The Bishops of Region XII concluded our 2020 Ad Limina visit just a few hours ago with Mass at St. Paul Outside the Walls, and a visit to the tomb of the Great Apostle to the Nations. I had the great privilege of presiding and preaching at our closing Mass. I share with you below my homily, which captures the fruits of the week here in Rome.
Brother Bishops, our prayer and visits this week have taken us to a deeper understanding of what it is to be a successor to the Apostles. What we experienced this week was a grace to be renewed in our episcopal ministry, which at its heart is to be strengthened in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
A disciple is one who follows Jesus; one who is formed by Jesus, who becomes an apostle when he is sent by Jesus, in his name and person, be be a witness to Christ and to advance his mission.
As we are renewed and strengthened in our own relationship with Jesus, we come to know ourselves as being his, and identify ourselves as ones who have given our lives over so completely to him and his mission that we can say with St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me, … and I live by faith in the Son of God.” Galatians 2:20)
As our meetings and discussions have revealed, we know the many difficulties we face, and will face as we return home, and yet we can say with confidence with St. Paul: “I can do all things in Christ who is my strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
As we pray and celebrate the Eucharist not far from where St. Paul was beheaded, and practically over the place where he is now buried, we recall the experience of St. Paul, and the traces of how it is reflected in our own lives. St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians of his experience. He knows and proclaims that the Gospel is not of human origins, and that he received the Gospel by revelation from Christ. We know that the Church teaches that the time of personal revelations has now come to an end, and yet, we share the same Revealed Word of God that has come down to us through the tradition of the Church. This Living Word of God is still ours today.
St. Paul also shares that his call came directly from God the Father, who revealed his Son to him by a special grace so that St. Paul might proclaim him to the gentiles. This experience completely changed St. Paul, and I propose to you brothers, that our calling has completely changed us!
Let us return home with the sense of urgency that St. Paul had after receiving this grace of God, the revelations of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, that sent him immediately to Arabia to witness to Christ. It was only three years later that he went to Jerusalem to consult with Peter about this apostolic ministry. We, too, have come to Rome this week that we might also consult with “Peter” about the ministry that we share. (See Galatians 1: 11-18)
St. Paul was so completely identified with Jesus Christ – so aware of the tremendous grace God bestows upon us through his Son – that he was always giving thanks. Let gratitude permeate our own ministry.
St. Paul was keenly aware of the holiness that is ours through this grace of Jesus, through this love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he always prayed for our holiness, called us to holiness and chides us when we slip into worldliness, which is so beneath our Christian dignity and God’s lofty plan for us.
When we grow discouraged, we do well to recall what St. Paul knew, that we are not lacking in any spiritual gifts. (see 1 Corinthians 1) God is faithful, and as Sts. Peter and Paul, we are called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
St. Paul is an example in both his life and preaching of perseverance during times of suffering and trial.
This week has renewed us in our Apostolic ministry, and taught us with freshness what an apostle is: one who has an intense relationship with Jesus, one who shares an intimate relationship with Jesus, and lives this relationship in a way that integrates Christ fully and completely into his life, identity and ministry.
An Apostle is one who lives in the Kingdom of God, not in the world. He moves out of this Kingdom into the world, to advance the Kingdom.
St. Paul as well as the Eleven received power and commissioning from the Risen Jesus, as do we! It is this Risen Jesus who overcame the world, sin and death, who calls us, who shares his Risen life with us, and shares his ministry and mission with us. May we now as the holy Sts. Peter and Paul go forth with confidence, so completely renewed, that we may say as well:
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”