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Your task: to help people encounter the living Christ

Archbishop Wenski's homily at 2019 Catechetical Conference

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the opening Mass of the 2019 archdiocesan Catechetical Conference, held Nov. 2, 2019, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport Hotel and Convention Center. The Catechetical Conference brings together catechists and teachers from throughout the Archdiocese of Miami for a day of talks and workshops led by national and local speakers.

“Family: be who you are!” These words, or similar words, were addressed to families by Pope Saint John Paul II in his exhortation, Familiaris Consortio. “Families become what you are,” he said. At the beginning of this century, in the Year 2000, he also addressed the Universal Church saying: “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the New Millennium: if you become who you are you will set the world on fire.”

As catechists, you accompany the families of our parishes to do just that: to be who they are by the grace of God. As Christians, through the Sacraments of Initiation – baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist – we become children of God, members of the Body of Christ; citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Or as when St. Paul wrote letters to various Christian communities, he would simply address them as “the saints” in Ephesus, or “the saints” in Corinth. In other words, to be or to become who we are, is to be the saints we have become in Christ through the Easter sacraments. As last Sunday’s post Communion prayer put it “...what we now celebrate in signs we may one day possess in truth.”

“Family: be who you are!” As catechists, you accompany the families of our parishes so that they may do just that.

Yesterday, we celebrated All Saints Day. As members of the Church Militant – still fighting the good fight of faith in the combat of our daily lives – we honored those of our number who in heaven form the Church Triumphant, already enjoying the beatitude, or happiness, of Eternal Life. Today, All Souls Day, we pray for the Church Suffering – that is, the faithful departed who will soon enter heaven but are now experiencing the final purgation or purification that we Catholics call purgatory.

Yesterday’s Gospel was taken from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus pronounced that the peacemakers, the meek, those seeking after justice were “blessed.” The listing of these beatitudes was fitting for All Saints Day – for “beatitude” is the outcome of a life dedicated to God. And this is what we want for those we catechize: beatitude – or the happiness of Eternal Life.

In this sense, the best commentary on the beatitudes is the life of Jesus himself. Poverty, hunger, tears, exclusion, scorn describe what happens when the Kingdom arrives in a broken world. In accepting his message and its demands, we will bear the mark of the Cross but, at the same time, we do not count on our own resources. We trust in God’s grace. Trusting in his grace we embrace the task of Christian living with humility but also with enthusiasm.

I thank you for accepting the task of catechesis. To teach “religion” is a daunting task today: accompanying children and their families as catechists is a beautiful mission. But when there are so many distractions – distractions that can mute or even erase the religious sense of people today – catechesis might seem to be “Mission Impossible.” Don’t be discouraged; and don’t give up. Handing on the faith to a new generation of believers is not easy – and maybe it never was – but it is too important for us to surrender. For there is nothing more important for us – and for those whom we teach the faith – than to know Jesus Christ. As St. Augustine once said almost 1700 years ago: Our hearts were made for God; and our hearts will never rest until they rest in God.

Everybody wants to be happy (or to put it in religious terms, to know beatitude, blessedness). A baby’s cries in the middle of the night are cries for that which will make him happy. From the time we are born we want to be happy. What’s the path to happiness? How should we build this project we call “our life”?

We live in a consumer society where the answer is simply: the one who dies with the most toys wins. People are valued for what they have – and not for who they are. And yet people, though they have many things, they have no joy – they lack the joy that gives meaning to life. That joy is the fruit of a relationship with Christ. For God didn’t just make us for us just to die one day. He made us for himself!

The 19th century spiritual writer, Leon Bloy, wrote: “Stand still, and look deep into the motivations of life. Are they such that true foundations of sanctity can be built on them? For truly we have been born to be saints – lovers of Love who died for us! There is but one tragedy: not to be a saint.”

That is the task – and really the gift – you have received as catechists. Not just to teach prayers or some doctrines but to make saints by helping people to encounter the living Christ – a Christ you know is alive because he is alive in you. And if Christ is alive in you, if you are joyful in your faith, then people will be drawn to Christ as if by contagion.

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