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Who are you for?

Archbishop Wenski's homily while installing pastor at St. Helen Church

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating the vigil Mass for the third Sunday in Ordinary Time at St. Helen Church in Fort Lauderdale, Jan. 21, 2023. During the Mass, he installed Father Lucien Pierre as pastor and blessed a new altar at the church.

Today I come here to St. Helen’s for two reasons: one is to officially install Father Lucien Pierre as your pastor. Now, he’s already been here a while, with the title of administrator. Whenever I appoint someone to lead a parish for the first time, I name him as an “administrator” – then, when he gets some months of experience under his belt (and he hasn’t made a mess of things), we give him the title of pastor. Well, several years have passed since Father Pierre arrived here – and up until recently he never wrote me asking to be installed as pastor; and I never remembered to remind him to do so. At any rate, he gets a new official title; but he still has the same headaches, the same responsibilities, and the same paycheck.

The second reason is to consecrate your new altar. In consecrating this altar, we set aside a work made by human hands for a sacred purpose. The sacrifice of the New Covenant will be offered here. Here God dwells with his people.

As we dedicate this altar and set it apart for God’s service, let us also rededicate ourselves – as individuals and as a Catholic parish community – to work together for God’s kingdom – as disciples we follow Jesus along the Way of his Cross to the glory of Eternal Life. When Christ was sacrificed on Calvary, sin was defeated. On this altar, that same sacrifice will be made present to us each day, so that his victory over sin, death and the evil one, will also be ours. 

Worship pleasing to God can be offered in any place – if the heart is renovated. Cardinal Van Thuan, when, as Archbishop of Saigon, he was arrested after the fall of South Viet Nam and put in solitary confinement for 13 years in a damp and dirty cell, friends smuggled to him some bread and some wine – and he would offer the holy Mass using the palm of his hand as an altar. And that hand was a worthy altar because he brought his offering to the Lord with no resentment, with no rancor or hatred towards those who imprisoned him, toward those who persecuted him. Like St. Paul, he ended up converting a few of his jailers. 

At this altar, we come to the font of grace that gave those martyrs strength to shed their blood. As we come to the altar today, Christ asks us not to shed our blood. (Please God we would if he did.) But today Christ asks us – at this altar – to shed our resentments, our bad feelings, any anger we might still harbor in our hearts. For here we stand on holy ground and this holy ground is the common ground where we Catholics stand as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Today the Gospel reading places Jesus at the very beginning of his public ministry in the region of Zebulun and Naphtha, in the same Galilee of the Gentiles that Isaiah talks about in the first reading. He has a simple message: Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is a simple but comprehensive message. As the same time, we see Jesus choosing his disciples. For those first disciples— and for each one of us —being chosen is a humbling experience. The fact of being chosen reminds us of our unworthiness, of the distance between us and God, for we all are sinners in need of redemption. But God in his mysterious ways chooses to need us to cooperate with him; he always needs someone for a mission. He invites us to bet our lives on the good news he is announcing. Our response must be obedience to the God who calls us. That is true for all of us — from the pope on down. And it is true for Father Pierre.

You know, Jesus never tells his disciples to play it safe. Rather, he challenges us: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” He challenges us to embrace the risks of fidelity.

Religious leadership in the Church – whether we exercise that leadership as a parish priest, a deacon, a catechist or whatever role or ministry we might be asked to take on – is about leading others to follow Christ. It cannot be reduced to “smiles and styles.” Christian discipleship is not about us, neither is it a matter of follow this or that Christian leader. Religious authority – and a pastor has authority – again is not about leading others to itself but to the Lord. It does not exalt in itself or point to itself. It points to Christ. This is the point St. Paul is making in the Second Reading this evening. Who are you for? During these times of hyper partisanship, of people dividing themselves in different camps, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, progressive or traditional, there is one possible answer for St. Paul to the question, “Who are you for?” With St. Paul, we must answer: “I am for Christ.”

Father Lucien Pierre, as your pastor, as he has already shown himself to be, 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, love your people with a shepherd’s heart and feed them, lead them to Christ and teach them gently — by word and example.

Father Lucien Pierre 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 Pierre 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 Pierre is here for you as one who serves.

Unas palabras en español: El Señor le dice a Simón Pedro: rema mar adentro. Pedro confió en las palabras de Jesús y no fue defraudado. Y Jesús le confió una misión nueva – la de ser pescador de los hombres. Hoy me complace nombrar oficialmente al Padre Lucien Pierre su nuevo párroco. Que sepa confiar en el Señor y que sepa que el Señor, como también el Pueblo de Dios en esta parroquia, cuenta con él. Que sea un buen administrador de los bienes de la Iglesia, que sea un buen pastor que se ocupa y se preocupa por su grey, que sea el servidor de todos. Ojo, sí, el Padre debe ser servidor de todos ustedes. Pero esto no quiere decir que tiene que complacer a todo el mundo. El que trata de complacer a todos termina complaciendo a nadie. Que procure complacer al Señor en todo y así les servirá a ustedes mejor.

I will now ask Father to lead you in the recitation of the Creed and to take the oath of office of pastor.