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Brothers, be friends to each other

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass on last day of priests' convocation

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a morning Mass with archdiocesan priests, gathered in Miami for the last day of their annual convocation, Sept. 16, 2021.

Today we celebrate the feast days of Cornelius, pope, and Cyprian, bishop: Both martyrs in the middle of the 3rd Century. Cornelius was pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage, in North Africa. The two men were friends – and they worked together to advance the mission of the Church in difficult times. Both were martyred. I guess all times are difficult for the Church as we make our pilgrim way in this “vale of tears.” Remembering this can give us some perspective – especially in these divisive and polarized times.

Cyprian is famous for having said: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your mother.” Cornelius defended the possibility of reconciling the backsliders – those Christians who had apostatized during persecutions. And, then as now, there were always more apostates than martyrs in the Church. Both men had to face down their own 3rd century version of the “Church Militant” blog site. The Church in her history has always had her share of “bitter zealots.”

The cause of so many ruptures in the Body of Christ that resulted in schisms over the course of history can be traced to such “bitter zeal” among those who fancied themselves as “reformers.” No reform or revitalization of Church life has been the fruit of a bitter zeal – for you don’t win souls for Christ unless you love them as Christ does. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene. I must wash and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” 

For the past year and a half, we have had to deal with a pandemic — and not just with the inconveniences it may have caused, or the fears and uncertainties we had to endure but also with the pain of the loss of loved ones. Added to this was a tumultuous summer of social unrest, a highly contested election, and now the botched Afghanistan retreat, vaccine mandates, etc.

Those “earthen vessels” in which we carry the great treasure of our faith have been under stress, to be sure. And stress can crack those vessels – and us, if we are not careful. People under stress don’t usually show their best side. Priests under stress certainly do not show their best side.

Before an airplane takes off, they give you instructions about what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. They tell you, an oxygen mask will pop down, and they tell you: Put your mask on first before helping someone else. And this advice bears repeating for all of us “professional care-givers.” Be mindful of the stresses in your lives and take care of yourselves, because if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be much good to others.

Cornelius and Cyprian found in their friendship encouragement – despite the daily stresses they faced. They helped each other to lead virtuous, self-sacrificing, loving lives for God.

Brothers, be friends to each other – friends that encourage virtue – and not enable vice. Our celibate lifestyle imposes a measure of solitude on all of us. But solitude should not be synonymous with loneliness.

In the Gospel reading taken from Jesus’ last discourse on Holy Thursday, he is trying to sum up for the apostles what his life and mission is all about. He speaks of the bond between him and his Father – it is from this bond of live that he is “sent.” And we too are “sent” to continue that mission. Friendship with Jesus is being with him and being sent in his name.

Jesus prays to his Father for us – his prayer is not to withdraw us from the world, not to create for us a safe place where we will be undisturbed, but to protect us from the evil one. He wants his followers to go out into the very depths of the world – to bring the good news to all.

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