Saturday, November 3, 2018
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Nov. 3, 2018, during a Mass at St. Mark Church, Southwest Ranches, at the start of the annual archdiocesan Catechetical Day, which took place next door at Archbishop Edward McCarthy High School.
The theme of this Catechetical Day is “Building a Culture of Encounter.” “Encounter” is a favorite word of Pope Francis and is central to the way he thinks about human relationships. To encounter the other “we have to step out of selves” – and look beyond our own needs and wants to those of others. In a society that is divided – polarized, as we see today in much of political discourse – people feel isolated. We have so much “social media” but too many of our relationships are only virtual ones, and not real ones.
A Culture of Encounter does not isolate, it does not exclude; rather, a culture of encounter seeks right relationships among people, relationships not based on domination or exploitation but relationships that spring from a personal relationship with God who has encountered us in love.
In the Psalm, we sang: “My soul is thirsting for the living God.” Indeed, faith brings us to that awareness that Jesus Christ is the answer to the longings of the human heart. As St. Augustine said: “Our hearts we made for thee, O God; they shall never rest until they rest in thee.” And Jesus in the Gospel reading suggests that we will find true humility when we recognize that God is, in fact, enough.
We may be tempted to satisfy that thirst – through the frantic seeking for power, prestige or pleasure – but, when all is said and done, only God is enough, for only God is satisfying. Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of a Dominican lay brother born in colonial Peru of mixed race parentage. St. Martin de Porres was known for his faith – and for his humility. He knew the Lord – and for him that was enough.
However, the Christ that is the answer to the longings of the human heart – the Christ that is found in the gospels – is much different from the image of Christ that prevails in our culture today. The “popular” image of Jesus today is of a Jesus who demands nothing, who never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything – a Jesus who no longer does anything but affirm us.
And, of course, this image of Jesus – in the view of many of our contemporaries – is the exact opposite of the Church – at least in as much as the Church still dares to make demands and regulations. I am sure that all of you have heard at one time or another: Why do I have to get an annulment? Why can’t I receive Communion? Jesus wouldn’t care about these things, would he? And, so the Church – according to this popular mindset – is equated with prejudice and intolerance. The Church is seen as an obstacle, a barrier keeping people away from Jesus.
Yet, 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. An act of faith in Jesus, while personal, is not “private” – we cannot affirm the position that everyone is entitled to believe in Jesus “a su manera,” in their own way – for then everyone will create their own Jesus – made in their own image and likeness.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger – said: “The Jesus that makes everything okay for everybody is a phantom, a dream, and not a real figure.” The Jesus we encounter in the Gospel – who is the same yesterday, today and forever – is demanding and bold. And, therefore, he is not always convenient for us in his boldness and in his demands. And, the Church, if she is to be the effective presence of Christ in the world today, cannot be ashamed or afraid of the very real demands of discipleship that Jesus boldly makes on those who would be his followers.
It is precisely in this way that Jesus – the real Jesus of the gospels – answers the deepest questions of our existence. Despite the secularism of our age, people are still asking those questions.
As Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in Novo Milenio Ineunte: “Young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for those genuine values which find their fullness in Christ. Is not Christ,” he continues, “the secret of true freedom and profound joy of heart? Is not Christ the supreme friend and the teacher of all genuine friendship?” Then, he adds: “If Christ is presented to young people as he really is, they experience him as an answer that is convincing, and they can accept his message, even when it is demanding and bears the mark of the Cross.”
On Thursday, we celebrated All Saints Day. The Gospel of that day was taken from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus pronounced that the peacemakers, the meek, those seeking after justice were “blessed.” The listing of these beatitudes was fitting for All Saints Day – for “beatitude” is the outcome of a life dedicated to God. And this is what we want for those we catechize: beatitude – or the happiness of Eternal Life.
In this sense, the best commentary on the beatitudes is the life of Jesus himself. Poverty, hunger, tears, exclusion, scorn describe what happens when the Kingdom arrives in a broken world. In accepting his message and its demands, we will bear the mark of the Cross but at the same time God will be enough.
The task of catechesis is daunting today; but, in building a Culture of Encounter, we do not count on our own resources. We trust in God’s grace. Trusting in his grace we embrace the task with enthusiasm but also with humility. And humility is necessary to any true encounter with another: for humility is not about thinking less of ourselves; but thinking of ourselves less. Thinking of ourselves less, stepping out of ourselves – after the example of St. Martin de Porres – we can encounter Christ, the answer to the longings of our hearts, and in the Church, the community of his brothers and sisters, we can witness that God continues to encounter us in love.