Published February 17, 2005
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated his first Mass with the women Religious of the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Saturday, Jan. 22, at St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta. Following is the text of his homily.
My Dear Sisters in Christ,
Over the years, first came the Adrian Dominicans, followed by the BVMs, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, the School Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee, then eventually the SSNDs, ASCs, the Poor Handmaids, the Poor Clares, the Springfield Dominicans, and a host of others whose individual names and faces continue to fill my heart with joy and gratitude. I am a man who has been formed, taught, shaped, occasionally disciplined and always loved by the Women Religious who have enhanced my life. Therefore, I am overjoyed to be with you today, in what is really my first full week of ministry in the Archdiocese. The ceremonial functions—the Evening Prayer at the Cathedral and then the Mass of Installation the next day, were very exciting and uplifting, and I thank all of you who were able to take part in them, and all who were praying for me at that time.
But now comes the time of first looks, first introductions, and first impressions—and as some sage once said, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” I hope that your take on me today will tell you what I sincerely want you to know—that I am looking forward, with all the anticipation I bring to this new chapter in my life, to working with you, the Women Religious of the Archdiocese, for all the Catholics of North Georgia, and for our society in general—to bring about that earthly goal we all treasure in our hearts—to leave this world, presuming that it will be here tomorrow, a better place than we found it, and a more nurturing home for the children of God who will follow us as time unfolds.
To do this and to be successful, no matter what our station—bishop, priest, deacon, brother or sister—we must set aside so many things that are a part of our human nature. This is nothing new to hear about—those of us dedicated to the religious life must remind ourselves daily that anything that tempts us to forget our commitment to live the Gospel of Christ radically in the world must be overcome and banished from our minds and hearts. This is not easy—we human beings are beguiled by the lure of the world, we often think that the comforts of the standards of the world are more soothing, more restorative than the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and that leads us away from the Christ whom we have chosen to love with all our hearts. As Women Religious you have embraced the Evangelical Counsels as a way of declaring before the entire waiting world that the Kingdom of God is being born in you at this very moment.
Of course, these are over-simplifications of human thoughts and actions that usually are far more complex than what can be captured in a few words.
But what we must remember, is that the solutions to these conflicts, or temptations, are to be found in a few words, and those are the words of our Lord, as He teaches us—in the gospel, and in the wisdom of all those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to contribute to the substance of Holy Scripture.
And basically, what the Lord tells us in today’s readings is the fundamental position from which we must proceed now, in our work together and our work for the Church and for the glory of God. And that position is that God operates in us, God finds a way of using us in His plan, without regard to our externals—whether or not we are attractive, talented, charming, or whether we are men, women or children.
The first reading discards the notion that external habits dispose the follower of Christ to accepting and acting on the will of God. It is no longer the elaborate ritual of the Old Testament which sanctifies us, but instead, the Precious Blood of Christ, which, as the author of Hebrews declares, “…will cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Heb 9:14). And our Lord Himself confirms that God has a purpose for every gender, when He embraces all humanity into the will of the Father, saying: “…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 5:35).
We do not fashion the will of God according to who we are—but we certainly become who we should be, by accepting the will of God for us, as He created us, and as He loves us.
Dear Sisters, the Church is the reflection of God working through His Son for our salvation and our response. The nuptial image of Bride and Bridegroom is locked in complementary love and devotion and has been used to describe the Church from the time of the New Testament. Our goal is not so much self-fulfillment as it is fulfillment within the Body of the Church, the body that presents herself to Christ as willing, alluring Bride. And to make this work, every member must be mindful, every day, of what Christ says additionally in this Gospel: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. [But] if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.”
I want, in the days to come, to be so united, to be so together in our purpose and understanding, and so strong a part of the fabric of the Church, that our strength and purpose will confound completely any evil divisions within the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and Satan will fall, between the obedient love that rises from our prayers and actions, and the mighty hand of the Father opening to receive our offering. In this way, I hope, and I ask you most sincerely, to join in my hope—I hope to serve this local Church as God wishes, and as I believe He has sent me to do. Please help me as I begin, as Women Religious have done for me at every stage of my life—and please pray for the success of our ministry, joined by Christ, as the Gospel records:
And looking around at those seated in the circle, [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. (For) whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 5:34-35). And in my heart and memory, the sisters have always been most influential and important.