Last September, Bishop Finn was elected President of the Institute for Religious Life, succeeding Rockford Bishop Thomas Doran who had served as president since 1998. IRL was founded in 1974 when the late Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ received permission from the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome to enlist bishops, religious superiors and lay people to form a group which would:
affirm the vocation to consecrated life in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church, and of the Holy Father; promote authentic religious/consecrated life as set forth by Vatican II and their implementation by the Holy See; and to encourage vocations to the religious, consecrated and priestly life.
IRL’s first meeting was at Kansas City’s Rockhurst University in 1975 and they are now headquartered in Illinois. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend or cover IRL’s first meeting with Bishop Finn as president, last month, but he preserved his homily and it’s a good one:
Homily at the National Meeting
Institute on Religious Life
Divine Mercy Sunday - April 30, 2011 – Mundelein, IL
Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph
Dear Brother bishops, priests, and deacons,
Consecrated men and women,
Participants and friends all in Christ,
It is a special joy and privilege for me to greet you at our National Meeting. I thank you for your love for Religious Life, for your dedication to the Church and zeal for the work of evangelization. These days we have enjoyed wonderful insights on the tremendous challenge of preaching the message of Truth and Life in Jesus Christ, using every means at our disposal so that no one will be lost; so that every human heart will hear the gospel; that it may resonate in hearts that long for the Redeemer.
We continue to celebrate the joy of Easter, the hope that is ours in the Risen Savior. Again and again His message in many appearances after the Resurrection is ‘Peace!” “My peace be with you.” And His word is efficacious. He wishes us peace, and His Word brings peace. He establishes peace in those who encounter Him. And He bids us be ambassadors of that saving Word, instruments of His peace.
This Holy Mass of the Second Sunday of Easter, Sunday in the Octave of Easter, was given an additional name by Pope John Paul II: Throughout the Universal Church it is Divine Mercy Sunday. How vital it is that we receive and, in turn, spread this message of Trust in Jesus, of Peace. In the midst of every trial and dark day, Jesus I trust in You.
This is a particularly important Divine Mercy Sunday. Tomorrow Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, will proclaim Pope John Paul II “Blessed;” Blessed John Paul! We cannot fail to include in our reflection tonight, on the vigil of the beatification, some thoughts on this holy apostle who, as Pope, walked us through the door of the Third Christian Millennium. He announced the New Evangelization. He became the best known person in the world – in part because of the new media. He invited us again and again to contemplate the face of Christ. He charged us “Duc in Altum:” Put out into the Deep. He saw and helped us see the dawning of a New Springtime of Christianity. He echoed for us as Christ’s own Vicar, the encouragement, “Do Not be Afraid.”
These words, “Do Not Be Afraid,” were among the first I myself heard from the Pope’s mouth. I had the privilege as a student – then a young man recently ordained a deacon – to be under the window that night in St. Peter’s Square when Karol Wotyla was presented to the world. Instantly I became a “John Paul youth;” and in some ways I still think of myself as a John Paul youth.
I also recall the first time I ever heard of Divine Mercy Sunday – long before it was officially placed on the Universal Calendar. I was a young priest and I was asked by some parishioners to come to church on the Sunday afternoon after Easter to hear confessions. Hear Confessions?! I am thinking to myself, I have just heard confessions for hours and hours during Lent and Holy Week. Now we are going to hear some more – on a Sunday afternoon after Easter? I went – and I went back each year after. Slowly I began to let soak in this message of mercy. Eventually we would see it confirmed and verified by Pope John Paul; Blessed John Paul.
As clergy and Religious, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, we know that the proclamation of the Gospel is the ground of our apostolic work. St. Paul asks, “But how can they believe if they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” Yes, people must hear. The truth will draw hearts. Jesus Christ, when He is lifted up, will draw us all to Himself. But we must lift Him up. We must go with the message, and more than words, the Living Word, Jesus. We must lift Him high; We must tell people about Him; and we must bring Him, in the flesh; Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to others: to every human heart that longs for his and her Savior.
In a message to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, (September 21, 2001) Pope John Paul acknowledged the zeal of the professed in this necessary work of the Church. “In the history of the Church,” the Pope said, “consecrated life has always been at the forefront of the work of evangelization.” He went on to suggest the deeply prayerful and personal nature of the mission. “It is necessary to present to young people the face of Christ contemplated in prayer and tenderly served in our brothers and sisters with selfless love.” The Holy Father seemed to know intuitively that this task would require creativity and a radical commitment. “We must be convinced,” He said, “that we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person.” You and I must bring the Person of Jesus to others. “It is not enough for us to speak about Him; we must also make Him seen, with the bold witness of faith and charity.” (Ibid.)
The media can often be the hook. It is sometimes the place where people are already listening: on their hand-held, by text or tweet, in music and video, but make sure it is real and honest. The content of the Gospel is not clanging cymbal or noisy gong, but a Word of love. We must give each other the truth, because the living Word is what can change us, form us, renew us, feed us, strengthen us. Grace accomplishes everything, but in His strange Providence, He has wanted to use us as His “media,” His means and instruments for bringing the Good News. We want God to use us as apostles of the message of salvation. Music and light is not, of itself, sufficient. As participants in the life of grace, He can use us to hand on Jesus Christ.
In 1993, at the time of the Beatification of St. Faustina, Pope John Paul spoke to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Sr. Faustina’s Sisters, gathered in Rome. “Be apostles,” he told them, “By your word and your works, be apostles of the divine merciful love revealed to the highest degree in Jesus Christ.” The Pope said that this Mercy is a “fountain of life.” “It is a life,” he insisted, “different from that which human beings are in a position to build with their own strength.” By living mercy toward others; and this is inspired by God’s mercy to us, we have the privilege and responsibility of communicating something which has a supernatural value and effect. The media and the means may be human – but the content must be supernatural.
There are so many reasons for us to be joyful today, this Easter day: It is the Day of Mercy. We sense God’s invitation and call and we are strengthened by new vocations, a new springtime in the Church. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict teaches with such extraordinary perseverance and clarity. Blessed John Paul is soon held up before us as a model for our life and work. It is Easter and the Lord of Life is in our midst. His Word is peace and He bids us be apostles of Mercy. Alleluia!
I pray that the encounters we have had these days and the insights we have shared and received will bear fruit in a new evangelization. We will ask Mary, our joyful queen and mother, to be our guiding star, keeping us close to her Son and preparing for us a safe path in the work ahead. Amen.