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Feed them, teach them, lead them gently

Archbishop Wenski's homily at installation of St. Matthew pastor

Archbishop Thomas Wenski delivered this homily at the installation of Father Robert Ayala as pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Hallandale, Nov. 8, 2018.

In these months Father Roberto Ayala has been with you, he has learned much – and he is willing and able to learn more – as he continues to dedicate himself to you as a zealous pastor of souls. He has already come to love this community and wishes to continue to serve you. And he has no agenda other than to proclaim to you Christ – crucified and yet risen from the dead.

I am happy then to formally install him today as your pastor. We pray that God, who called him to the priesthood and in doing so, began a very good work in him, will bring that work, through his service in this parish, to fulfillment.

Christianity isn’t, as some of our critics have suggested over the centuries, “a pie in the sky” religion, a way of escaping the difficulties and problems of daily life. Our worship of God does not remove us from the world but rather it inserts us in the world in a new way. Yes, as Church, we are called not to be of the world – yet we remain in the world, not to be against the world but to be for it. Christ calls us to be salt – to give flavor to the world; Christ calls us to be leaven – to transform the world. 

This requires, on our part, hard work, for one cannot transform the world without transforming first oneself. And this transformation comes about through our keeping the commandments. Last Sunday, Jesus reminded us that the teachings of “all the law and the prophets” are summarized in that one commandment: Love God and Love your neighbor.

For the Christian, love is much more than just a sentiment or some passing emotion. For the Christian, love is not about “feeling good” but rather it is about “doing good.” For a pastor, doing good requires that he seek to grow in the exercise of what St. John Paul II called “pastoral charity.” Founded on the Eucharist, pastoral charity leads us to give of our time generously – even when people demand of us our time in inopportune moments; pastoral charity demands a zeal for souls so that no one is considered beyond reach, beyond hope. The lost soul has more value than that lost coin the Gospel parable speaks about. We cannot pursue that lost soul with less energy than the woman who swept her house until she found the coin. Pastoral charity looks out for the marginalized, the neglected, the lonely: in other words, the lost sheep. A true pastor feeds the sheep – and doesn’t seek to feed off the sheep.

Charity or love unites, charity or love heals, charity or love reconciles. Sin divides, sin hurts, and sin engenders conflict. Oftentimes, when we come across conflict and division we misidentify its causes. In the Body of Christ, we are many members – and each member is different. And when we observe division or conflict we might think that the reason is because of the difference. But that is to misplace the blame. It is almost blasphemous – because it is as if we are blaming God who created each one of us with his or her differences. In the Church, there is great diversity – of language, of cultures, of races; we are male and female, we are rich and poor, learned and unlearned. And in God’s plan, this diversity is not meant to divide the Church but to enrich the Church – for God has made us in such wisdom that there is no one too poor that he does not have something to give, nor is there anyone so rich that he cannot receive. This parish is a diverse parish – and growing more diverse each week. We not only have a growing Hispanic population; but many more young families with kids as well. Just remember, diversity is supposed to enrich us; only sin divides. My prayer is that St. Matthew – under the leadership of your pastor – be always a reconciled and reconciling community.

For Jesus showed us on Easter Sunday: Love is more powerful than sin – and he and his love are stronger than anything that would divide us. 

Father Ayala, as your pastor, is to be a faithful steward of you, the people entrusted to his care, and he is to dispense to you – with single minded and wholehearted devotion – the means of grace by preaching the Word and administering the sacraments. 

Father Ayala, love your people with a shepherd’s heart and feed them, lead them to Christ and teach them gently – by word and example. 

Dear people of St. Matthew, Father Ayala is entrusted with the “care of your souls,” what in Latin is called the “cura animarum.” He is to carry out his duties “not with a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control” (cf. Timothy)

This care of souls is a threefold task: first, he must teach you faithfully what the Church believes and teaches. He doesn’t speak in his own name but in the name of Christ; second, he must lead you, like the Good Shepherd, to safe pastures and third, he must bring you to greater holiness. In the confessional, in the Eucharist, in the anointing at Baptism, Confirmation and in the care of the sick, Father Ayala will strengthen you in the grace that will have you grow in holiness before the Lord.

Father Ayala I am sure, will serve you well; and he will serve not by calling attention to himself but by calling attention to the Lord; he will serve not by seeking his own interests but by putting first God’s will and his people’s good and well-being; he will serve not by trying to please everyone – for one who tries to do that usually ends up pleasing no one; rather he will serve you best by trying to please the Lord in all things.

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