PERFECT CHARITY IN UNION WITH AND WITNESS TO CHRIST
Homily for Mass for Consecrated Life
4th Sunday of Easter, Year “B”
April 26, 2015; St. Mary’s Cathedral
We are all grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for declaring this Year for Consecrated Life. As we joyfully come together today to honor the consecrated religious women and men in our Archdiocese, we do so already anticipating the Jubilee Year of Mercy that will begin on December eighth.
The Legacy of Consecrated Life in San Francisco
That a year of celebration of God’s mercy should follow this year devoted to honoring and praying for our religious could not be more appropriate here in our corner of the world. Religious life has been at the heart of this Archdiocese throughout our entire history. It was Franciscan friars who first preached the Gospel here and established the mission from which our city takes its name. Our first Archbishop, Joseph Sadoc Alemany, was a Dominican. The first Catholic schools, colleges, hospitals, and orphanages were begun by women and men religious.
In the pioneer days, San Francisco was really “the ends of the earth” to those devoted sisters, brothers and priests who left everything dear to them – home, family, country – to carry out the great commission of the risen Christ. The journey to this remote outpost was long and arduous, and some of them even died on the way. Many would never see their families again. In imitation of Christ, the Good Shepherd, these heroic women and men laid down their lives for others.
And you, my dear religious, continue to do so today, in ways both old and new. We are blessed to have communities of contemplative sisters, who bear witness to the reality that God is “the one thing necessary”. Many others of you have carried on the work of your communities in education, health care, and service to the poor. You have met new challenges with courage and imagination: the scourge of HIV/AIDs, the needs of new immigrants among us, opposition to the horrors of human trafficking and caring for its victims, the need to reverse the harmful exploitation of the environment. Pope Francis has described the Church as a field hospital, and you religious are always on the spot where the battle rages most fiercely. You embody what the Holy Father says in his decree calling for the Jubilee Year of Mercy:
The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which [God] reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.
The Motivation and Witness of Consecrated Life
This city and the entire Bay Area have benefitted enormously from this face of God’s mercy, translated into concrete reality by the services provided by consecrated religious. This would be a very different place, and a much sadder place, without you. However, as crucial as this service is, ultimately it is not what religious women and men do but why you do it that really makes the difference: your very presence is the greatest gift you offer, because of your consecration to Jesus Christ and the prayer and witness you give. Here is how the Second Vatican Council expressed the “why” of religious life:
Let those who make profession of the evangelical counsels seek and love above all else God who has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10) and let them strive to foster in all circumstances a life hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col. 3:3). This love of God both excites and energizes that love of one’s neighbor which contributes to the salvation of the world and the building up of the Church. This love, in addition, quickens and directs the actual practice of the evangelical counsels. [Perfectae caritatis, #6]
Your greatest contribution is your consecration. Many people admire what you do, but they are puzzled, or even scandalized, by why you do it – as disciples of Jesus Christ, the stone rejected by the builders that has become the foundation stone of your lives. There will always be something mysterious about religious life, especially for those whose horizons are defined by this present world. Your works of mercy will be admired, but a life of freely-chosen poverty, chastity and obedience seems incomprehensible to many people.
The heart of your vocation is simply an intensive living out of your union with Christ which was brought about in baptism, which we celebrate in the Church above all during the Easter season. Your relationship to Jesus Christ is profoundly personal but it is also ecclesial – lived out, as every vocation is, within Christ’s body, the Church. May many of our people, above all the young, be inspired by the joyful gift of your lives in service to God and others so that they, too, will experience the exhilaration of leaving all things to follow Christ!
We began the Easter season with the blessing of baptismal water and the renewal of our baptismal promises. The various ways of living out that baptismal faith are like the colors of a prism: the brilliant white light of the crucified and risen Christ is broken up into the whole spectrum of colors in the lives of his followers. You who have answered God’s call to enter religious life reflect with vivid brilliance the contours of a life given over entirely to Christ. Whatever practical good has been done, is being done, and will be done by religious men and women in the Archdiocese (and again, that in itself is remarkable), your greatest contribution remains the witness of your consecrated life. Christ may be the stone rejected by some and misunderstood by others, but by your charity, your joy, your fidelity you show what it means to make him the foundation stone of life.
We are particularly happy to honor those celebrating a jubilee of their religious consecration today. They are marking milestones in their journey with Christ: 25, 35, 40, 50, 60, 70 and even 75 years of religious consecration, representing a cumulative 1,765 years of union with and witness to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ. My dear sisters and brothers, you are the living sign that is the legacy of consecrated life in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
All of you, though, who follow Christ in the evangelical counsels do what you do for God’s glory, not for human praise. And we cannot thank you enough for what you have given, and are giving, to our local Church by the self-offering of love you have made in responding to the Lord’s call to the consecrated life. But we can try. May I ask the jubilarians to please stand. I ask you all please to join me in showing a sign of love and appreciation to these brothers and sisters of ours, and to all of the religious sisters, brothers, and priests in our Archdiocese. [applause]