Newly installed Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich’s first public homily stressed the importance of personal witness “with joy and compassion,” purified of “anger, harshness and fear.”
“Jesus tells all of us today to go back to where our journey of faith began, to be in touch with the joyful experience of being transformed by the intimacy God offers us, to be willing to share it with the next generation,” he said during his installation Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral on Tuesday.
“Young people have always been attracted to authenticity of life, where words match deeds. Let’s not be afraid to let our young people know about our life with God and how it began.”
He encouraged Catholics to “stay close” to young people, in order to “tell them what it means for us to believe, and share with them how the Gospel has brought joy and meaning to us and has transformed our lives.”
Archbishop Cupich, 65, succeeds Cardinal Francis George, who had headed the Chicago archdiocese since 1997. Cardinal George is battling cancer for the third time at age 77 and chose to step down as head of the local Church.
Archbishop Cupich had served as Bishop of Spokane, Wash., since 2010 and previously headed the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D.
He has served as chair of the National Catholic Education Association since 2013 and has been on the board of governors of the Chicago-headquartered Catholic Extension Society since 2009.
Born in Omaha, Neb., to a family from a Croatian background, Archbishop Cupich is one of nine siblings. More than 50 family members attended his installation Mass. Also attending were several cardinals, dozens of bishops, and civic and religious leaders including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
English, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Croatian, Tagalog and Latin were among the languages used during the Mass.
After Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., read Pope Francis’ letter formally installing the new Chicago archbishop, Cardinal George gave to Archbishop Cupich the crozier of Cardinal George Mundelein. Cardinal Mundelein was a major figure in Chicago and American history, heading the Chicago archdiocese from 1915 to 1939.
Archbishop Cupich delivered his homily in an approachable style, making the occasional joke. He reflected on the reading from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus Christ walked on water to the disciples’ boat during stormy seas and called on Peter to walk out to him.
“I realize this new responsibility is going to be demanding, but seriously folks, I don’t do ‘walking on water’,” he said. “I can barely swim. So I hope this image in today’s Gospel is not reflective of anyone’s expectations.”
He emphasized the need for Catholics to “join Christ in seeking out, inviting, and accompanying, by abiding with those to whom he sends us.”
“Jesus’ walk across the waters is intentional. He has come to seek out and to save the troubled, those who are lost,” the archbishop said. “Sharing his life in the Father with us is the source of his enthusiasm and determination, is his motivation for seeking out the disciples and is the reason why he has come into the world.”
“We face in our day the formidable task of passing on the faith to the next generation, of evangelizing a modern and sometimes skeptical culture, not to mention inspiring young people to serve the Church as priests and religious. It all seems so daunting, as daunting as walking on water.”
Archbishop Cupich noted that some parents and grandparents “wonder if they are going to be the last Catholics in their family” while bishops and priests “find that the Good News is increasingly difficult to proclaim in the midst of a great polarization in Church and society.”
He said St. Peter responded to Jesus’ invitation to walk on water with “daring and boldness” and “the courage to leave our comfort zone.”
“There is always resistance in each of us to take that risk. We can be self-satisfied where we are,” the archbishop said, noting Pope Francis’ warnings against resisting needed reforms.
Archbishop Cupich said that Jesus invites us “to deal with the tension involved in change, not dismissively but in a creative way, and to challenge each other to do so.”
“Maybe, we hear that challenge today as a call to leave behind our comforting convictions that episodic Sunday Mass attendance is good enough, that we don’t really have to change our habitual bad behavior, our unhealthy dependencies, our inordinate attachments, because we can get by as we are, because they have not gotten us into any serious trouble yet, or just because we are afraid of the unknown,” he said.
“Pope Francis is giving voice to this invitation in our day, by inviting the Church to come and walk with Christ, as he is always doing something new,” he continued. “It is an invitation to leave behind the comfort of going the familiar way. He is challenging us to recognize that Christ is always inviting us to more, to greater things.”
Jesus’ communion is “not for the perfect” but “for the salvation of souls, for the lost, the forlorn, and those who are adrift.”
The archbishop said that the Church is called to be faithful to its mission “by putting aside her fears and the allure of false securities, and leap into the turbulent but creative waters of life in the world with the guidance of God and the charge of the Gospel.”
Archbishop Cupich said the U.S. bishops’ conference is inviting the United States “to protect the vulnerable, the poor and the weak, to treat immigrants with justice and dignity, to respect life and to be good stewards of creation.”
He also gave thanks in his homily for family, immigrants, Native Americans and religious sisters, saying they have “shaped so much of our faith, our lives and my ministry.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago has about 2.2 million Catholics who make up 37 percent of the population. The Chicago archdiocese has 356 parishes with many Masses in Spanish, Polish and other languages. The archdiocese has 771 active and retired diocesan priests, over 500 deacons, 674 religious priests, over 200 religious brothers and almost 1,700 women religious. The archdiocese has more than 200 elementary schools and 37 secondary schools, in addition to three seminaries.