My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
In Gaudate et Exsultate, an exhortation of Pope Francis, he writes, “With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:16). We are called to be holy each in his or her own way. We do our very best to flourish the personal gifts that God has placed within our hearts.
Each time I speak with you, you share stories with me of a time when you met someone and by your sharing, that person acknowledged a closeness to God because of your presence. Sometimes you are astounded to learn this so many years later after the encounter occurs! Pope Francis tells us that we should be encouraged to “give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5).
We may think that holiness is reserved for a priest or religious sister or for someone who is often seen at the church praying. When you arise in the morning and make ready for the day, look in the mirror. I hope that you see a model for holiness! We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Make each moment a prayer; an encounter of praise and thanksgiving to God. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching your children how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.
Recently I conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park. Msgr. Richard Walsh spoke about a young man who was an athlete and awoke just before Christmas 2015 struck by a rare, devastating brain-stem stroke, which left him unable to move anything other than his eyes. Msgr. Walsh noted that his journey is an extraordinary example of courage, piety, love and dedication to God. Young people, you are called to love one another, to be courageous in living your faith, even when it is not what “everyone else is doing.”
Recently I joined my brother bishops of Region XIV during the ad limina Apostolorum where we shared our quinquennial reports with the Holy Father. During our visit, I spoke with Pope Francis about the holiness of the people in the Diocese of Orlando who serve God faithfully. I shared your thirst for God’s word and your living his word 24/7/365, from the youngest to the oldest, whether single or married, clergy or religious. I spoke about my gratitude to God for these very holy people whom I am called to serve.
As we are called to holiness, we come to realize the other person is a gift, a treasure of holiness to us. A right relationship with our family, our friends, our neighbors consists in gratefully recognizing their unique value from God. Every encounter is a summons to conversion and change. We offer each other forgiveness. We are called to open the door of our heart to each person, to recognize each one as the face of Christ. Just as I asked if you look into the mirror and see holiness, so you see the face of Christ.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26. It is a summons to be faith fit — to participate more fully in the word of God through prayer, penance, and almsgiving. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life in all its beauty, as a sacred gift. You are the temple of God. How beautiful is the body of Christ!
In the divinity of His love, may we be perfect, just as our heavenly father is perfect.