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May we never be afraid to say 'I am Catholic'

Archbishop Wenski's homily to Filipino Catholics on feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily to the Filipino community of the archdiocese during a Mass on the feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz, celebrated at St. Mary Cathedral, Miami, Sept. 25, 2022.

Today, we celebrate San Lorenzo Ruiz – the Philippines’ first martyr and first saint.

San Lorenzo was, as you know, a married man, a father of three children. The example of his life reminds us that holiness is not just for some few in the Church – it is the common vocation, the universal calling, of each of the baptized.

As Pope St. John Paul II said: To ask to be baptized means to say, “I want to be holy.” That is why he says that it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity with a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity. We honor San Lorenzo Ruiz today because there was nothing mediocre, nothing superficial, about his commitment and his love for Christ.

He was, one could say, an accidental martyr. He did not go to Japan seeking to become a martyr. In fact, when he boarded the ship that was to take him to Japan, he thought it was going to Macao. But, once arriving in Japan, he would not deny his faith – and he persevered through long imprisonment and torture. “I am a Catholic...” were his dying words.

We are all called to holiness through our baptism – and because we are baptized, we are called to witness to our faith. And the way we may be asked to witness will not necessarily be of our own choosing – just as San Lorenzo did not originally choose to go to Japan. Our witness might not require of us the shedding of our blood as was the case for Lorenzo – if God would ask us to die for him, hopefully we would say “yes” as Lorenzo Ruiz did so courageously.

Certainly in this country, we enjoy many freedoms; we can practice our Catholic faith. But how many of our brothers and sisters witness to their faith at the cost of great risk? Many Filipino Catholics work in Saudi Arabia and other lands where the freedom to practice the Catholic faith openly is not respected – yet despite real danger to their livelihoods and perhaps to their very lives, they keep the faith. May the prayers of San Lorenzo strengthen them so that they never are afraid to say “I am a Catholic...”

While in this country there is no overt religious persecution, apparently here as well it is difficult to keep the faith. We are not so much afraid to say “I am a Catholic” – as we are ashamed to say so. The secularism that is so powerful in the West erodes much religious feeling. Here we are tempted to live our lives as if God did not matter.

Here, where religion is often made fun of, where our Catholic faith is ridiculed, may San Lorenzo pray for us that we not be ashamed to say, “I am a Catholic.”

In the Gospel parable today, poor Lazarus dies ignored by the rich man. Even though Lazarus slept on his doorstep, the rich man didn’t even see him.

This parable of Jesus should tear at our hearts because, often, we suffer from the same spiritual myopia as the rich man in the parable – the poor kid, the troubled youth, the battered spouse, the homeless or runaway teen often live right next door to us, if they don’t live at our doorstep; yet we don’t see them. (Or we pretend not to see them.)

How often do we let the poverty that surrounds us become invisible? Countries like Haiti are literally at our doorstep (Port-au-Prince is geographically closer to us than Atlanta). But, globalization has, in a shrinking the world, made us all neighbors but it hasn’t made us brothers and sisters.

In commenting on the Gospel parable, we have just heard proclaimed today, Pope St. John Paul II once wrote: “...How can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather we must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the Eucharist – which is communion in the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us – commits us to serve. As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name, and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, ‘in the stark contrast between the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the latter’s side.’ We too must be on this same side.” 

And to be on that same side is what it means to say, I am a Catholic.

Greed, vanity and pride can make us blind so that we do not see.

The rich man does not see Lazarus at his gate.

He cannot look beyond his world – made up of banquets and fine clothes – to see where Lazarus lies, because what is happening outside does not interest him.

He does not see with his eyes, because he cannot feel with his heart.

This is a “worldliness” that, Pope Francis says, anaesthetizes the soul.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells Timothy: “Keep the commandment unstained and free of reproach.” That is, resist those forces that would anaesthetize our souls, that would make us self-absorbed, indifferent and spiritually blind to the poor Lazarus who lies at our gate.

The life of San Lorenzo Ruiz reflected the glory of God’s love – and therefore is attractive. Saints, like San Lorenzo, show us that it is possible and good to live in a relationship with God, to live our faith without fear – and without shame.

May the example of San Lorenzo Ruiz continue to attract “persons and peoples” to Christ. With the help of his prayers, may we never be afraid – or ashamed to say – “I am a Catholic...”