AMDG Solemn Vespers JMJ
April 14, 2009
Thank you, everybody, for opening the door and letting me in when I knocked! It sure is good to be at home with all of you!
As I look out with heartfelt affection and appreciation at you good people who just opened the door and let me in, I embrace eminent cardinals -- especially my esteemed predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan -- brother bishops, Archbishop Sambi and Archbishop Migliore, brother priests, deacons, and seminarians, women and men consecrated religious, representatives of every vicariate in this expansive archdiocese, parish leaders, respected civic and ecumenical partners, dear Mom, family, loyal friends from St. Louis, D.C., Kansas City, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Rome, Ireland, Australia -- brothers and sisters all:
Thanks for opening the door wide enough even for me to get in.
Thanks for welcoming me so warmly as your new pastor!
Thanks for already making me feel at home!
Thanks for letting me into your lives!
I am so glad you are here! And it sure beats sitting at home doing our last-minute tax returns, doesn't it?
You realize the statement we are making this evening. As I begin my apostolic ministry as your new shepherd, there is nothing more effective, more appropriate, more powerful that we can do than pray, pray as the Church. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly exhorts us that every project, every initiative, should begin with adoration -- praising the God without whom we can do nothing, with whom everything is possible, humbly placing our dreams, fears, hopes, and trust in His omnipotent hands. That we do this evening.
A special word of greeting to our Jewish friends, now concluding Passover, and, un abrazo especial a nuestra querida comunidad Latina por ser obsequio y promesa para esta arquidiócesis.
Thanks, most of all, everyone, for opening the doors of your hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ!
He it is, of course, who stands at the portal of every soul and gently knocks. Life's most pivotal question then becomes whether we will open the door of our existence and let Him in, to receive incomparable light, love, mercy, and friendship, or whether we will remain closed-up in darkness, self-absorption, sin, and isolation.
So did St. Peter in God's Word this evening prayer exhort us to "Come to the Lord!"
So did St. Peter's successor, John Paul the Great, inspire the world when he challenged us, at his first Mass as Pope, to "open wide the doors to Christ."
So did Pope Benedict XVI, in his inaugural Mass, invite us to "open-up in friendship with Jesus."
One of my favorite illustrations of Jesus is the familiar one of Him standing outside the door of a simple home, gently knocking. In second grade at Holy Infant School in Ballwin, Missouri, my teacher, Sister Mary Bosco Daly, who this evening, fresh from Ireland, just read our scripture passage from St. Peter, asked us to look closely at that picture and see if we noticed anything strange. "Yes," Carolyn Carey finally raised her hand and blurted out, "there is no door knob!"
"Right," observed Sister Bosco, "because Jesus cannot open up and barge in on His own. He patiently waits for us to open the door of our hearts and invite Him in to stay with us."
That lesson alone, Mom, was worth all the sacrifices you and Dad made to send us five kids to Catholic school.
Because that's the ultimate question, in the end the only one that really counts: will we open up in faith, hope, and love to the God who gently knocks on the door to our being, asking Him in to live with us? Or will fear, self-absorption, and darkness keep us locked up in ourselves?
The Church is at her best, faithful to her mission, when she invites people to open the door and ask Jesus in. That's precisely the invitation this Archdiocese of New York extends; that's the proposal the Church makes to the world. As Bernini explained the massive colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square, "Those are the arms of Mother Church reaching out to embrace all people!"
This is the "theology of invitation" articulated by the servant of God, John Paul II.
God invites us . . . never coerces . . . God invites us to believe in Him, trust Him, accept Him. God invites us to let Him be the Lord of our life; and when we do, our lives are never the same; our lives will last forever!
Jesus, His son, is the invitation incarnate, as He invites us to a life of meaning, purpose, life to the fullest, life never-ending. To allow Him in is genuine freedom, the start of an adventure in fidelity. Living in the true liberty of Christ is not easy. It requires fidelity and heroic virtue. In our celebration days ago of Holy Week and Easter, we reverently recalled God's liberation of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt -- which our Jewish neighbors are now celebrating as Passover concludes -- and remembered how, during the Exodus, God gave us the gift of the Ten Commandments, lest this newly freed people would lapse back to the habits of slaves. When the Church proclaims the moral truth about the dignity of the human person, she helps us all live free.
Sadly, we have usually tragically said no to God's invitation, most dramatically at the event we somberly recalled five days ago, Good Friday.
But we have a God who will not take no for an answer, as Easter demonstrates definitively.
And now Christ stands at the door and knocks, and the Church nudges us to open up and invite Him in!
But, you know all this, because this venerable Church of New York has been doing it for 201 years!
My brother priests, you are the ones who "open the door to the sacred" through Word and Sacraments. You do it so faithfully and so generously! I am so proud to call you "brothers"; I am so awestruck to be the elder brother of a presbyterate known for its zeal and devotion. I thank you, brother priests, for continuing to be agents of the divine invitation, and to you I pledge my life and love!
Consecrated women, vowed religious sisters, brothers, priests, for centuries you have opened the door to Christ identified with the sick, the immigrant, the troubled, the forgotten, and to millions of our children in our splendid schools, and who have loyally prayed without ceasing with and for the Church, this archdiocese owes you so very much. Please, keep opening the door to Jesus;
Our deacons, their loyal spouses, our devoted lay pastoral collaborators, please keep showing by your lives of service and joy that letting this Jesus in the door is a choice one never regrets;
Dear people of God, faithful Catholics of this archdiocese, you indeed are the "living stones" spoken of by Peter this evening, who give a smile, a voice, an embrace, a heart to the mystical body of Christ we call the Church, as you love faithfully in marriage, obey the "law of the gift" by caring for your children, who take the identity of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation so seriously, and who never fail to open up to the Jesus who stands and knocks at the doors of your homes, parishes, schools, offices, farms, factories, and professions. Thank you for your vocations, for sensing the universal call to holiness.
Realistically, though, we must confess that there's so much lurking there to keep us from "opening the door" to Jesus!
There's sin, fear, and sadness to keep us closed-up inside, evident in so many problems and worries: the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and caring for those hurt; the challenges of strengthening our parishes, schools, and charitable outreach; the threats to marriage, family, to the unborn baby and fragile human life at all stages; the need for vocations. The list is long and haunting.
There's so much inside me, I don't mind admitting, that was scared to open the door completely to Him, as I kept the chain-on, opened up just a crack, and heard Him invite me to serve Him and His Church as Archbishop of New York! I inwardly replied to Him:
"Go away, Lord! I'm not your man! My Spanish is lousy and my English not much better!"
"I'm still angry at New York for taking Favre and Sabbathia from us in Wisconsin!"
"The Yankees and Mets over the Cardinals and Brewers? Forget it!"
"Following the likes of Hughes, Hayes, Spellman, Cooke, O'Connor, and Egan! Sounds like McNamara's band, and I'm not up to being part of it!"
Trepidation; unworthiness; anxiety; leave me to the beloved brats, beers, and cool summer lake breezes of Milwaukee where I'm secure and at home . . .
Yet He had his sandal in the door and would not let me shut Him out, as I heard the whisper of the One who says,
"Timothy, be not afraid!"
"My grace is sufficient..."
"Never do I invite one to a task without giving him/her the strength to do it!"
"I am with you all days."
"Open up and let me in. . . "
I recalled the words John Paul II spoke down the street at the United Nations: "We must not be afraid of the future. It is no accident that we are here. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of the One who is the origin of all that is. We have within us the capacity for wisdom and heroic virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of God's grace, we can build . . . a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom, a culture of life. "
And this evening, when you opened those bronze doors to my knock, and I beheld a Church, an archdiocese, that has been opening the doors to Christ for 201 years, am I ever glad I listened to Him and took the chain off!"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."