gave [Thomas Aquinas] surpassing wisdom which he taught without deceit
and shared freely with others.” (“Magnificat Antiphon, 28 January,
Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas)
1. Later tonight, at Vespers for
the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church will use these words to
“magnify her Lord,” and rightly so, for the Lord’s gift of “surpassing
wisdom” to St. Thomas is surely one of the “great things” God has done
for his people (cf. Lk. 1: 46, 49). Throughout the Sacred Liturgy
today, not only in the Divine Office but also in the Mass for this
Memorial, the Church never tires of repeating her thanks for the gift
her Lord has bestowed on her in her son, Thomas, who is justly claimed
as the “Doctor communis” (“Everybody’s Teacher”) and fittingly
praised as the “Doctor angelicus.”
In reflecting on the graces which filled
the life and ministry of St. Thomas, the Church recognizes that the
encomium to wisdom we heard in the first reading set the heart of
Aquinas on fire and shaped every day of his life. St. Thomas “pleaded
and the spirit of wisdom came to [him]…. Beyond health and comeliness
[he] loved her, and [he] chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep” (Wis., 7: 7, 10). He
worked day and night, often to the point of exhaustion, to make his own
what God in Jesus Christ revealed as the deepest and most penetrating
insight about what is first and most important and about how these
insights should direct all our thoughts and actions.
Because St. Thomas made this prayer from
the Old Testament his own, and because God granted what he asked, in
churches and chapels throughout the world, the Church, today, gives
thanks to God, just as we are doing here in this Metropolitan
Cathedral. But our memorial of St. Thomas has a peculiar character, one
not shared with any other congregation. In this Liturgy I have taken
the place which our Holy Father Pope Benedict has assigned to me on the
cathedra, and I am preaching my first sermon and offering my
first Mass as your Archbishop.
2. In my homily for our
celebration today, I would like to help us understand the
complementarity of these two liturgical actions: thanking God for
bestowing wisdom on the Church through the ministry of St. Thomas and my
being installed as the tenth bishop of Detroit.
The installation of a new bishop is
always an occasion for him to be renewed in his identity and mission.
But it is this graced moment not just for him, but for his Particular
Church and for all her members as well. That Providence has made my
installation coincide with the Feast of St. Thomas is a reminder that
part of the Church’s identity is to be the repository on earth of her
Lord’s own wisdom and that it is essential to her mission for all of us
to share this wisdom. Or, as Jesus told us before his Ascension, “to
make disciples of all nations,… teaching them to observe all things that
[he] commanded” (Mt. 28: 19-20).
It is because our forbearers zealously
obeyed this great commission that here in the Archdiocese of Detroit we
are blessed to find this divine wisdom expressed in the rich diversity
of languages and cultures of the communities which make up our one
communion of faith.
3. St. Paul and St.
John, in the portions of their writings read to us today, help us
greatly to accept the renewal of our identity and mission as servants of
God’s own wisdom by delineating the basic profile of that wisdom.
In the Gospel, St. John reports to us
what Jesus himself said is the essence of life’s wisdom: it is to love.
This is wisdom: “to love one another as [he has] loved [us]” (cf. Jn.
15: 12). And this wisdom is not something only of this world, only
human. It is supernatural; it is divine. It is as he has
loved us, that we are to love. And how has he loved us? He tells
us: “as the Father has loved him” (cf. Jn. 15: 9, emphasis
This love of the Father for his
only-begotten Son is a love beyond all measure. The Father gives all
that he is to the Son; he pours his very being into the Son. The
Father’s love is the total gift of himself to the Son. Having “learned”
this wisdom about the deepest meaning of existence, “to be” [esse],
the Son, when he came to us in the flesh, loved us in the same measure,
with the same total gift of himself, loving us “to the end” (cf. Jn. 13:
1). And we, in our turn, if we would be wise about what is first and
most important, will understand that this is the truth of who we are: we
are framed and shaped to make a total gift of self. The truly wise
thing is to commit one’s self to loving to the end. This wisdom is the
measures of all our thinking and acting which aspires to be truly wise.
4. St. Paul in
today’s Epistle gives us wise teaching about love in the context of this
fallen world, scarred as it is by that refusal to love which is sin –
the originating sin of Adam and Eve and every other sin, which ratifies
that first sin. St. Paul tells us that the total gift of self is signed
with the cross. It was on the cross that Christ “loved us to the end,”
loved us with the love he learned from his being loved by the Father.
And we, if we love, must share in the cross. Here below the gift of
self will always be a death to self.
That is why the wisdom of divine love in
this world will, as St. Paul says, appear to be foolishness to those who
do not have faith. For those who do not recognize that Christ crucified
is the ultimate manifestation of divine love, his death cannot but seem
to be an absurdity. However, those who think like God, those who, by
the light of the Holy Spirit, understand God the way he understands
himself, recognize that the impotence of Christ, freely willed for love
of us, is the act of the wisest man, for it is the act of divine wisdom
In every age the wisdom of this
crucified love has been mistaken as foolishness by many, and is often
for them a stumbling block along the way of Christ. It is certainly so
in our own time, with our ethic of radical autonomy, which, in exalting
the rights of the individual, sees no sense in sacrificing one self and
one’s comfort and convenience for the love of others.
There are many ways in which this
conflict between the true wisdom of the gift of self and the
pseudo-wisdom of self-sovereignty are exemplified in our society. I
will mention three of those that seem to me among the most lamentable.
First, there is the conflict between those who base their decision about
a state in life or their selection of a profession on discerning the
will of God and those who make these choices on the basis of gaining
wealth or security or the world’s esteem. Second, there is the conflict
between those judge it wise always to protect the right to life of
others, even at a cost to themselves, and those who would be willing to
violate that right, if that is the price to be paid to keep control of
the circumstances and conditions in which they have decided to live.
Third, there is frequently in our society a conflict between those who
make the well-being of their spouses or children the first priority in
their lives and those who are convinced that their families exist to
bring them self-gratification.
5. The sorts of conflicts
I have sketched out and which we all feel so deeply form the context in
which we are called today at this Installation Liturgy to renew our
commitment to our identity and mission as apostles of the wisdom of God,
after the example of St. Thomas Aquinas.
I, on this first day of my service as
the principle pastor of the Church of Detroit, renew my resolve, with
the help of the Holy Spirit, to preach and to teach and, above all, to
live this wisdom, the revealed wisdom of Christ crucified, entrusted to
the Church and handed on to us by the Apostles and their successors.
I invite my brother bishops and priests
and our deacons, especially the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese,
to join me in renewing this commitment. The world’s hostility to the
wisdom that we preach often brings us trials, and so we need the mutual
support and encouragement that come from our fraternal communion in our
I invite those who have vowed themselves
to the consecrated life to find in today a providential moment, a
kairos, to respond anew to their vocation to live in this present
age the life of the world to come, so that our world will see for
themselves that the really wisest course is to “lose one’s life in order
to gain it” (cf. Mt. 16: 25).
And today is just the right day for all
the faithful of the Archdiocese to embrace again the wisdom of the
Gospel and to promise again what was promised at their Baptism: that
they renounce the empty show that passes as wisdom in the world and that
they will place all their hope for real happiness in the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit, and the life of the world to come which is already
lived in the communion of the Church.
This wisdom of total abandonment to God
and his will for us does not direct us to turn our backs on the events
and circumstances of this age. Rather, it teaches us to see that the
trials and triumphs of our times are guided by our Heavenly Father’s
loving Providence, and that they are opportunities to grow in love by
responding to these events with the love that is born of complete trust
in God. This wise love is our main source of strength in these
challenging economic times.
And those of you who are parents, please
teach this wisdom to your children by what you say, and most of all by
the way you live. This wisdom of the cross is the greatest gift you can
give those whom you love so dearly.
I particularly want to voice to young
Christians – adolescents and young adults – the invitation which the
Holy Spirit makes today: that we be renewed in our taking hold of the
wisdom of crucified love. You are at a moment in your own life’s
journey when each day you are becoming ever more powerfully aware of
your capacity to give and receive love. There are many voices that seek
to shape your talent for love according to their own vision and their
own purposes. Let Christ’s wisdom about love direct and form this
talent which is blossoming in your hearts and mind, for God is the
author of your wanting love, and his wisdom is the only plan for truly
fulfilling that desire.
6. As I move to
conclude my preaching, I wish to acknowledge two bishops who in their
priestly ministry have given exemplary service to the wisdom of
crucified love. The first is our Holy Father Pope Benedict. My taking
up the leadership of the Archdiocese of Detroit today is an act of
profound ecclesial communion with him and, through him, with the whole
Episcopal College and therefore with all the People of God. Archbishop
Sambi, we are particularly grateful for your presence today, since you,
as the Holy Father’s representative, give us a visible expression of
this communion. Today, as we do every day, but today especially we pray
that the Lord who called him to the Chair of Peter will continue to
strengthen him, so that he may always be able to “strengthen his
brothers and sisters” (Lk. 22: 32). Let us continue to cherish his
fatherly love and care for us, and love him in return.
Second, I wish to acknowledge Cardinal
Maida, who for close to nineteen years has, like his predecessor
Cardinal Szoka before him, guided this Archdiocese in the ways of
Christ’s wisdom. To him, on behalf of us all, I offer heartfelt thanks
for his ministry and promise our continued prayers and our enduring
7. Now there remains
nothing for us but to remember the death and resurrection of the Lord in
the Eucharistic Sacrifice. According to the Father’s plan, it was not
enough to show us divine love itself in the Son’s Pasch, but he has
willed to make the Paschal Mystery present to us through sensible signs
and, even more wondrously, to make him our food and drink in this Most
Blessed Sacrament. As the Holy Spirit, through my ministry – unworthy
though I be – pours into our hearts and minds the wisdom of crucified
love, let us, like St. Thomas Aquinas, open ourselves to this grace, so
that we become in our own day worthy students and effective apostles of
The following was
delivered in Spanish:
The installation of a bishop is a time
for him and his flock to be renewed in their identity and mission.
Celebrating my installation as Archbishop on the memorial of St. Thomas
Aquinas helps us understand that an essential dimension of our identity
and mission is to hold and teach the wisdom of Christ. St. John teaches
us that at the heart of this wisdom is loving Christ and one another as
Christ has loved us. St. Paul reminds us that in this fallen world such
love will always involve sharing in the cross of Christ. At this Mass
let us commit ourselves anew to be apostles of the wisdom of Christ, and
let us receive from Christ in the Holy Eucharist the power to live lives
that are truly wise, that is, the power to love.