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God wants to use you

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Alpha Conference 2023

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Mass at St. Anthony Church in Fort Lauderdale with Catholic participants in the Alpha Conference 2023. The Mass took place Jan. 26, 2023. The conference took place Jan. 26 and 27.

Saint Paul was arguably the greatest evangelist in the history of the Church, but he could not have accomplished all that he did on his own. A Haitian proverb says: ou pa ka manje kalalou ak yon sèl dwèt — you can’t eat okra with just one finger. In other words, it takes the help and collaboration of many people to get things done. Trusted co-workers like Saints Timothy and Titus were essential to the mission. In Paul’s letters, we find a network of relationships: Timothy and Titus to be sure, but also women like Prisca and Aquila, and then there was also Mark, Barnabas, and many others. And they were quite diverse. Rich and poor, Jewish, and Gentile, male and female: a whole array of people working together for a unified vision and purpose: a vision and purpose summarized in the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Savior, what we also called the Kerygma.

As we honor the lives of the two co-workers of St. Paul, Timothy, and Titus, consider the ways that God wants you to act as a co-worker in the vineyard of this world. In the end, all that will matter is the salvation of souls. God wants to use you, as He used these great apostles, to continue the good work of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

In this consumer society in which we live, we are bombarded with advertising —on TV, on radio, on Twitter and Instagram. Along the highway, billboards carry the message of what the world values. What the world values, we are promised, will make us happy.

People are valued for what they have – and not for who they are. And yet people, though they have many things, have no joy – they lack the joy that gives meaning to life. That joy is the fruit of a relationship with Christ. For God did not just make us just to die one day. He made us for himself!

I remember once when I was helping a group of young people to unpack the experience of their mission trip to the Dominican Republic. These kids said that they never saw poverty like they saw in the DR. But they thought the people there were happy. And I explained to them that they were happy because even though materially poor, they were rich in relationships. They had lots of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. But the kids from the U.S. were rich materially but poor in relationships. Many didn’t have two parents living with them, many had no siblings, their relationships were virtual relationships not real ones. And this explains their loneliness, their hopelessness, their descent into a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. To the question of why we are, we are given an answer that is as simple as it is superficial: the one who dies with the most toys wins.

Everybody wants to be happy — the baby’s cries in the middle of the night are cries for that which will make him happy. From the time we are born we want to be happy. But what’s the path to happiness? How should we build this project we call “our life”? Is it the world’s values that will make us happy? Or is it what the Gospel values?

You can make people jump through hoops to get a sacrament or two for themselves or their children but making them jump through hoops probably won’t lead them to a life-changing encounter with the person of Christ. Today, many people find the Catholic faith unattractive – because they think of it as being about a bunch of moralistic rules or burdensome regulations and not about an encounter with the living Lord who can look on our messiness with pity, with compassion. They say that Catholics have been catechized without ever being truly evangelized. That was probably true in many cases – and unfortunately today it might also be true that not only have they not been introduced to the person of Christ, they haven’t really been presented with the teachings of the Catholic faith. As Jesus says in the Gospel today, the harvest is great.

The Christian faith is, first of all, the welcoming of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, sincere adherence to his person, and the free decision to follow him. This is essentially what we mean by Kerygma. It is both a proclamation of Jesus’s love for us shown through his death and resurrection and an invitation to entrust oneself to Jesus Christ by faith. The implications of this decision, of course, will be realized as we continue to walk with Jesus and the fruit of this relationship with Christ will be simply joy – regardless of our life’s circumstances or challenges.

In Novo Millenio Ineunte, Pope St. John Paul II said that parishes must be “schools of communion,” places of relationships or encounters, places where people are taken into account, in other words, where everyone counts. Then the Church can grow by “attraction” as “Christ attracts all to himself by the power of his love.”

Our task as evangelizers is not simply to teach prayers and doctrines. Our task – and it is also a gift – is to help people encounter the living Christ – a Christ you know is alive because he is living in you.

And so, again, consider the ways that God wants you to act as a co-worker in the vineyard of this world. In the end, all that will matter is the salvation of souls. God wants to use you, as He used these great apostles, to continue the good work of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Saints Paul, Timothy and Titus: pray for us.