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Let us be guided by reason, not fear

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. John Vianney College Seminary on St. Patrick's feast day

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily March 17, 2020, while celebrating Mass with the seminarians and staff at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.

This is a certainly unique moment for us — in our world, in our nation, and in our church. The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our world – and our lives. Much like in the aftermath of 9/11 (which for most of you is ancient history), we feel like the world has changed but we don’t know yet what the “new normal” will be.

But whatever challenges we may face — and we pray that our greatest challenge will be only how to cope with some boredom and perhaps cabin fever because of the need for some “social distancing.” But we do well to reflect prayerfully on the words of Peter in today’s first reading:

“Be serious and sober-minded
so that you will be able to pray.”

I don’t mean in any way to downplay the gravity of this health crisis — but we must be guided by reason and not fear.

Duc in altum” — put out into the deep, Jesus tells Peter. What must guide us as men of faith is our trust in the Lord. We need to maintain our composure — I think that’s what “being serious and sober-minded” means. Otherwise, we won’t be able to pray — and prayer is always a dialog — a conversation between ourselves and the Lord.

Being scared is not conducive to prayer — it is destructive of prayer. If we allow fear to overtake us, we fail in the virtue of hope. And only people who have hope pray.

We can pray because we have our hope anchored in Jesus Christ — the hope that does not disappoint. “Be not afraid,” Jesus tells Peter in the Gospel. And he tells us that every day —as we face the challenges of responding to his call in various ways and under various circumstances.

As a people of faith, we trust in the power of prayer and in the providence of our loving God; as a people of hope, we know that God will never abandon us; as a people charity, despite our own fears and anxieties, we must stand in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are infected or affected by this pandemic.

In Sunday’s Gospel, we encountered the touching story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan woman was victim of a type “social distancing.” Her being a Samaritan, a woman and a sinner” caused people to put distance between themselves and her. In the world that surrounds us we know that many people are like the Samaritan woman, people that are thirsting for love. In their loneliness and isolation, they are thirsting to belong and thirsting to know the meaning and purpose of their lives.

Isn’t this why we are in this seminary discerning a vocation to the priesthood, to become “fishers” of those who like the Samaritan woman might think that they made such a mess of their lives that God wouldn’t or couldn’t love them?

Our Lent has become for us a true desert experience as we necessarily impose on ourselves some “social distancing.” But let us be guided by reason and not by fear. St. John tells us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...” (1 John 4:18)

Lent recalls Jesus' fasting in the desert; but it also harkens back to the Exodus experience of the Hebrews. Lent calls us to a personal exodus, a going out of ourselves and our preoccupations with the petty things that sometimes lead us, like the Israelites, to grumble against God.

Again, listen to Peter in today’s first reading: “Let your love for one another be intense,because love covers a multitude of sins.Be hospitable to one another without complaining.”

With the disruption that the coronavirus has brought and will bring to our lives, we too may be tempted to grumble — and perhaps not present our best selves to our brothers.

As Jesus bridged the distance between himself and the Samaritan woman, we pray that even while we maintain some social distance physically in these days, Jesus will help us bridge any spiritual distances between ourselves and him or among ourselves.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Patrick, the apostle to Ireland. And the final words of today’s first reading, really are a beautiful description of who Patrick was — and who we should aspire to be as priests who are truly “missionary disciples.” Peter writes: “Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies,so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”

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