Monday, December 13, 2010
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Today the universal Church celebrates “Guadete Sunday” – we rejoice – in the middle of our Advent Season - because the day of the Lord is yet nearer still. And so, today it is indeed fitting that this Catholic community celebrates with particular joy and some holy pride its 60th anniversary.
Fellow Floridian James Johnson put these words to the music composed by his brother John:
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Today, 60 years after this church was dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Hurley, the Bishop of St. Augustine, with the revered Father Joseph DeVaney appointed its pastor, you, the parishioners of Holy Redeemer, can remember the past with gratitude; we embrace the challenges of the present with enthusiasm and we look forward to the future with confidence.
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, 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. And parishes are not just the coming together of individuals – but of families and communities, families and communities that have histories that need to be remembered and cultures that must be honored. For this reason, while most parishes are organized territorially, parishes can also be established “personally” – to accommodate the unique histories and cultures – and sometimes languages – of their faithful. St. Paul rebuked Peter in the Acts of the Apostles after he thought about having those gentile converts circumcised and follow the Hebrew laws: you do not have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian. Jesus doesn’t ask us to change our culture, our customs, he doesn’t require us to take on the customs of others; the only thing he asks us to change is our hearts – and the only thing we have to take on is his sweet yoke of loving service.
Holy Redeemer honors the incardination of Jesus Christ by becoming part of the culture, part of the lived experience of the African American community. No one should feel like an outsider in the Catholic Church – for we all are children of God.
We remember the past with gratitude. Gratitude for the missionary spirit of those pioneering parishioners who helped establish other parishes that serve African American Catholics – St. Philip Neri, St. Hugh and Christ the King; gratitude for the Oblate Sisters of Providence who taught at Holy Redeemer School – a school that gave a future of hope to thousands of children whom others would have dismissed as “hopeless”; gratitude for the strong lay leadership that emerged from this parish that benefited the black community and beyond, the most distinguished being, of course, Athalie Range.
Yes, today we sing “a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us”, “full of the hope that the present has brought us”. And that faith, that hope enables us to look to the future with confidence.
To move towards the future with confidence, to construct for ourselves, our families and our community a future of hope, we cannot dismiss facilely the challenges before us. Even though the black community is well known for its religiosity, the emergent secularism of the dominant culture has caused great damage and wrecked havoc throughout our communities.
Whenever and wherever the human race seeks to organize itself without God or against God, confusion is sown – and the harvest is hatred, distrust, violence. Pope Benedict has spoken frequently about the threat of secularism in our modern world. Secularism, he says, is the process of organizing society or living one’s life as if God does not matter – etsi Deus non daretur.
And where God does not matter, nothing much else will matter either. This explains the crisis of hope that many people today are undergoing. The social ills of our times – drug abuse, abortion, promiscuity, the breakup of the family - are only symptoms of this loss of hope.
But, as Benedict pointed out in his encyclical, Spe Salvi, a world without God is a world without hope. Such a world is marked by a confusion of tongues where words like love and marriage lose their proper meanings; it is a barren world, as lifeless as a desert expanse. But, parishes like Holy Redeemer exist to reintroduce hope into the world, and they do that because they are truly way stations for us as we make our pilgrim journey to the Father’s house. Our parishes are oases where you parishioners can be refreshed by those “rivers of living water” in the sacramental life of our Catholic faith. In this parish, you – together with your fellow sojourners - learn how to live your lives in such a way that – by what you do and what you won’t do - you can show that God does indeed matter. And nourished by the sacraments and enlightened by God’s Word, you are strengthened to continue your journey witnessing in the world to that hope which does not disappoint, the hope that has a human face, Jesus Christ.
For 60 years, Holy Redeemer Parish has welcome God’s pilgrim people. 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. 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 Holy Redeemer. Thanks to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who could say that these past 50 years have not been years of grace?
Many have come and gone – and today we lift up in prayer those pioneers – priests and people - who were here at the beginning and have gone home to the Lord. But during these 60 years you have built more than buildings; you have built community, a community of faith, hope and love, a community where Christ is known and adored. As St. John says in the prelude to his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.