Homily by Fr. Rick Wendell from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
August 8, 2011
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the first time I stood at this podium was the day the Lord called me to be a priest in a very powerful way. It was the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I stood up here with long hair and incredibly ugly pants made out of red and yellow flames. Lord knows why they picked me to do the readings. But in His own way the Lord made it known to me that He wanted me to be a priest, although I was reluctant to answer that call because of my own stubbornness and thick-headedness. Yet, in this place of grace where the veil between Heaven and earth seems somewhat thinner because of Our Lady’s presence, God’s message comes to us only to be shared with others. As we share this feast of St. Dominic – that he was in a time before paper. He was at the turn of the 1200s and he carried with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of Our Lord. These letters, which were written between the apostles and the churches, he had almost memorized because at that time the only thing it could have been carried in was something that was probably sheepskin, very expensive and hard to carry. Yet, that Word of God, living and true then as it was when first coming from the mouth of Our Lord and the apostles, and in the same way today from us, that Word is living and true. So Our Lady tells us to pick up our Scriptures and read them. Let them become part of us, that the Lord’s own words will instruct us, guide us, inspire us, comfort us, and in every way become a part of our very being.
Also, in the same way, when that Word of God, incarnate for us in the Blessed Sacrament, is received and lived by the very life of God, that we may share that life with others. Very few people come to Medjugorje called to pitch a tent and stay here as with the Transfiguration. But what we are required to do, once we come to the mountain and received God’s instruction, is then to go and spread that to the world. So St. Dominic took that completely to heart to preach Jesus and Him being crucified, to evangelize everyone. You don’t have to be ordained to do that, but you do have to have the love of God in your heart. If you have it there, it will come up upon your lips through the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that people will be able to receive it. You see, I don’t speak Slovakian. I don’t speak Polish. I don’t speak English probably very well, but we can communicate the love of God to one another. It is our witness, our lives lived according to the Gospel that are the strongest evidence of our faith in God and His existence. Our witness to others doesn’t require words, which is often ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi, evangelize, evangelize, evangelize – preach, preach, preach, and if necessary use words. But we are all called to be witnesses, as Our Lady said to Ivan about the youth and their role, that they are charged to carry this message, this Gospel to the world and evangelize. You are best suited to evangelize those that you are in closest contact with: your family, your friends, those you work with, those who are part of your faith community. You need to evangelize the fellow members of your school board. You need to evangelize the fellow members of your counsel – your mayor or representative. In every way and in every day – as it says – whether at home or away, whether at work or play, you are to be witnesses to Christ and not be afraid. Do not be afraid to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, that there is one true faith. There is salvation in no other name than Jesus.
We don’t have to be afraid that we are religious fanatics. I am guilty of being a religious fanatic, but that doesn’t mean that I am an intellectual dullard or that I have some type of psychological defect. It means that once one has found the truth, which isn’t a thing, He is a person and His name is Jesus Christ, if we have that truth in our lives, it will set us free…We have not yet done the work that God has called us to. We must evangelize the world…
We are part of Our Lady’s army to battle the evil one who seeks to destroy lives and keep us from our promised inheritance in Heaven. She has loved us so that She has called all of us here. Make no mistake. Do not believe in coincidences. You are here because Our Lady called you here. You are here to receive the gift and knowledge of your own salvation. You are here to know that the Kingdom of God is at hand for you. God Himself was talking, to follow Him completely, unreservedly, in a way that is a witness to each and every person who meets you. Not because you wear a cross or medal upon you, not because you have a slogan on your t-shirt, not because you have pictures in your home, but because you have Jesus Christ in your heart. Because you ask Our Lady to continue to intercede for you, for your family, for everyone, to bring you closer to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that you might live that Trinitarian relationship to the fruitfulness of your own life, bearing much fruit among those around you, bringing them to the foot of the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.
Which brings us to that incredible grace that is particular to Medjugorje – not like the healing baths at Lourdes or the incredible message of turning back to God in Fatima, but here in the confessional, here on the benches, in the particular sacrament that sets the Catholic faith apart from every other – the confession of our sins. To be able to receive real absolution, not just a psychologist listening to our faults and getting us to feel okay about the mistakes that we have made, but rather that we naturally have a change that happens within us that we are absolved of our sins. We are washed clean, again in a state of grace, again to be able to live our lives the way God is asking us to. We are all abject failers. None of us here is not a sinner, not in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. That font of grace is so apparent here. I myself received the grace to be able to see my whole life and then to have a late vocation like myself. An Irish priest, if anyone ever knows who he is, I want to go back and kiss his hands, as people kiss mine. The reality is that I was in great, great here in the sacrament, the holy sacrament of Reconciliation – the confession of our sins and the reception of our absolution. That priest did not tell me to say five Hail Marys, although we cannot purchase so great a grace, but he told me to climb that mountain (Cross Mountain) in my bare feet. It was an appropriate penance and nothing compared to the gravity of my sins. But I had also a particular grace in knowing that those sins were forgiven – really – and I felt it. And so I have the tremendous privilege of hearing the heartfelt, honest confession of sins of so many penitents here, to be able through the Holy Spirit to give appropriate penance. And then to raise my hand in the very person of Jesus Christ Himself, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That in that state of grace, I encourage you who haven’t been to Confession yet on your pilgrimage, get into the penalty box as fast as you can, so that you might be in the state of grace to receive everything that Our Lord and Our Lady want you to receive, so that you might carry so great a gift back to those who you are called to evangelize.
My brothers and sisters, we are one body of Christ, but of that body of Christ, we are a particular few. Many are called, few are chosen. You have been chosen by Our Lady to participate in this new springtime of the Church to bring the message of God’s incredible love for us, that He who loves us more than our greatest sin, so much so that He was willing to die that we might have eternal life. That is good news, my brothers and sisters…I was one of those who broke them (the Commandments) all, heinously, so such a mystery that He would call me to the ministry to show His tremendous patience and love, that I, the greatest of all sinners, might give witness to Him. He is compassionate, loving and forgiving. My brothers and sisters, the Kingdom of God is at hand for you. Receive that grace and spread it to all the world.