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Religious life: pilgrimage of faith and consecration

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass for religious jubilarians

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homliy at aMass honoring men and women religious marking milestone anniversaries of their religious professions. The Mass was celebrated Jan. 20, 2018 at St. Mary Cathedral.

Today we welcome our jubilarians and all our consecrated religious. Our liturgy this evening anticipates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord that is celebrated on February 2nd, which St. John Paul II in 1997 designated as the World Day for Consecrated Life. Your consecrated life is a gift to the Church that makes manifest the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse. For, as vowed religious, you give the entire Christian community a unique witness to the implications of our own baptismal call to holiness.

The Post-Conciliar period has been a time of great change and no little turmoil for religious life. And through it all, within their charism of their particular religious family, our jubliarians have given us a beautiful witness of perseverance, commitment and fidelity. Thank you.

The first recorded words of Jesus according to St. Mark in today’s Gospel reading were: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In a few weeks, we will hear these words again when on Ash Wednesday we begin our Lenten Fast.

Believe in the Gospel the “good news.” But even in the pulpit sometimes we hear more about the “bad news” and not enough about the “good news.”

Yes, preachers do have to preach about what is right and what is wrong. (And this weekend, we cannot fail to mention how wrong abortion is. Monday marks the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Since then in this nation some 50 million babies have been killed in their mothers’ wombs.). But rather than curse the darkness, as Christians we are called to be a light to scatter the darkness. And that’s why we’re not simply “anti-abortion” as our detractors describe us; we are pro-life embracing a vision of the dignity of every human being, made in God’s own image and likeness, from conception to natural death.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These words are empowering; these words are life-giving for they suggest that we can become better than we are. We do not have to be victims of our sins or the sins of others but with the help of God’s grace (of course) we can become protagonists of a new future. This is “good news” this is the good news that Jesus announces to us and realizes for us. If it is true that every saint has a past, it is also true that in Christ every sinner has a future.

It is for that future the Kingdom of God that is at hand that Jesus called sinners and made them disciples and apostles. It is for that future that Jesus calls us as well. We are probably no better and no worse than those first disciples. But in calling us to that future, Jesus also calls us to responsibility. Repent, he tells us. In other words, he is saying: you think the world is in pretty bad shape, then be the change you want to see in the world. You think that the parish is in pretty bad shape, then be the change you want to see in the parish. A better world, a better parish, a better community, a better family begins when we begin to change our own personal life. You change the world by first changing yourself. Make something good out of yourself. Then, you can help others make something good out of themselves.

“Repent” is Jesus’ invitation to each one of us to “man-up” and to take responsibility for ourselves. Jesus called the disciples as he calls each of us as we are. He loves us the way we are warts and all. So the Church welcomes everyone: come as you are, the Church says. But, once in the Church, fed by Word and Sacrament, we cannot leave as we were. “Repent,” leave your nets behind. As followers of Christ, our task is not to change the Gospel but to allow the Gospel to change us. To follow Christ is to live in his Way, Truth and Life and in this way care for others for we are our brother’s keeper.

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.”

Your life’s journeys as vowed religious are like that of the Virgin Mary’s own journey: They are pilgrimages of faith and consecration. A pilgrim of necessity cannot be weighed down by extra baggage. And for this reason, the evangelical counsels help you mirror in your own lives Mary’s free response to the Lord’s invitation. Poverty, chastity and obedience lived according to the spirit of your own congregation’s rule of life are not simply renunciations; rather the vows have freed you for the journey. May her prayers and her example continue to encourage you on your journeys.

They say that life is God’s gift to us what we do with it is our gift to God. It is also our gift to those around us. Thank you, consecrated religious priests, brothers and sisters, for what you have done with God’s gift.

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