Saturday, September 18, 2021
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the vigil Mass for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 18, 2021, at St. Gabriel Church in Pompano Beach. During the Mass, he installed Father Sahayanathan Nathan, who had been serving as administrator since June 15, 2019, as pastor of the parish.
Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, wrote: “Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’” (No. 35).
In today’s Gospel reading, the apostles are thinking not in terms of “us” but in terms of “them” and “those”. They were arguing about who was the greatest.
And so, Jesus put that little child before them and said, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” And, if he said it to his disciples, he is probably saying the same thing to us today.
What does this mean? If it was about accepting someone who is easy to accept, he would not have had to say this – and so, this verse is also about accepting the hard to accept persons. A little child is dependent, he or she requires care. Kids can create a burden; they are certainly great responsibilities. Our declining birth rate, and the fact that our culture has made abortion almost a “secular sacrament,” shows that accepting a child, just like accepting Jesus, is not as easy as it sometimes may seem; it is hard. To accept that little child or to accept Jesus and the demands of discipleship will challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones.
How then do we move beyond our comfort zones and make room in our lives for those hard to accept people – the unborn, the frail elderly, the migrant or refugee? How do we avoid plunging once again into “feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation” unless we are humble? How do we bear with one another’s burdens unless we are humble? “Learn from me.” Jesus says, “for I am meek and humble of heart.” Humility doesn’t mean to think less of ourselves; but to think of ourselves less.
Jesus is trying to make an important point – and drives it home with this example. He wants to remind us that the way things are valued in this world is not how they are valued in his kingdom. We do want to feel important, and we want to feel valued – and that’s what drives most of us to succeed in school and in our workplaces. We live in a very competitive society: It is dog eat dog out there; and to succeed, it seems that we must be the meanest dog. The world tells us, nice guys finish last.
Jesus tells us something different. Yes, it’s good to be important; but it’s more important to be good. That’s why he tells us, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and servant of all.”
Also, when Jesus is speaking about receiving a little child, he also adds, “whoever receives me,receives not me but the One who sent me.” Pope Francis in a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (that the Holy See will observe next Sunday) appeals to all of us to work towards an “ever wider we” so that no one is left behind, no one is excluded, no one is deemed inconvenient or unnecessary.
Only if we know of our own “littleness” under the mercy of God are we able to see others as people also under the mercy of God. To reject the other because he or she is inconvenient or annoying, because he or she is in no position to help us, because he or she is unimportant, at least in ways that the world evaluates what is important, is to reject Christ himself.
Today, of course, I am here because today you officially receive as your pastor Father Nathan, who is sent to you in the name of Jesus.
Father Nathan, as your pastor, is to be a faithful steward of you, the people entrusted to his care, and he is to dispense to you – with single-minded and wholehearted devotion – the means of grace by preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.
Father Nathan, love your people with a shepherd’s heart and feed them, lead them to Christ and teach them gently – by word and example.
Father Nathan is entrusted with the “care of your souls,” what in Latin is called the “cura animarum.” He is to carry out his duties “not with a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control” (cf. Timothy).
This care of souls is a threefold task: First, he must teach you faithfully what the Church believes and teaches. Amid this changing world – with its trials, its tribulations but also with its joys and hopes – your pastor is to remind you that Jesus' words do not pass away, they do not go out of style. His words of promise remain in full force and effect.
He doesn’t speak in his own name but in the name of Christ; second, he must lead you, like the Good Shepherd, to safe pastures; and third, he must bring you to greater holiness.
In the confessional, in the Eucharist, in his ministry to the sick and bereaved, Father Nathan will strengthen you in the grace that will have you grow in holiness before the Lord.
Jesus told his apostles: “If
anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Father Nathan is here for you as one who serves.
Father Nathan, I am sure, will serve you well; and he will serve not by calling attention to himself but by calling attention to the Lord; he will serve not by seeking his own interests but by putting first God’s will and his people’s good and well-being; he will serve not by trying to please everyone – for one who tries to do that usually ends up pleasing no one; rather he will serve you best by trying to please the Lord in all things.
Father’s qualities as a human being and as a priest are already well known to you here at St. Gabriel – and perhaps his shortcomings are also known to you as well.
Pray for your priests – give them your support. Father Nathan, like most of the priests here in South Florida, left mother and father, they left what was familiar to them, they had to learn a new culture and a new language to serve in the mission fields of South Florida. You have had pastors that came here from Ireland, like Father Tony Mulderry. Father Nathan comes from India. Our priests speak with different accents – but they all speak the same language – the language of love.
I will now ask Father to lead you in the recitation of the Creed and to take the oath of the office of pastor.