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Year of Faith: A call to rediscover the joy of believing

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski with the bishops of Florida at St. Agustine

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski  at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Agustine with the bishops of the state of Florida for the First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 2, 2012.

This evening, on this the First Sunday of Advent, the bishops of the state of Florida gather with you, the faithful of this diocese, to celebrate in a special way the Year of Faith recently opened by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.  We gather in this beautiful basilica cathedral of St. Augustine, the “oldest parish” in the United States and the “first cathedral” in the Sunshine State.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preaches the homily during the Mass in the cathedral basilica of St. Augustine with all of Florida's bishops.

Photographer: DON BURK PHOTO | Diocese of St. Augustine

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preaches the homily during the Mass in the cathedral basilica of St. Augustine with all of Florida's bishops.

The Year of Faith recalls the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For us Floridians, it is also necessary to note that during this Year of Faith, the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s arrival to these shores will also be observed. This 500th anniversary marks not only the arrival of the first Europeans to this territory, it also marks the arrival of the faith in what was to become the state of Florida, when the Gospel was first proclaimed not too far from here during la “Pascua Florida” or the Easter Season of the Year of Our Lord 1513.

The history of this state – and indeed the history of various peoples who in these past five centuries have lived here – cannot be fully understood without reference to Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  The Great Cross rising 208 feet into the skies at the Mission Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche reminds us of the role that religion has played and continues to play in our nation and our state.  This Great Cross continues to be a beacon of faith inviting all to a life-changing and life-saving encounter with Jesus Christ, who remains the same, yesterday, today and forever.

More than a commemoration of past events, the Year of Faith is a call to each of us to rediscover the joy of believing and a renewed enthusiasm for sharing the faith with others, without fear or embarrassment. As Catholics, in this era of an increasingly dominant secularism, we must profess the faith in its fullness – with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. As St. Augustine, the patron saint of this cathedral and this city, once said: “Believers strengthen themselves by believing.”  And since the renewal of the Church is achieved through the witness offered by believers, this Year of Faith is a renewed call to conversion of all the baptized so that the truth and the beauty of faith can shine forth more credibly in us.

Certainly, the aggressive advance of secularism has eroded various customs that had once supported faith – for example, the observance of “the Lord’s Day” is increasingly difficult, especially for the poor and others obliged to work Sundays. Popular culture, even in the United States, despite the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, is increasingly hostile to religious faith. Public institutions, whether in government or the media, hardly ever take into account the role that religion plays in the lives of most Americans except to criticize it. Belief has been reduced to the subjective – a matter of one’s private opinion. We are increasingly being told, as if it were some kind of vice, that religion should be “practiced behind closed doors, in the privacy of one’s home.”

The “I believe,” taken from the Creed, is professed personally by each believer But our Catholic faith, while certainly personal, is not “private.” Moreover, to say “I believe” is to place ourselves within a community of believers who also believe – or as the ancient Fathers of the Church in the first centuries of Christianity used to insist: You cannot have God as your Father, without accepting the Church as your mother.

Faith, for Catholics, must be a standing with the Lord so as to live in a loving communion with him and all his brothers and sisters. What we believe, why we believe, how we believe, in whom we believe must be reflected in how we live our lives, in what we do, in what we won’t do. If we can define secularism as what happens when a society attempts to organize itself in such a way that shows that God does not matter, believers should reflect what happens, how happy and meaningful life can be even in the face of “the tribulations that are imminent” when one lives convinced that God does in fact matter.

The tragedies of the last century – with its successive holocausts brought about by God-less ideologies – seemed to many at the time  the apocalyptic, foreboding signs of the end time that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel reading. But, as the Scriptures tell us concerning the end of the world, “we know neither the day nor the hour.” However, these tragedies have given us a glimpse of what a life or a world without God looked like. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Spe Salvi, his second encyclical which developed the theme of Christian hope: A world without God is a world without hope, a world without a future.

As they wait for the start of the Mass outside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Archbishop Thomas Wenski explains the use of incense to altar server Fillipo Schiavo.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

As they wait for the start of the Mass outside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Archbishop Thomas Wenski explains the use of incense to altar server Fillipo Schiavo.

Yet the Scriptures do not announce doom and gloom; rather, they announce hope. For God has not abandoned the world. Advent is a season that points to a future of hope because God does come to us: he comes to us to be with us in every situation; he comes to dwell with us; he comes to live with and among us; he comes to reconcile us with himself and one another.

Our world today needs such a hope. With the continuing economic crisis both at home and abroad, we have witnessed how the false security with which many have built their lives has collapsed. The world today – more than ever – needs a trustworthy hope. And the world needs people of faith to point the way to keep hope alive. As Christians, we believe in God whose face was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ is God’s last Word to the human race – and that Word is a Word of Hope, trustworthy hope.

During the Advent season, the Church celebrates two great Marian feast days: the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the star of the New Evangelization. Mary’s life – which can certainly be described as a “pilgrimage of faith” - must remain as a constant point of reference for all of us as we journey on our own earthly pilgrimage. Mary’s way is a way of faith, for she embodies for us a humanity that lives in hope based on faith in the living God. In her life, the truth and beauty of faith shines forth and recalls the coming of the Lord. 

St. Luke reminds us, as Mary returns with her child to the obscurity of Nazareth after his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi and his presentation in the temple, that “Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 9). Mary’s heart, then, is for us the school of faith.

During this Year of Faith we are invited to enroll in that school of faith and to rediscover the “content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed” in the Catholic Church. To reflect on the act of faith is a task that each one of us during these coming months must make his or her own. In convoking this Year of Faith, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father wishes to re-propose to the world and to each one of us Jesus Christ as the center of our faith and the foundation of our hope. 

Comments from readers

Norma T. Molina - 12/05/2012 02:48 PM
Dear Archbishop,
Thank you for such a beautiful and profound homily. I pray that as Catholics we may be witnesses to faith, hope and charity and that we may keep and ponder the Word of God in our hearts, just like our Lady did. Please receive my Advent greetings from Kansas City.

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