Homily for the Year of Faith
October 11, 2012
San Fernando Cathedral
Jesus raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed to his Father. He prayed for us. He prayed for the world: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me…. Consecrate them in the truth…that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 7:11,23).
Jesus called his disciples to follow him so that they would come to know him. The twelve disciples would spend two or three years with Jesus, traveling with him, listening to him as he taught, witnessing the miracles he performed, coming to understand the Kingdom of God which he was inaugurating in his very person. As the disciples came to know Jesus, they came to trust him, and to love him.
As we begin this Year of Faith, we are called to fall in love again with Jesus Christ. “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus would ask. Today he asks, “Oscar, do you love me? Marta, me amas? Tony, do you love me?
When Pope Benedict released his first encyclical, much of the public was surprised that an intellectual of the stature of Joseph Ratzinger, sometimes referred to in the press as “God’s Rottweiler,” would open his pontificate with a document on love. Benedict wonderfully disarmed the world, and reminded us of the basic reasons for our faith.
When Benedict published his second encyclical on “hope,” the public quickly surmised that he would publish a third on “faith.” The Holy Father responded “no.” He would not dedicate an encyclical on faith; rather, he has given us a program to live and deepen our faith – the Year of Faith, which we inaugurate this evening.
The three theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – are intimately linked. The greatest, however, is love. Faith and hope bring us to love. When we die and meet our Lord in eternity, faith and hope are no longer necessary, only love, which endures forever. For God is love.
But as we journey in this world, “we walk by faith” (II Cor 5:7).
Faith is personal. Pope Benedict says, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus caritas est 1). Faith is personal because we have encountered a person, the person of Jesus Christ, through baptism. The disciples encountered Jesus Christ, and over time they came to know him, to love him, and to believe in him more deeply.
Faith is also personal to me: “I believe.” Faith is a gift from God, a gift which I have accepted, assimilated in my life, and claim. “I believe.” In this Year of Faith, we are invited to deepen our personal faith. To come into contact ever more meaningfully with the Person of Jesus Christ, who gives our life a “new horizon,” and who, in the Holy Spirit, sets us on a course to union with God the Father.
Faith is ecclesial. I do not believe on my own, in isolation. Rather, “we believe.” In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict says that the “Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian. It is the Church that is the primary subject of faith. In the faith of the Christian community, each individual receives baptism, an effective sign of entry into the people of believers in order to obtain salvation.” He continues, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘we believe’” (PF 10; CCC 167).
As an ecclesial faith we are reminded that, incorporated into the Body of Christ through baptism, we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. And thus, as St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you’” (I Cor 12:21). As one Body of Christ, we need each other and Jesus, the Head, calls us to love one another. This is not just a suggestion; it’s a commandment: “love one another” (Jn 13:34).
Our faith is ecclesial. It is “communitarian,” as Pope Benedict notes. In this Year of Faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council as well as the 20th anniversary of the publishing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict invites us to use the documents of Vatican II and Catechism to deepen our appreciation for the content of our faith. Faith is a verb: it is the action by which we believe. Faith is also a noun: it is the content of what we believe. The Year of Faith is wonderful time to revisit these documents, and to rediscover the great gift they are to the Church, to the world, and to us as individual believers.
Faith is witnessed. Faith must be lived and shared. In announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict notes that much of the world is undergoing a crisis of faith. He recalls the homily he preached at the inauguration of his pontificate, in which he said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance” (PF 2). He likens this spiritual crisis to the dryness and lifelessness of a desert. He notes that the effects of secularism in modern society have taken a toll on us. In cultures that were once Christian, not only can we no longer presume Christianity, but there is open hostility toward it! He says, “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (PF 2).
As Christians we do not roll over and accept defeat – not because we trust in ourselves or our own abilities. Rather we trust in Christ, who assured his disciples: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33). Salt cannot lose its flavor nor the light be kept hidden! We are the Church. Evangelization is what we do.
En este Año de Fe, la iglesia nos llama a ser nuevos evangelizadores en un mundo profundamente secularizado – un mundo que ya no acepta la iglesia por varios motivos, que ya no acepta a Cristo, porque su rostro no se ha dado a conocer en su pureza, en su habilidad de traer libertad verdadera al ser humano. En este Año de Fe, comprometámonos a ser testigos de la belleza de Dios, del amor del Espíritu Santo, de la verdad de Jesucristo, y de la comunidad reconciliadora que es la Iglesia.
It is most timely that the Synod for the New Evangelization is taking place exactly this month. We will regroup as a Church and reflect on ways in which we can bring the same Gospel of Jesus Christ in new ways, with new methods, and with renewed energy to a world hungry for truth, thirsty for love, yearning for salvation. In this Year of Faith, we will reflect on what it means to be “new evangelizers” in a very new world – but a world that Jesus Christ has already redeemed.
“How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?,” asks St. Paul, in today’s first reading. “And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can they preach unless they have been sent” (cf. Rom 10:9-18). We must preach with our words and with our lives a message ever ancient and always new, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we arrived at “Cuatro Vientos,” a (former) military airport we immediately noticed two things. First, there was a haze of dust hovering above the pilgrims. The pilgrims were camping out on sand, and any movement caused a cloud of dust, and with over a million young pilgrims camping out, the dust hovered eternally – almost like the Holy Spirit hovering over the Jordan at the Baptism of Jesus.
The second thing we noticed right off was an ominous looking rain cloud hovering much higher, above the dust. Although dark and menacing, we did not exactly wish it away, as it graciously blocked the full force of the sun, reducing the heat by some 15-20 degrees. The cloud remained with us. It even seemed to sway to the music with us, at times fading away, then returning – like the ebb and flow of the ocean.
Speaking of oceans, as I looked out into the crowd of pilgrims, it indeed was a veritable ocean of Christians!
After a waiting a couple of hours that passed by joyfully and thus quickly, the Holy Father appeared and we began the prayer vigil. At the reading of the Gospel, a loud thunder clapped, as if affirming the message. And then the heavens opened. The gusts of wind were so strong that the Holy Father’s zucchetto blew off, and the large pilgrim cross placed ceremoniously on the platform was blown over – onto the bishops, no less!
An organized mayhem ensued, as volunteers scrambled to secure the pilgrim cross, others quickly passed out umbrellas to the bishops, and screams were heard from the ocean of pilgrims – not sure if they were out of delight or of terror, because of the gusting wind, the pouring rain, the descending darkness, and the felled cross. The Holy Father hesitantly continued with his homily, but realizing he could not be heard, he paused.
“Be not afraid, it is I!” These words did not need to be proclaimed for them to be present on everyone’s mind. The disciples fearful in the dark of night on the rough waters of the sea, battered about by the winds that were against them. Jesus hovers and walks on the waters, “It is I!” Do not be afraid.
The Blessed Sacrament was eventually brought out as the rain died, and wind mellowed. It was placed in the monstrance and the ocean of fear turned to an ocean of adoration. Quietly trusting and adoring the One who loves us, and whom we love. It was indeed the Lord, who was hovering above the dust, above the cloud, and came to be with us, and calmed the storm.
The WYD tradition has developed that on Friday the Stations of the Cross are prayed together with the Holy Father. In this tradition Pope Benedict presided at the simple but impressive Via Crucis last night.
“Tronos” – this the Spanish name given to the life size, magnificent sacred sculptures on decorated platforms that will be carried during the Via Crucis this evening. This tradition comes primarily from the Andalucia region of Spain, in the south. While in Malaga, we visited a museum of the tronos. It was there that we learned that these beautifully sculpted images of Mary and Jesus (and supporting characters) are sponsored by Cofradias. Cofradias are Catholic lay associations dedicated to works of charity. In fact, Caritas Spain works intimately with the cofradias, coordinating efforts, so that efforts are not duplicated unnecessarily. I was so glad to know that these magnificent pius images which are processed through the streets during Holy Week are intimately connected to the social work of the Church!
With some of the larger tronos, some 300 men will carry them, all perfectly sychronized such that it appears that Jesus and Mary themselves are processing through the streets. The images have intricate details, and so should our works of love and charity.
The American bishops were the first of the some 800 bishops to arrive at Plaza de Cibeles for the reception of Pope Benedict. The air was electric. The music was loud and contagious, and made everything in that part of the city vibrate with joy and anticipation.
The young pilgrims carried flags from every nation that participated. The flags waved and swayed, as did the crowd. The sky was blue and our spirits were bright.
Bishops continued to file in to the section reserved for us, in front of the stage from which the Holy Father would speak. I saw bishops from Africa, from Canada, Asia, and Italy – from all over the world. I saw one who had been my professor in seminary and another who had taught me in Rome. Cardinal Dziwisz, who had been the personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, and his closest friend, was present.
We were there two hours early – “for security reasons,” we were told. In our house, black cassocks, we slowly baked in the 90+ degree sun. Nonetheless, the volunteers were most gracious, as they handed us bottled water, umbrellas to shade us from the sun, and even hats to keep the sun off our brows and shoulders. This time allowed me to converse with the Nigerian and Congolese bishops sitting next to me and behind me. We enjoyed spirited conversations.
Once the Holy Father began his trek across the city to Cibeles Square, we watched on the large screens the motorcade and “pope-mobile” make their way through the avenues of Madrid. When he finally made it into the square, the crowd was electric, and the pope mobile made its way through the cheering crowd, the pope waving at the young Catholics.
Young representatives from each of the continents welcomed the Holy Father with gifts and gracious words. The Holy Father welcomed the pilgrims in seven different languages. We then prayed together, listened to the Scriptures, and Pope Benedict preached to the young pilgrims about allowing Christ be a friend and guide in their lives.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, the WYD pilgrims participate in a catechesis that is imparted by one of the many bishops. The catechesis is organized into language groups. Our San Antonio pilgrims are parttaking at a parish just down the street from their lodging, a parish called “Parroquia San Antonio.” Is that great or what? While down in Malaga our host parish was “San Fernando,” as in our very own catedral in San Antonio.
I have been most impressed with the catecheses. The bishop presenters have done a wonderful job, and the pilgrims have been troopers! Even though the church was warm with little ventilation, the young people were attentive and participated well.
Bishop Anthony Fisher, the former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, and organizer of WYD 2008, was the presenter Wednesday. He treated the big questions of faith and the meaning of life. A very good presenter. After the bishop’s presentation (about 45 minutes), time is given for questions from the pilgrims. I was most impressed with the profound questions asked by the young pilgrims.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, was the presenter Thursday. He spoke about the importance of community, of the Eucharist, and of customs. He quoted a rabbi at one point who said, “If we keep the Sabboth, the Sabboth will keep us.” He used the same idea with regard to keeping the Lord’s Day (Sunday) holy.
How heartening it was to see some 1,000 young people singing, praising with energy to raise the roof, and then a moment later to keep utter silence and reverence as we worshiped and celebrated the Eucharist together. I agree with Bishop Fisher who said that WYD is also about letting the young witness to the bishops and the wider church – a powerful witness that strengthens our faith! The bishops may have catechized the youth, but the youth witnessed the faith to us!
It was a tearful farewell yesterday morning from our hosts in Malaga. Friendships were created and relationships bonded in a relatively short period – surely because of the intensity of the experiences. I’m sure pilgrims will remember well, and likely keep in touch with, their host families. Saying goodbye was difficult. I remember St. Paul having difficulty saying goodbye to newly forged friends in Christ.
After a long, but spirited ride on two buses, we arrived in Madrid last evening. Just before arriving, I asked the pilgrims to remember some of the important events back home, the installation of the new rector at Assumption Seminary and the ordination of a transitional deacon. We prayed for Fr. Jeff Pehl, who was installed as rector of Assumption Seminary yesterday morning in San Antonio. We also prayed for Deacon Oscar Tello, who last evening was ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Gustavo. There was special pride in Deacon Tello, as we have pilgrims from St. John Berchmans Parish, where Deacon Tello served as a seminarian this past year.
The pilgrims settled in to their accommodations. I was whisked off to the accommodations for the bishops. I hear some 800 bishops are expected. We celebrate the opening Mass tonight. Off to visit the Prado.