On Monday, June 17, I celebrated Mass at the annual Religious Jubilee at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville. The Religious Jubilee celebration is always a joyous occasion for me. It gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude to women and men religious for their witness to the Gospel and their service to God’s people. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. Please join me in a prayer of gratitude and praise for the jubilarians and the witness of their lives. Pray also that young men and women will answer the Lord’s invitation to follow Him in religious life.
“To follow Jesus is not a decision taken once and for all, it is a daily choice.” All of you, dear jubilarians, are living signs of Pope Francis’ words spoken on the 23rd World Day for Consecrated Life. Twenty-five, 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, each of you accepted the invitation to follow Jesus and imitate Him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels.
This is a joyous occasion! I am delighted when we gather for this annual celebration of fidelity to the “yes” spoken years ago and repeated often — even daily. Fidelity is a wonderful grace and one that the Church needs so badly today. Thank you for your faithfulness. Appropriately, the center of our celebration is the Eucharist, where nourished by God’s word and sacrament, we all receive the grace to be faithful to our vocation.
God’s word sheds light on the meaning of your consecrated life. “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). Salt and light are images used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, one of the main teachings of Jesus on discipleship. Salt had two purposes in the Middle East of the first century. Because of the lack of refrigeration, it was used to preserve food, especially meat, which would quickly spoil in the desert environment. Secondly, salt was used to enhance the flavor of food.
Consecrated life is a gift to the Church. Its members preserve and flavor the Body of Christ. Through your example, the joy of the Gospel is preserved in a society and culture that often rejects God, the inherent dignity of every person, selflessness, integrity, mercy, tolerance, honesty, respect, and love of the marginalized, the outcast and neglected. Through your witness, you influence the world for good, as salt has a positive influence on the flavor of the food it seasons. In the midst of strife, you are the peacemaker; in the midst of sorrow, you bind up wounds; where there is hatred, you bring love and forgiveness.
The analogy of light is a reminder that your good works can drive out the darkness of despair, ignorance, and fear. Through a kind word, a smile, and assistance to others in ways too numerous to count, you bring the light of the Gospel into your surroundings so that others may come to know the Lord — the source of your good works.
An answer of love to the call of love. I think this is a beautiful description of the exchange that takes place when God calls a person to the Consecrated Life. God took the initiative and invited you to “come and see and stay with Him” (Jn 1:39). You responded in love with the gift of yourself in imitation of Jesus’ gift of self to the Father.
Today’s first reading confirms this ongoing encounter of love. “When you call me… when you pray to me… when you look for me… when you seek me… I will listen to you and you will find me” (Jer 29:12-14). As you may know, Jeremiah’s words were addressed to the Jews who were being held in captivity in Babylon. They were hoping for a “quick solution” for their dilemma. Although deliverance from captivity would not come soon, Jeremiah tells the people, the Lord was with them. He was with them in the foreign land. He was with them in their loneliness and hardship. They could call upon Him and seek Him. “Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you says the Lord” (Jer 29:14).
In these days, when so many suffer from a variety of causes, when we experience a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and Consecrated Life, and when we advance in age and diminishment, I find strength — and I hope you do as well — in Jeremiah’s words: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope (Jer 29:11).
Quoting Pope Francis, Consecrated Life is a “summons for all of us to counter mediocrity: to counter the devaluation of our spiritual life, to counter the temptation to reduce God’s importance, to counter an accommodation to a comfortable and worldly life…. It is not about survival. It is about new life…. It is a living encounter with the Lord in his people. It is a call to the faithful obedience of daily life and to the unexpected surprises from the Spirit. It is a vision of what we need to embrace in order to experience joy: Jesus” (23rd World Day of Consecrated Life, 2/2/19).
Dear jubilarians, remember the past with gratitude, look to the future with hope and live the present with passion. Some of you are no longer actively engaged in service… but you remain actively engaged in living the Consecrated Life by your prayer and sacrifice. Prayer and sacrifice do not have boundaries. They are not confined to a particular place where we live and work. They soar above the limitations of place and embrace the needs of the universal Church.
“He will keep you firm to the end,” Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:8). Paul is speaking about an unwavering hope in God’s promises. He is reminding the Corinthians, and us as well, that God is steadfast and faithful. Fidelity — God’s and yours — this is what we celebrate this evening. Thank you for your years of fidelity to the “yes” spoken years ago and for your choice to repeat it daily.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.