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We too will be put to the test

Archbishop Wenski's homily at first Mass at priests' convocation; feast of Korean martyrs

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating daily Mass, Sept. 20, 2023, with archdiocesan priests gathered for their annual convocation, Sept. 19-21.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Korean martyrs. About 27 years ago, I went on a trip sponsored by the USCCB’s PCMR committee. PCMR stood for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. I think I got the invitation because I was at Notre-Dame d’Haïti working with “migrants and refugees.” The trip involved visiting many of the sites where these martyrs died. As you know, the next World Youth Day will be held in South Korea; if you go you will find a vibrant Church. You might also know here in Miami we have a small Korean mission which is located at the Madonna Retreat Center in West Park, west of Hallandale. The Korean Bishops’ Conference send us a priest every three years to attend to this community.

What is interesting about Korea is that the first evangelization was done by the laity. And the first priests to minister to them were Chinese, not Europeans. Andrew Kim was the first Korean priest who was martyred and along with 103 faithful was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II; Paul and his companions – some 213 Korean – were martyred earlier but beatified by Pope Francis. In the first 100 years of the Church’s existence in Korea, some 10,000 Catholics were martyred.

As we read in the Gospel, both Jesus and John the Baptist attracted crowds – but neither one sought to be "people pleasers." We all know them – people pleasers – in trying to please everybody they end up pleasing no one and frustrating themselves. Of course, I don't believe that either Jesus or John sought to antagonize people, just for the sake of antagonizing them. (And we know those types too.) But both Jesus and John the Baptist did not fulfill the expectations of the people of their time – at least, not in the ways that they thought they should.

"Wisdom is vindicated in her children," Jesus says. The ultimate judge of the ministry of Jesus and John were not the crowds, not the people pleased – or even the people upset – by them. Their lives were lived in obedience to the will of the Father – the fruit of that obedience is how the wisdom of God, by which we were created for life with God, is truly vindicated.

But both Jesus and John not only "thought outside the box" – they also lived "outside the box." They both acted with considerable freedom. The freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit that allowed them – and allows us – to live beyond the constraints of culture and custom – therefore to swim against the tide of people’s expectations or demands.

St. John Paul II told priests that the people look to them for the “word lived” before the “word proclaimed.” The days are long gone when what “Father said” or “What teacher said” was law.

People today will not follow “blind guides” as Jesus described the Pharisees; but they will follow pastors whose authenticity is revealed in their transparency.

Prophets, like John the Baptist, are called to give testimony – testimony about the truth. And the Korean Martyrs remind us that there is "no testimony" without a test.

Our culture is much different than that of the Korean martyrs, but our culture is increasingly hostile to the Gospel and so we too will be put to the test.

And when all is said and done, it is witness that convinces, not words.