your fellow Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Miami. St. Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, brought the good news to all the nations. And as he preached to them he refused to impose on them the ways and customs of the Jews; he did not ask them to change their culture or their native tongue; he only asked that they change their hearts.
In a world of broken promises and fragile hopes, may this local Church in its wonderful diversity of cultures and languages be always a beacon of hope, a light to the world. By modeling what a reconciled world could look like, we can – with the help of God’s grace – show those whom globalization has made neighbors how to live as brothers and sisters.