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Jesus' teachings are not for wimps

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. Kieran pastor's installation, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a Mass at St. Kieran Church in Miami, where he installed Father Jesús Ferras, of the Schoenstatt Fathers, as pastor. The Mass and installation took place Sept. 13, 2020. 

It seems that the Word of God which we hear today during this 24th week of Ordinary Time is precisely the Word we need to hear in this “extraordinary” time.

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” These words from the Old Testament book of Sirach are particularly appropriate for the extraordinary times in which we are living: We are less than two months away from an election, we are eight months into a global health crisis and its social and economic consequences — we all are stressed out. We are anxious, fearful, angry… and rather “hug tight” wrath, anger, or fear. It's more important than ever that we heed Sirach’s wisdom and “think of the commandments: Hate not your neighbor. Remember the Most High’s Covenant and overlook faults.” 

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells Peter (and us) that we are to forgive — seventy times seven times. In the Gospel parable, Jesus has the master say to the unforgiving servant: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you.” And, Jesus does not only talk the talk, he walks the walk: As he is nailed to a cross, he cries out, Father, forgive them... they know not what they do.

The Gospel reading was introduced with the Alleluia verse that quotes Jesus at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

Jesus’ teachings are not for wimps. He even tells us to love our enemies. And as we know, it is hard enough to love our friends. Why is it so hard for us not to hug those “hateful things,” our “wrath and anger”?

Could the reason be that we don’t even love ourselves as we should? Indeed, many of the bad things people do to other people are the result of their not loving themselves and not forgiving themselves.

People often fall into addictions when they try to self-medicate themselves because of some pain, either physical or psychological, in their lives. Because they self-medicate inappropriately, they don’t really address the pain — and they cause a lot of pain to their loved ones, their families and beyond. Part of the recovery process is to help the one struggling with addiction to recover his sense of self-worth: He (or she) needs to know and to experience that God loves them, that they are not only lovable but loved – and forgiven.

Don’t we at times indulge in any number of self-destructive behaviors — and isn’t that because we don’t love or respect ourselves as we should?

The grudges we nurse, the hatreds we stroke, the revenge we dream about — how much of this lack of love towards our neighbor reflects our own lack of love towards ourselves. As somebody said, “Resentment is like taking poison yourself and then expecting the other person to die.”

Of course, when somebody does something bad to us, it is natural that we don’t feel like forgiving that person, much less do we feel loving towards that person. But forgiveness — and loving — are not mere feelings. To forgive someone is a decision. To love someone is a decision. And sometimes, the hardest person to forgive is our self… the hardest person to love is our self.

Jesus went to the cross freely. He decided to do so — even though he felt anguish, dread and fear. We too — with God’s help — can make decisions independent of our feelings.

To forgive might not erase a painful memory; but by forgiving we don’t have to act out of this memory. Forgiveness is freeing. It is liberating. When you say to someone, I’ll never forgive you, you are basically putting that person in control of your life. By forgiving, you free yourself — and by forgiving, even without demanding an apology first, you also decide that you don’t need to control the one who did you wrong. That’s what turning the other cheek means. “An eye for an eye” will just end up in making everybody blind.

The Alleluia verse — “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus shares with us words of great wisdom — but this is more than human wisdom, it is God’s wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God in the flesh. And he gives us his flesh to eat so that we might become what we receive, so that “the Love of God be truly perfected” in us.

Our communion in his Body and Blood we receive during the Sacrifice of the Mass is a remedy for our sins and the pains they cause to ourselves and others; it is a sign of God’s love for us and a pledge of the future glory that awaits us. But, before we approach to receive Holy Communion, we pray in the words that Jesus himself gave us: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Hoy, quiero instalar formalmente al Padre Jesús Ferras como su párroco. Lleva ya más que un año aquí — y ha trabajado muy bien; e instalarlo hoy como su párroco quiere decir que va a quedarse aquí con ustedes por unos años más, si Dios quiere.  Además de ser su párroco, trabaja como capellán del colegio Inmaculada-La Salle.

My prayer is that St. Kieran — under the leadership of your pastor — be always a reconciled and reconciling community. Que esta parroquia sea una comunidad reconciliada y reconciladora.

Father’s qualities as a human being and as a priest are already well known to you here at St. Kieran’s — and perhaps his shortcomings are also known to you as well.

Father Jesús, 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 Jesús, love your people with a shepherd’s heart and feed them, lead them to Christ and teach them gently – by word and example. 

Father Jesús, 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.

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