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Every Mass is an encounter with Jesus and his mercy

Archbishop Wenski's homily for 60th anniversary of St. Matthew Parish

Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours oil of chrism on St. Matthew Church's new altar as he consecrates it during the parish's 60th anniversary Mass.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours oil of chrism on St. Matthew Church's new altar as he consecrates it during the parish's 60th anniversary Mass.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Sept. 25, 2019, at St. Matthew Church in Hallandale, during the celebration for the parish’s 60th anniversary.

Today, we remember the patron saint of this church, St. Matthew. The Gospel reading places before us Matthew’s encounter with Jesus. It transforms him: this onetime tax collector in the employ of the hated Romans, becomes an Apostle and Evangelist. In Matthew, we see that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

And today, we also celebrate 60 years since this parish was founded. In a Church that is almost 2000 years old, 60 years might not seem like a long time; but here in South Florida, where everything looks like it was built the day before yesterday, 60 years is worth celebrating. And as a fitting “birthday” gift to the parish, Father Ayala made some small changes to the church including some small renovations to the altar, which he discovered had never been formally consecrated. And so, he has invited me to consecrate this altar. The sacrifice of the New Covenant will be offered here. Here God dwells with his people. Here the future which we sinners hope for is opened for us. This altar is like the threshold of a door. The door is Christ. Through this threshold we “pass over” from the mundane to the sacred, from the worldly to the heavenly. Here we meet God who opens to us the gates of heaven.

To approach this altar is to come to the font of grace that gave those martyrs, like St. Matthew, the strength to shed their blood. As we come to the altar today, Christ asks us not to shed our blood. (Please God we would if he did.) But today Christ, the physician of our souls asks us – at this altar – to shed our resentments, our bad feelings, any anger we might still harbor in our hearts that would separate us from communion in the Body and Blood of Christ.

This altar is also a table. And we gather around this table in anticipation, in our hope to share one day in the never-ending banquet that awaits us in heaven where God will seat us, sinners healed by his word, at table with him.

The renovations that you have made here at St. Matthew’s can hopefully lead you to a more worthy celebration of the sacraments. However, just as we renovated this church, we also must renovate ourselves and our hearts. Without a renovated heart, we might worship in the most beautiful cathedral in the world, but it would sound a dissonant note in God’s ears – it would be merely like the noisy clanging of a gong.

Worship pleasing to God can be offered any place – if the heart is renovated. Cardinal Van Thuan, after the fall of Viet Nam, was arrested and put in solitary confinement for 13 years in a damp and dirty cell. Friends smuggled to him some bread and some wine – and he would offer the holy Mass using the palm of his hand as an altar. And that hand was a worthy altar because he brought his offering to the Lord with no resentment, with no rancor or hatred towards those who imprisoned him, toward those who persecuted him. Like St. Paul, he ended up converting a few of his jailers.

As the encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy transformed Matthew, every Mass is an invitation to us to allow Jesus' gaze of mercy to transform us. Jesus continues to call sinners – and eats with them…with us.

Each Mass begins with the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. “I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters….” Before approaching the altar to receive Holy Communion, we pray: “Lord, I am not worthy but say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

God’s amazing grace that could save a wretch like Matthew, and wretches like us, is not a “cheap grace.” Cheap grace would be preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, it would be baptism without discipleship, communion without confession, or absolution without personal conversion. Grace is God’s gift to us; but it’s not cheap, it is a costly gift: its price was Jesus’ saving passion and death on the Cross.

As we dedicate this altar and set it apart for God’s service, let us also rededicate ourselves – as individuals and as a Catholic parish community – to work together for God’s kingdom as missionary disciples. At a time of great divisiveness in our society, as Catholics we must remember that we are one in Christ Jesus. We are members of one Body, the Body of Christ. That Body is rich in diversity: we speak different languages, we come from different places, we are of different ages and cultures. And sometimes, we think that the diversity of our Church divides us. But diversity should enrich us, not divide us. Only sin can divide us. And, Jesus is more powerful than our sins; he is greater than anything or anyone that would divide us. When Christ was sacrificed on Calvary, sin was defeated. On this altar, that same sacrifice is made present to us each day, so that his victory over sin, death and the evil one, will also be ours.

Jesus called a tax collector, a public sinner named Matthew: in doing so he shows us that every saint has a past, but every sinner has a future. And, for 60 years, this parish community, like Matthew before us, answered the Lord’s call to follow him – to a future of hope and eternal life.

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