St. Augustine's Seminary of Toronto

Pastoral Work - Homily by Rev. H. Vila

Homily on the Occasion of the Eucharist of Thanksgiving for the Approval of the Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way at the Cathedral of Toronto on March 2, 2003

Your Eminence, Your Excellencies the Bishops, all concelebrant priests, dear guests, and all brothers and sisters, I have to apologize for daring to give these few words of Homily on the occasion of the Eucharist of Thanksgiving for the acceptance of the Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way. I thank Your Eminence for such an honour and forgive you for such a burden.

I cannot ignore in this moment the Team of Itinerant catechists responsible for the NeoCatecumenal Way in Canada, Fr. Isidoro Tomasoni, Miss Donatella Viozzi, and Mr. Francisco Tobar, to whom goes our gratitude for their work of evangelization here in Toronto. As Rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, I speak on their behalf as well.

1. The “Word of God” of this Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time says everything that I could possibly want to express. The Lord considers his people as his spouse, and says of her: “I will speak tenderly to her and she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt”.

The Fathers of the Church understand “Egypt” as the type of all slaveries and afflictions, and Baptism as the sacrament of our freedom. We have all celebrated the action of the new Moses, Jesus Christ, who heard the cry of our suffering, was sent to rescue us, and made us pass through the waters, to signify his victory over death through his resurrection. This happened when we first experienced and became aware of his love for us, when we were like little children. That was the time of our innocence, when our love for God was real and pure. But as adults, like the people of Israel, we too have known what it means to be unfaithful to the Lord. What good news it is for us all to know that the Lord gives us a journey of return to Him, a place in the Church where we rediscover his love for us.

The NeoCatechumenal Way is at the same time a journey of return to the Lord, and an itinerary of rediscovery of our baptism.

In the First article of the Statutes of the NeoCatechumenal Way, paragraph 1, Pope John Paul defines the nature of the Neocatechumenal way as “an itinerary of Catholic formation, valid for our society and for our times”, and in paragraph 2, it is said: “The NeoCatechumenal Way is at the service of the Bishops as a form of diocesan implementation of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith, in accordance with the indications of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Church.”

For this purpose, God, in his providence, has put a model before our eyes, the Holy family of Nazareth, the historical place where the Word of God, made man, became adult, growing “in wisdom, age, and grace,” and in submission to Joseph and Mary. In the communities, the neocatechumens become adults in faith, growing in humility, simplicity, and praise, considering the “other person” as being Jesus Christ Himself.

2. I could go on quoting from the Statutes, but St. Paul reminds us today that statutes are just paper that can be thrown away, burned, or simply forgotten on a shelf. What remains is not what is written in ink, but what is written “with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of human hearts.” This is true for all Christian communities, that are the living Body of the Risen Christ; where people live united in deep communion, and love each other “as Jesus loved us”, that is, to the point of dying for us. Communities of brothers and sisters in which all the barriers of culture, nationality, color, language and social status are broken down; where the brothers and sisters love each other, even when the other person can be considered almost an enemy. All this is not the fruit of human effort, but of the grace of God. Such communities are more eloquent than all papers or documents.

In a private Audience at Castel Gandolfo, on the 21st of September 2002, the Holy Father addressed Himself to us, the presbyters and catechists of the NeoCatechumenal Way in these words:

“How can we fail to thank the Lord for the fruit of the Neocatechumenal Way in the more than 30 years since it came into being? In a secularized society like ours, where religious indifference is spreading, and many live as though God did not exist, there are multitudes that need to rediscover the sacraments of Christian initiation, especially Baptism. The Way is certainly one of the providential answers to this urgent need. Let us look at your communities: how many have rediscovered the beauty and greatness of the baptismal vocation they have received! How much generosity and zeal they have for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially to those who are the most distant! How many vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life have arisen thanks to this itinerary of Christian formation!” (End of quotation.)

Here present, there are many couples with numerous children that are a living sign of God’s action in our lives. Many of them can witness that, without a community that supports them in moments of difficulty, without the help of the Word of God and the celebration of the Sacraments, they would never have been able to forgive each other and be reconciled. It is certain that they would not be able to live their marriage being “open to life”, that is, open to welcome the children that God has sent them. All these children are a living witness that God, as a caring Father, provides for them in every way, whenever they put their trust in Him, in a society that seems to deny the presence and the providence of God.

3. Our generation is losing its Christian identity, and the image of the patched coat can easily be applied to it. Faith cannot be just a new piece of unshrunken cloth to attach to the old cloth. The Gospel tells us that “No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made”. Surely these words remind us of our baptismal coat that signifies the new nature the Lord offers us as a free gift.

The image of the new wine in new wineskins reminds us of the Spirit of Christ that is really something fresh and “new”, compared to our dull and “old” human nature. The Gospel assures us that, with the Lord, there is always something surprising, something new, as new as his enduring love. Our life with the Lord is never boring because love is always new. It is a creative force that constantly finds new ways to renew our lives.

4. It is for this reason that John Paul II is so fond of the expression: “New evangelization”. He says that evangelization is new in a number of ways. It is not new in its content, because the content of all preaching of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, as the Lord and Saviour; this content will never change. One of the characteristics of the new evangelization is that it is new in its energy, in its enthusiasm, and in the methods that are used to make Jesus known and loved.

Not to appear presumptuous in what I want to say, I quote the words His Excellency Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, pronounced during the Eucharist for this same occasion, when it was celebrated in his Cathedral:

“One of the new things we celebrate tonight that God has given to the Church is the Neocatechumenal Way, which is truly something new. This is the first time in the history of our Church that a program of catechumenal renewal for the baptized has been blessed by the Church in this formal way. And so the stance of the Church, especially of priests - because we priests can either facilitate this or turn it away - is to respond according to the mind of the Church in the face of something new like this; it is to rejoice and give thanks to God because newness is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.” (End of quotation)

5. But let us be grateful and rejoice tonight above all for the immense gift that is the Banquet of the Holy Eucharist, this wedding feast prepared for us all. At this banquet, the Love of the Lord for us, and our love for Him, can be renewed.

The new wine is the Blood of Christ that offers us the taste of his Victory over death. We have hope that He will fill us with the same Holy Spirit and will transform us all into new wineskins that carry the new wine to our thirsty generation.

We have confidence that Mary, Mother of Jesus and image of the Church, will say to her Son, as she did at the wedding in Cana of Galilee: “they have no wine”, and she repeats to us, the “servants”: “do whatever He tells you”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the humble one of Nazareth, who welcomed with joy the announcement of the angel, give us her heart and her spirit to rejoice in the Lord through the Eucharist that we celebrate. Amen


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