Cardinal Foley in '09: 'I Cannot Think of a More Exciting Time in Which to Have Lived'

In Memoriam: a ZENIT Reprint of a Homily Given at the North American College

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ROME, DEC. 12, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a reprint of a homily Cardinal John Foley gave Oct. 17, 2009, which ZENIT printed two days later. The cardinal died Sunday morning at the age of 76, and the homily is here presented in memoriam.

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My brothers in Christ:

I want to thank Msgr. Francis Kelly, the director of this house and the Master of Ceremonies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, for his kind invitation to concelebrate with all of you this evening this opening Mass for your school year.

I remember very clearly my own first days in this house forty-six years ago. We had no concelebration then, but the Second Vatican Council was in progress and, before my departure to return to Philadelphia in 1965, I had the honor and privilege of having been able to be part of the first Mass — apart from ordination Masses — to have been concelebrated in this chapel.

In the Church, things have probably changed more during the past forty years than during the previous four hundred. It has been an exciting time and, apart from the time of Our Lord Himself, although we truly live in a Year of the Lord, Anno Domini, I cannot think of a more exciting time in which to have lived.

In your evening examination of consciences, in which you thank God for all the graces you have received in your lives and indeed during the day, thank God for the special grace to have lived in this age. Every day and in every way you are able to communicate your faith and love for Jesus Christ with more methods than the first followers of Jesus ever dreamed of.

When I think of how I had to prepare my dissertation by writing research notes on half sheets of paper and then using a typewriter to prepare the text, laboriously correcting every page and every carbon copy, I envy your possibilities to be able to call research materials to your computer and to prepare your texts with a machine which even corrects your spelling for you!

A combination of the Second Vatican Council and the computer revolution has changed our lives in ways you can scarcely imagine.

Some things never change — and those we call Gospel truths.

The Gospel according to Mark read this evening relates: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews states: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

It used to be that our nation and the Church in our nation were the leaders in the world — and we knew it. There was a joke that one bishop whose motto was, “Deus, adiutor meus”, had chosen it to signify, “God is my assistant.”

We have, however, emerged from the American century — politically and in the Church itself. If we have not embraced humility, it has been forced upon us.

As a nation, the United States is still important and probably remains the most powerful nation in the world, but — little by little — power seems to be shifting to Asia, to China and to India, and perhaps to Latin America, to Brazil and Chile and even Mexico.

As a Church, Catholics in the United States no longer see their churches filled every Sunday with more than 90 per cent of the known and registered Catholics; the figure of 25% seems closer to the national average for the Sunday practice of known Catholics — and, it is said, that the second largest religious group in the United States is made up of unregistered, inactive Catholics.

To repeat what we read from the Letter of the Hebrews: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

All of you are here to prepare to offer very special service to the Church; you are to serve and not to be served.

All of us have to reawaken the faith of Catholics who have somehow lost their way and don’t even know it. We do have to continue and enlarge missionary efforts around the world, but we have to intensify our apostolic efforts to welcome back to their spiritual home our inactive brother and sister Catholics and to reach out to those with no faith to offer the truth and love of Jesus Christ.

A story from my life as college student continues to motivate me in my prayer and in my work.

I was thinking abut entering the diocesan seminary; I had already been a Jesuit novice. I was doing volunteer work in teaching catechism at a school for mentally handicapped children.

The Sister superior came into the room and asked what I considered to be an imprudent question: “Children, do you like Mr. Foley?”

One boy shouted out, “No” — and then he added — “We love Mr. Foley.”

The Sister asked: “Why do you love Mr. Foley?”

He replied, “We love Mr. Foley because he teaches us about Jesus.”

That answer resolved any doubts I may have had about my vocation, and I remain convinced that nothing is more important than teaching people about Jesus — because in Him we live and move and have our being.

May God bless your studies — and your lives here in Rome and as you return home to be new apostles!

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