“Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!”
As I move from Mission San Diego de Alcala to become the Pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe, I am most grateful to Bishop Robert Brom for having entrusted to me the pastoral care of California’s First Mission for these past nine years. I am also most grateful to all of the members of the Mission Parish who have done so much to make my nine years as Pastor here such a richly rewarding experience.
On the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul on June 29th, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with the Archbishops whom he had appointed during the past year. In his homily during that Mass, Pope Francis quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s instruction to his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!”
That quotation from St. Francis of Assisi has always reminded me that what I say as a priest and pastor is not nearly so important as what I do. Or to use another familiar saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” I hope and pray, as I complete my term as Pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala, that what I have said and done has helped each one of you to deepen your faith in the Lord Jesus. I hope and pray that what I have said and done has always helped you all to become active members of our parish faith community.
What Pope Francis told those new Archbishops is a message that applies to all priests and pastors. His instructions remind me that I, too, am called to prayer, to faith and to witness. Here is what Pope Francis said:
Dear Archbishops who today receive the Pallium, it is a sign which represents the sheep that the shepherd carries on his shoulders as Christ the Good Shepherd does, and it is therefore a symbol of your pastoral mission. The Pallium is “a liturgical sign of communion that unites the See of Peter and his Successor to the Metropolitans, and through them to the other Bishops of the world” (Benedict XVI, Angelus of 29 June 2005).
Today, by these Palliums, I wish to entrust you with this call to prayer, to faith and to witness.
The Church wants you to be men of prayer, masters of prayer; that you may teach the people entrusted to your care that liberation from all forms of imprisonment is uniquely God’s work and the fruit of prayer; that God sends his angel at the opportune time in order to save us from the many forms of slavery and countless chains of worldliness. For those most in need, may you also be angels and messengers of charity!
The Church desires you to be men of faith, masters of faith, who can teach the faithful to not be frightened of the many Herods who inflict on them persecution with every kind of cross. No Herod is able to banish the light of hope, of faith, or of charity in the one who believes in Christ!
The Church wants you to be men of witness. Saint Francis used to tell his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” (cf. Franciscan sources, 43). There is no witness without a coherent lifestyle! Today there is no great need for masters, but for courageous witnesses, who are convinced and convincing; witnesses who are not ashamed of the Name of Christ and of His Cross; not before the roaring lions, nor before the powers of this world. And this follows the example of Peter and Paul and so many other witnesses along the course of the Church’s history, witnesses who, yet belonging to different Christian confessions, have contributed to demonstrating and bringing growth to the one Body of Christ. I am pleased to emphasize this, and am always pleased to do so, in the presence of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by my beloved brother Bartholomew I.
This is not so straightforward: because the most effective and authentic witness is one that does not contradict, by behaviour and lifestyle, what is preached with the word and taught to others!
Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!
[The full text of Pope Francis’ Homily on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul is available on the Vatican website: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150629_omelia-pallio.html.]