Sunday, June 09, 2013

Farewell Homily, 10th Sun Ordinary Time Year C

Well… this is a sad day for me, my last Sunday here at St. James. My last official day isn’t until Tuesday, June 18 but next weekend, Father’s Day weekend, I’ll be here on Saturday night and on Sunday I’ll be at St. Ambrose and St. Ignatius… so that makes today my last Sunday with you as your Associate Pastor. My new assignment, as many of you know, will be at Holy Trinity in Fredericktown and Holy Rosary in Manton. They are in the same general area, between Bardstown and Springfield, off of US-150. I hope you’ll be able to join me in Batcheldor Hall after the 12:15pm Mass today for a going away party when I can thank all of you in more detail for a wonderful first two years of Priesthood.

I think the readings today, in a sense, encapsulate well my time here with you, my Mission here as a recently ordained priest, a mission to respond in love. Jesus comes upon a funeral procession as it makes its way through the gates of the city of Nain. Unlike when he raised to life the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue official, or when he raised Lazarus, his beloved friend – this time no one makes any appeal to him. This time, near the gate of the city, he raises to life the son of the widow of Nain on his own accord, moved with mercy and compassion, for she had lost everything. After this the people glorified God, remembering how the prophet Elijah similarly raised to life the son of the widow of Zarephath, as described in our first reading. Here Jesus shows us his great love and compassion for those who are suffering.

He also provides a vivid model for every priest to follow in his own pastoral and sacramental ministry. It is the law of love that motivates Jesus, not the ritual purity laws that dictated him to stay away from contact with the dead. The law of love motivates him to act, motivates him to step forward, to give of himself, to not simply pass by, to not wait to be called upon. This law of love must motivate the hearts of Christ’s priests as well. It must be their impetus, their impulse.

As you probably know, I can tend to be somewhat shy and introverted. But one of the greatest gifts you have given me has been the opportunity and the welcome to be among you “near the gate,” so to speak, of so many profound moments. You have given me a chance. You have created what one of my old professors used to call, “the condition of possibility” for me to begin to try to follow Jesus’ example as a priest, to step out, to step forward, called by love: “Near the gate” of so many hospital rooms every Monday morning for Anointings and Holy Communion; “near the gate” of this Church for so many Masses and funerals; “near the gate” of the baptismal font for Baptisms and Easter Vigil Confirmations; “near the gate” of the confessional – the great sacrament of mercy; “near the gate” of the sanctuary for weddings; “near the gate” of our classrooms and meeting rooms, teaching and catechizing; “near the gate” of the detention center for confessions and Mass for the prisoners; “near the gate” of the basketball court, cheering on our children; near all of these “gates” so to speak, these occasions for ministry, you have accepted and welcomed me. I cannot say enough how much you have helped me in this way to grow a pastoral heart and to respond to the impetus to love.  Please forgive me for the times when I did not step forward and when I stepped forward to harshly.

Lumen Gentium, the Latin title for the document from Vatican II that dealt with different aspects of the Church, gives a beautiful description of priestly ministry. It says in paragraph 41: “The shepherds of Christ’s flock must [in a holy way] and eagerly, humbly and courageously carry out their ministry, in imitation of the eternal high priest, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. They ought to fulfill this duty in such a way that it will be the principal means also of their own sanctification” (LG 41). This means that the very carrying out of their ministry will be what makes priests holy. The very exercise of their ministry is the means by which God intends to make them saints. Praise God for this! Praise God for you! To a degree that only God knows, I believe that by accepting me and my ministry, you have helped me to grow in holiness. There is no greater gift you could have given me over these two years than that.

Throughout the Mass, most of the prayers are said out loud to God the Father, either directly or in dialogue form with you. But there are some prayers that the priest whispers, in a voice inaudible to the congregation; they are private prayers between God and the priest. Two of these are said as the priest receives Communion. Before he consumes the Host, he whispers, “May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.” And before he drinks the Precious Blood from the chalice, he whispers, “May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.” Hmm… “the Body of Christ” – in light of these readings it may be said that that phrase at that time refers to you too, in a mystical way, the Body of Christ. As Lumen Gentium put it, insofar as I am faithful to being the “shepherd and guardian of your souls,” I am being kept safe for eternal life. Thus, God-wiling, we are keeping each other safe for that resurrection and life that never ends – “eternal life.”

Let us pray for each other. As Christ steps forward and touches our lives, let us always be together in stepping forward to meet him, each of us being faithful to our own vocations, our own unique ways of life. Then we can always be together, together in “glorifying God,” always “near the gate” of his Church, always together extolling Christ, saying, “‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’”

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