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'O help us live what we believe'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at closing of priests' retreat

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the closing of a retreat for archdiocesan priests, that took place March 13 at Our Lady of Florida Monastery in West Palm Beach.

There is a hymn which is sung occasionally in the liturgy of the hours. Its first verse is the following:
Lord Jesus, once you spoke to men
Upon the mountain, in the plain;
O help us listen now as then,
And wonder at your words again.

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from those words that Jesus addressed to his disciples on the mountain and in the plain. A retreat affords us the opportunity to “help us listen now as then.” I pray that under the able direction of Father Cameron, you have been able to listen and “to wonder” at Jesus’ words again, so as to rediscover that first fervor which led us all to say “yes” to the gift and mystery of our priestly vocation. In less than a week, of course, we will witness our new auxiliary bishop-elect say “yes” to a new and certainly unexpected chapter in his life’s itinerary as a Christian and as a priest.

The second verse of the hymn is as follows:
We all have secret fears to face,
Our minds and motives to amend;
We seek your truth, we need your grace.
Our living Lord and present Friend.

This is, of course, the purpose any retreat – to face fears, to amend minds and motives, to seek truth, to find grace. And this is the whole purpose of our Lenten observance. This is what we preach to our people – and in preaching to them we cannot fail to heed our own words.

Again, I thank you for making this retreat. To spend this time with “our living Lord and present Friend” is something that you owe to yourselves, but more importantly it is something you owe to your people. During the synod, one of the things that came through very clearly was the genuine love and appreciation that our people have for you, their priests. We see this in their support for the ABCD – of which the lion’s share goes to the support of our seminaries, the training of our future priests. 

The love of our people for their priests is not something that we should take for granted. The people do love us – but they are concerned – for our health, our physical heath to be sure, but also for our emotional and spiritual health. They certainly know our limitations – and they put up with them, especially if they know that we are giving our best efforts. They are less tolerant if they sense that we are not. As the hymn says, “We all have secret fears to face, Our minds and motives to amend…”

Today marks the first anniversary of the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as the Bishop of Rome. In Brazil last summer, he told the young people, “hacer lios,” to stir things up. And he certainly has. He speaks of mercy, of compassion. And his words have resonated quite powerfully with our people. They sense a new tone. And while some people might project their own agendas into his words, he hasn’t changed (and he won’t change) Church doctrine. However, he’s reminding all of us that the Gospel, before it is about a bunch of nos – and there are nos to be sure –  is fundamentally about a great “yes” – a yes that brings true joy to the human heart.

But he has had some strong words for us clergy – bishops and priests. He has denounced clericalism, careerism. (And, in this, I don’t think he’s worried about the guy that’s always in his collar or likes to wear a cassock around the church; I think he’s worried about that sense of “entitlement” that is increasing the “occupational hazard” of our profession – a sense of entitlement that has us failing to treat our people even with pagan courtesy, much less Christian charity, a sense of entitlement that has us failing to be good stewards of the goods entrusted to us.) 

The pope has criticized both those who are overly strict and those who are overly lax. In doing so, he is calling us to a greater accountability – and has told us to go beyond our comfort zones to reach out once again to the least, the last and the lost.

In the Gospel, Jesus says “Ask and you will receive.” This is a bold promise – but he’s not promising that we will win the lottery, if we just pray hard. It is a bold promise for those with a bold faith – faith that His will be done; that his Kingdom will come.

The hymn taken from the liturgy of the hours ends with this verse:
The Gospel speaks, and we receive
Your light, your love, your own command.
O help us live what we believe
In daily work of heart and hand.

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