Saturday, May 18, 2019
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the vigil Mass for the fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2019, at St. Edward Church, Pembroke Pines, on the occasion of the burning of their church mortgage.
Jesus teaches us that love is not just a sentiment, an emotion; rather it is a decision, an action. And so, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his apostles: Love one another as I have loved you. Love is at the heart of the Christian message. But even in the Old Testament, we were told to “love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves.” In fact, one could argue that the whole message of the Bible could be summarized in just one word, Love.
Once St. Augustine – one of the greatest preachers of the Church – told his people: Love – and then do what you want. Of course, St. Augustine also wanted to make sure the people understood want he meant by the word “Love.” For Augustine knew that if people understood “love” correctly then they would want what is right, what is just, what is pleasing to God, what is for the good of one's neighbor.
Of course, that is the problem. Too many people have the word “love” on their lips, but they don't have it in their hearts. What would happen if we pick five people from this congregation – and sent them out to take a poll (polls are popular these days)? Say we ask them to interview five other people and ask them what love is for them. I think we would get 25 different answers – everybody would tell us what love is according to their own opinions or ideas. That’s why Jesus is careful to say, in giving us his New Commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
As I said, for Jesus love is not just an emotion or a feeling but a decision, an action. The New Commandment is not just that we “feel” like Jesus; but that we do as Jesus did.
When you love someone, you want to embrace them. Jesus opens his arms on the cross – to embrace all of humanity. From the cross, he teaches us that love is commitment, that love is sacrifice. As nails are driven into his hands, he cries out: Father, forgive them – for they do not know what they do. From the cross, Jesus teaches us that love is forgiveness.
Sometimes, we call ourselves “practicing Catholics” — and that's because this life is our one-time chance to “practice” at being Catholic until we get it right. And, following the Lord, being a good Catholic does require a lot of practice. You don't master a new language until you learn the rules of grammar and practice, practice, practice. You don't become good at a sport or at a trade or profession without lots of practice. And the Christian life is no different. So, don't be discouraged and keep at it. Virtue is only acquired by practice – because what is virtue, but good habits learned, and bad habits unlearned.
Loving others the way that Jesus loves them requires a lot of practice. We all walk together with the Lord in that fellowship of his disciples we call the Catholic Church. Over the years, thousands of people here at St. Edward’s have met Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament and within this dynamic community – so Spirit-filled because of the ministry of Father Michael Eivers, your founding pastor, and great priests that have served you and are serving you here. You have discovered that those who journeyed with you are your brothers and sisters. St. Edward’s has allowed you to experience that you are loved by God and in turn can love your neighbor as yourselves – and, as Jesus loves them.
Our Catholic faith is never primarily or only “between Jesus and me.” Catholicism is a communal religion – we are saved as members of a family, a community, a body – the Body of Christ. In the life of the Catholic community, in his Word, in his sacraments, in prayer, we meet the Living Lord who continues to give us his peace.
As you might have already noticed this Church is a big Church – she is made of many people – different languages, different cultures, different life experiences but we share one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And despite all our diversity and possible differences, we all have one thing in common: We are all sinners saved by the blood of Christ shed for us on Calvary. As I once saw on a bumper sticker, “Christians are not perfect just forgiven.” Again, if it is true (and it is), every saint has a past; then it is also true that every sinner has a future – a future of hope in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
You remember the story of the disciples of Emmaus. And though Jesus may not appear to us as he did to those first disciples along the road to Emmaus, he is as much with us here on Pines Boulevard, as he was with them, for like them we “recognize him in the breaking of the bread.”
Congratulations on paying off your mortgage. Carrying debt can be a big burden. So it’s a great feeling not to have any debt. Enjoy the feeling. But, as I said, our faith is not just about feelings; it is about commitment, about discipleship; it is about doing. And, there’s a lot to do here at St. Edwards – so, don’t think that going forth you can give any less. Actually, after all these years, I think, you need a new church and some space for some more activities.
In any case, to be a Christian, to follow Christ in the fellowship that is our Catholic Church, is not a burden but a gift, and to have encountered Jesus Christ along the way is our greatest joy.