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Vowed religious: both salt and light

Archbishop Wenski's homily at 2023 celebration of religious jubilarians

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the annual celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life, which the Archdiocese of Miami marked with a Mass and dinner for men and women religious Feb. 4, 2023 at St. Mary Cathedral.

Today this local Church of Miami wishes to express our esteem for and our gratitude to those persons who have chosen to follow Christ by means of the practice of the evangelical counsels. Today we honor three religious women who are celebrating significant anniversaries of religious consecration:

Sister Teresa Meza, FSP, 50 years; Sister Elizabeth Worley, SSJ, 60 years and Sister Clemencia Fernandez, DC, 75 years. I did say that these were significant anniversaries.

The jubilees of these three women are also occasion for consecrated men and women religious to renew their commitment and rekindle the fervor that inspired you to offer yourselves totally to the Lord in the service of his Church.

The consecrated life is a call to humble service within an exalted vocation: by belonging entirely to God, you belong entirely to your brothers and sisters. As such, your lives encourage many, and your lives challenge many others to take a position regarding Jesus – a Jesus who is not a remote figure from a long past history, but a living person, a person with whom one can have an intimate friendship, a friendship that has inspired you to follow him without compromise.

It is no secret that recent years have been challenging times for most religious communities. And none of you have lived in some bubble protected from these challenges. Yet, you have lived through them; and you have done so with perseverance, commitment, fidelity and with the unique charism of your congregations.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, “...the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it ‘manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling’ and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse (VC 3). 

This Sunday’s Gospel is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – which is like the Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God. As vowed religious you are both salt and light. Your lives give the entire Christian community a unique witness to the implication of our own baptismal call to holiness.

In the world, we see people who are concerned with their own autonomy, people jealous of their freedom, people fearful of losing their independence. In such a world, as religious, you are – and you must be – signs of contradiction. Your existence – in the world but not of the world – points to the possibility of a different way of fulfillment of one’s life, “a way where God is the goal, his Word the light, and his will the guide, where consecrated persons move along peacefully in the certainty of being sustained by the hands of a Father who welcomes and provides, where they are accompanied by brothers and sisters, moved by the same Spirit, who wants to and knows how to satisfy the desires and longings sown by the Father in the heart of each one.”

For too many of us, our Catholic faith is seen as an imposition on our autonomy, as a limitation to our freedom. The demands of discipleship are seen as merely burdens to be put up with. And that’s a terrible way to look at the treasure which is our Catholic faith. And, indeed, a Catholic faith seen as just a collection of dos and don’ts that we selectively choose to follow or not will fail to convert others, much less ourselves.

The Church is reformed and renewed not by rearranging furniture or adapting to one or other new fad or style. The Church is reformed and renewed by changing hearts. We must re-propose the high of ordinary Christian living to all the faithful. The Church does not emit its own light but like the moon that reflects the light of the sun in the darkness of night, the Church in each of her members must be light to the world. We must season the world with the salt of the Gospel. As Pope John Paul II reminded us – if we are all called to holiness by virtue of our baptism (and we are), it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a sentimental religiosity.

To our jubilarians, we say “congratulations” – and “thank you.” You have shown us that to be a Christian is not a burden – but a gift, a gift that you have shared with joy and fidelity with all of us.