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'You change the world by first changing yourself'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass for Santo Niño de Cebú

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Jan. 21, 2018, at St. Bernard Church in Sunrise, during a Mass celebrating the Santo Niño de Cebú with the Filipino community.

Too often, we can find ourselves giving into a fatalism of low expectations. And when we do we can spend our time complaining and whining. “Woe is me,” is not an uncommon complaint these days. And to tell the truth, things can seem pretty awful: there’s too much violence, too much injustice, too much poverty in the world, too much corruption.

Even in the pulpit sometimes we hear more about the “bad news” — and not enough about the “good news.” Yes, preachers do have to preach about what is right and what is wrong. (And this weekend, we cannot fail to mention how wrong abortion is. Monday marks the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Since then, in this nation, some 50 million babies were killed in their mothers’ wombs.). But rather than curse the darkness, as Christians, we are called to be a light to scatter the darkness. And that’s why we’re not simply “anti-abortion” as our detractors describe us; we are pro-life — embracing a vision of the dignity of every human being, made in God’s own image and likeness, from conception to natural death.

The first recorded words of Jesus — according to St. Mark — were: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In a few weeks, we will hear these words again when, on Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten fast.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These words are empowering; these words are life giving for they suggest that we can become better than we are. We do not have to be victims of our sins — or the sins of others — but with the help of God’s grace (of course) we can become protagonists of a new future. This is “good news” — this is the good news that Jesus announces to us and realizes for us. If it is true that every saint has a past, it is also true that in Christ every sinner has a future.

It is for that future — the Kingdom of God that is at hand — that Jesus called sinners and made them disciples and apostles. It is for that future that Jesus calls us as well. We are probably no better and no worse than those first disciples. But in calling us to that future, Jesus also calls us to responsibility. Repent, he tells us. In other words, he is saying: You think the world is in pretty bad shape, then be the change you want to see in the world. A better world begins when we begin to change our own personal life. You change the world by first changing yourself. Make something good out of yourself. Then, you can help others make something good out of themselves.

It used to be that we would excuse our wrongdoing by saying, “the devil made me do it.” That excuse is as old as Adam and Eve, right? Nowadays, we excuse our sins by saying, “I was born that way”; or it’s not my fault, it is society’s fault. (I don’t know if you remember the Menendez brothers — a couple of rich kids in California who murdered their parents? At their trial, they pleaded for leniency — because they were orphans.)

“Repent” is Jesus’ invitation to each one of us to “man-up” and to take responsibility for ourselves. Jesus called the disciples — as he calls each of us — as we are. He loves us the way we are — warts and all. So the Church welcomes everyone: come as you are, the Church says. But, once in the Church, fed by Word and Sacrament, we cannot leave as we were. “Repent,” leave your nets behind. As followers of Christ, our task is not to change the Gospel but to allow the Gospel to change us. To follow Christ is to live in his Way, Truth and Life — and in this way care for others — for we are our brother’s keeper.

Life is God’s gift to us — what we do with it is our gift to God. It is also our gift to those around us.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” As I said, these words are empowering, life-giving and they invite us to be protagonists of a new future, a future in which we inherit the “new heavens and the new earth” that Christ promises us through his passion, death and resurrection.

And today, the third Sunday of January, the Filipino nation celebrates Sinulog. From the time of Queen Juana until today, the Santo Niño continues to reveal his glory to the Pinoy and Pinay so that they, like the first disciples, might believe in him. And so we pray today that we heed the words of Christ in the Gospel inviting us to reform our lives so that we, assuming our responsibilities as Christians, become the protagonists of a new and better future.

Through this image of the Christ Child, given to Queen Juana on the day of her baptism, God began to reveal his glory to the Filipino nation. Faith in God has animated the life and culture of the Filipino people for almost five centuries. From this first encounter between that faith and Queen Juana there has emerged a rich Christian culture which has found expression in the art, the music, the literature and above all in the people’s religious traditions and their whole way of being. And, as the first disciples believed in Jesus when they witnessed the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, so too through the many miracles associated with the Santo Niño the Filipino nation has also believed in the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today, may our celebration — the sound of the drums and the Sinulog dance — as we celebrate the Santo Niño de Cebú reaffirm the qualities of piety, friendship and hospitality that give Filipino culture its strength and resiliency even when Filipinos find themselves far away from their homeland. Devotion to the Santo Niño and the joyful dance of the Sinulog remind us that to be a Christian is not a burden but a gift. Pit Senyor!  

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