Full Text: Wilton Cardinal Gregory's homily for Archbishop Fiorenza's funeral Mass

October 11, 2022

Wilton Cardinal Gregory preaches the homily during Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza's funeral Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston Sept. 29. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON - On Sept. 29, 2022, Wilton Cardinal Gregory preached the homily at Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza's Funeral Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Cardinal Gregory was a longtime friend of Archbishop Fiorenza, as the two had served as leadership for the U.S. bishops' conference together.

Then-Bishop Gregory also gave the homily at an anniversary Mass celebrating Archbishop Fiorenza's 50th anniversary of the priesthood in 2004.


Your Eminence, Cardinal DiNardo, the Community of Faith of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Members of Archbishop Fiorenza’s Family, my brother bishops, priests, and deacons, our esteemed Women and Men in Consecrated Life, Friends all in Christ,

Every cleric knows just how difficult it is to preach a funeral homily for a person that you did not know well. It is even more difficult to preach about someone that you knew quite well. There are so many things that should be said or could be said as you attempt to shine the Light of God’s Word onto the life of one whose life has enlightened your own life and countless others besides.

This week the Church at Mass has listened to the narrative of the celebrated scriptural figure of Job who stands as an icon of faith and trust in God even in the face of immense suffering and loss. We probably all would love to have a small portion of Job’s faith – but without the many trials that tested that faith. Job demonstrated his faith when he firmly declared: I know that my redeemer lives.

Christ continues to live for every person of faith – perhaps especially in those moments when we must accept sorrow and loss. Archbishop Fiorenza would have every one of us echo Job’s words today as we grieve his passing and declare that we too know that our redeemer lives. Funerals are those moments when we need to reaffirm our confidence and trust in God’s fidelity in spite of our sorrow. During that portion of his life that I was privileged to share with him, I was permitted to witness Joe Fiorenza’s deep faith in God’s fidelity even in the face of the challenges and trials that came his way.

Paul reminds us, once again, of the Triumph of the Redeemer in conquering even death itself. That is what we pray for at Mass today – to believe fervently in Christ’s Resurrection and in the promise that we all, in due course, will share in that victory over death with Him. Like Job and Paul, Joe Fiorenza fervently believed in the Risen Christ.

He came to recognize Christ in those that he served and ministered to so generously – as priest and bishop. He saw Christ in the poor, the disenfranchised, prisoners, the physically and mentally impaired. He was brave enough to see the Living Christ in people whom the world often chooses to ignore as Matthew’s gospel passage reminds us.

He was born and became a priest during a time when segregation was a sanctioned tradition in many parts of our country. Joe, however, did not personally tolerate it or see its justification. His great heart welcomed and loved people of every race, culture, and background. His pastoral voice was an important source of strength for those who labored with him in the arena of Catholic Social Teachings. He stood proudly with those who labored for civil rights – even when it was unpopular and unappreciated.

No one who ever met Archbishop Fiorenza could overlook his wonderful sense of humor and his great wit. He was a man of Christian joy – long before Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium. We must remember that the task of evangelization requires a spirit of joy as an indispensable component of allowing the gospel to be fully attractive to people.

Eventually, the US bishops elected him our president knowing full-well of his penchant for social justice. He did not disappoint and gladly brought our attention to issues that touched the lives of the poor, those on death row, and the neglected. I was lucky to sit next to him during his presidency and to learn from him how to advance the works of charity and social outreach.

Matthew’s gospel suggests that when the King eventually does return in glory, neither the sheep nor the goats will remember caring for or neglecting those whose needs were identified with Christ Himself. Somehow, Joe must have recalled this particular passage often. As he entered God’s Kingdom, I am certain that he recognized the Christ because he had seen him living among the poor, the immigrants, those who were prisoners, and the mistreated. As he always began his conversations with me, I believe that Christ then greeted him with a heavy Texas accent – brother!

Cardinal DiNardo can testify, that even in his 90’s, Joe was fully in charge of his life. I thank the Cardinal for his regular reports on Joe’s health condition and his determined decisions to do things his way! As you might have suspected, his infirmities did not diminish his spirit one bit. Joe, however, would ask us all today and, in the days, to come to pray for him – to ask the Lord to forgive any human failings or sins that he might have committed. And that too is a part of our prayer today since all of us continue to need the Lord’s Mercy and forgiveness no matter what titles we might have in the Church or society – and perhaps the loftier our titles the more we might need the Lord’s pardon for our offenses.

We praise and thank the Lord for giving us, Joseph Anthony Fiorenza as brother and minister of the Gospel. He fulfilled both of those roles far better than he might ever have imagined. We all were blessed to know him. Amen.