The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the annual Mass with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne on Dec. 9 at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Fort Wayne:
Jesus was moved with pity, filled with compassion, at the sight of so many people who were sick and suffering. He had been healing people as He travelled through the towns and villages of Galilee, teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. He then empowered the Twelve to do the same, to preach the Kingdom, to cure the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse lepers and to drive out demons. Our Lord entrusted His mission to the Twelve and to the Church.
Jesus and the Twelve proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom. In fact, Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, a kingdom that surpasses any kingdom than man can create. It is not an earthly, political kingdom. As He told Pontius Pilate at His trial: “My kingdom is not of this world.” The kingdom established by Christ the King is an everlasting kingdom, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and grace. The kingdom of God was present in Jesus and is mysteriously present in the Church. This kingdom remains in our midst in the Holy Eucharist that we celebrate here this morning. And, as Advent reminds us, it will appear in its final glory when Christ comes again.
When we read the Gospels, we learn a lot about Christ’s kingdom. We learn, for example, that it belongs to the poor and lowly, to those who accept it with humble hearts. That’s why Jesus says in the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Jesus Himself, the king in this kingdom, shared the life of the poor from the manger to the cross. He experienced hunger, thirst and privation. He identified Himself with the poor of every kind and He made active love toward the poor the condition for entering His kingdom.
There is a wonderful family within this kingdom: the Vincentian family. Four hundred years ago this year, in 1617, the father of this family discovered his mission in the kingdom. He has been called “the Father of the poor.” This father was St. Vincent de Paul. It was 400 years ago this year that he received his charism and surrendered his life to God in service to the poor. In 1617, he founded the Confraternity of Charity and wrote the first rule for the group of women in his parish dedicated to serving the sick and the poor. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, he saw the needy and was filled with compassion for them. You are part of the Vincentian family that grew from this root during the past 400 years. St. Vincent went on to found the community of Vincentian priests and brothers and then co-founded with St. Louise de Marillac the Daughters of Charity.
Two hundred years later, another branch grew on the Vincentian family tree, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Blessed Frederic Ozanam was resolved to respond to God’s call after the example of St. Vincent de Paul by dedicating himself and the new Society to the service of the poor, to bringing them food and material help, and even more, to bringing them the gift of friendship and love. This is living the Gospel Jesus and the Twelve proclaimed, the Gospel of the Kingdom.
As Vincentians, you proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom by your deeds of mercy and charity. You care for those in need. You have learned from St. Vincent de Paul, as he often liked to repeat, that “when you go to the poor, you encounter Jesus.” This gets to the heart of the Vincentian charism – actually, the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” You have the model of St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederic, and other Vincentian saints to inspire you. I encourage you to call upon them frequently to intercede for you and your work and for the needy you serve.
I mentioned that the Gospels teach us that Christ’s kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, to those who accept it with humble hearts. When we read the Gospels, how often we see our Lord choosing the poor and the lowly for a special mission: Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zachary, the shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, widows, etc. Of course, Mary is the greatest human being in the kingdom. Mary is Our Lady of Humility, Our Lady of Poverty. How often in apparitions she chooses to appear to the poor and lowly, like St. Bernadette and the children of Fatima!
Today, we remember one of those lowly ones, St. Juan Diego. In 1531, God sent the Virgin Mary to this humble native Aztec Indian on Tepeyac Hill to bring comfort to the suffering, conquered people of America. Juan Diego is the first indigenous saint of the American continent, canonized 18 years ago by Pope St. John Paul II. This simple and humble native American was chosen by God to receive the beautiful private revelation of the Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe. This revelation, like Mary’s other apparitions to the poor and lowly, remind us of what Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat: “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” Of course, Mary herself exemplifies this and proclaimed in the Magnificat that God had looked with favor upon her, “His lowly servant.” She always magnified the Lord, not herself. Our Lady and St. Juan Diego remind us of the words of Jesus that “the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.” They remind us, as St. Vincent de Paul reminds us, that God has a special love for the poor and suffering.
Mary appeared on Tepeyac Hill as our loving, compassionate mother. She guided and comforted Juan Diego. This was the beginning of the great evangelization of America. Our Lady embraced Juan Diego in her loving arms and, through him, all his people. She gave him precious roses in the middle of winter. And she left her image on his tilma. Through this event of Guadalupe, God brought comfort and love to His poor children.
The tender and compassionate love of Mary, experienced by Juan Diego and his indigenous brothers and sisters, led them to her Son Jesus. It is your tender and compassionate love as Vincentians that is the greatest gift you give to those you serve. This is how you proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, through your words and your deeds. On this feast of the humble St. Juan Diego, I pray that he, along with St. Vincent de Paul and all the Vincentian saints, will intercede for you. And may Our Lady of Guadalupe also intercede for you as you serve her beloved spiritual children, the sick, the poor, and the needy. And, of course, we turn to her as our spiritual mother who says to us, especially in times of trial and suffering, as she said to Juan Diego:
“Listen and let it penetrate your heart… do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
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