Immaculata Awards

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On Sunday, December 4 at Vespers in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, I was happy to present the Immaculata Medallion, honoring the Blessed Mother, to outstanding parishioners for their voluntary efforts in their parish communities. Honorees came from 73 parishes in the Diocese. The following is the homily I preached on that occasion.

Welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the parish church for all in our diocese. This Cathedral is never more beautiful than when it is filled with dedicated and faith-filled members of this diocese who dedicate themselves in extraordinary ways to the mission of the Gospel. To our honored recipients, please know of my deep gratitude. To family and friends who accompany them please know that I share your joy and your pride. On this occasion, we eagerly follow the command Saint Paul offered us in our reading this afternoon. “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!” (Phil.4:4)

As many of you know, I had the privilege of being in Rome last week for what is known as the Ad Limina visit. Every five years the bishop is expected to go to Rome to visit the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul. During this time, he also meets with the Holy Father and with others who assist him in the service of governance of the universal Church. One of my meetings was at the Council of the Laity.  Together with other bishops from New York State I listened to descriptions of some new movements that are attractive to the laity and are having a profound influence on the growth of the Church in a number of countries. The unselfish efforts of dedicated lay men and women to promote the Gospel are a hopeful sign of God’s active presence in the Church.

As I walked through the city of Rome, I would stop often in a church I was passing by, to say a prayer and admire its unique beauty. Usually there would be a number of people in the darkened churches praying quietly or busily engaged in activities to enhance the church’s beauty or promote the work of the church. As I saw these “worker bees” going about their daily tasks my mind could not help but leap forward to this afternoon, to this wonderful event in which we are honoring men and women from 73 parishes in the diocese. I was reminded that in every parish of our diocese and, indeed, in every church in the world, there are men and women who dedicate hours of work each week to keep the faith alive and to hand it on to new generations — people whose love for the Church has been shown through their devotion to the Holy Father, to their diocese and to their parish.

Today we honor unsung heroes from our parishes and bestow this Immaculata Medallion during our 125th anniversary year, honoring Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of our Cathedral, our diocese and our nation. In honoring you, we remember Mary, the first disciple of the Lord.

Although we often associate May and October as months especially devoted to Mary, Advent is, in a particular way, “Mary’s season.” During this season, we celebrate Mary’s faith and humility. We hear her “yes” to Gabriel’s announcement that she will be the Mother of the long-awaited Messiah. We see her selflessness as she sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth. We listen as she proclaims the greatness of God and her own lowliness. We watch as she prepares for the birth of her son. And we know that her womb bears fruit because of her faith.

Christ lives in you, too, through your faith. Listen to the words of Saint Ambrose. “You also are blessed because you have heard and believed. A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges His works.  . . . Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith.” (Commentary on Luke by St. Ambrose) You bring Christ into the world not in the same way as Mary but just as certainly by your quiet and consistent witness to the Gospel of Christ.

We acknowledge your unselfish gift of time and talent to the mission of the Church within the context of Vespers, where each evening the beautiful Magnificat of Mary is sung or recited. Like Mary, you proclaim the greatness of the Lord, rejoice in His presence and rely upon His grace as you work to build up the Church.  “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. . . . Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world” (Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila). Through your words and actions, His Gospel is proclaimed.

During this Advent Season, a season close to Mary’s heart in many ways, we are happy to honor you. We pray that your efforts on behalf of your parish communities will bear increasing fruit. Know that I am grateful for all you have done and especially for who you are, men and women of deep faith and ardent love for Christ and His Church. I extend my prayerful congratulations and best wishes.

If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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