08 June 2010

Homily - 6 June 2010

What follows is very close to the homily I preached this past weekend, though with a few refinements and a bit of further development. It is, at any rate, what I should have liked to have said.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (C)
The Announcement of My Appointment as Pastor of
Holy Cross Parish, Auburn
while remaining
Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Virden
and of St. Patrick Parish, Girard

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in this Year for Priests – soon to come to a close - provides us with the occasion to contemplate the priestly ministry, so necessary and vital to the Church.

We know the Eucharist to be the source and summit of our lives, that those who look in faith to the Blessed Sacrament recognize it to be the holy Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and so direct all of their lives to this inestimable gift and from their nourishment at the altar of God they find strength to persevere in faith; they find their union with God and so are filled with joy and peace.

We also know that without the ministry of priests, there can be no Eucharist, for Christ Jesus entrusted this great Sacrament to the Apostles. It is for this reason that the priestly ministry, too, is necessary for the life of the Church, so intimately connected with the Eucharist is it.

Holy Mother Church earnestly desires that all people have the Eucharist available to them, and not only its availability, but also the means to prepare themselves to receive it worthily, namely through sacramental confession. The Church erects parishes and appoints Pastors to shepherd these portions of the Lord’s flock in his name. It is for this reason that the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has recently undertaken the 2010 Diocesan Pastoral Plan by looking towards the year 2013 to determine where best to assign priests to meet the needs of all.

This plan has divided the Diocese into thirteen regions based on geography and demographics. When I presented the plan to you for our region, Region 12, I told you this was not something that was intended to be implemented in the immediate future. While this was indeed not the intention at that time, various circumstances have arisen that necessitate the implementation of this plan, beginning July 1st.

To this end, the Reverend Monsignor Carl A. Kemme, Administrator of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, asked me Wednesday afternoon to assume the Pastorate of Holy Cross Parish in Auburn, while remaining Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Virden and of St. Patrick Parish in Girard. It is an additional assignment that I have – with some hesitation – accepted. I knew the day would come for the implementation of the plan, but I thought I would be the one to prepare the two parishes in Virden and Girard for it and would leave the full implementation to another priest.

These additional duties will require that I move to Auburn to be closer to what will be the main office for the three parishes. It will also mean that our plans to construct a new rectory in Virden have come to an end. I appreciate very much the efforts of those on the rectory building committee and enjoyed working with them toward that goal; I look forward to working with them in the future toward another goal: the restoration of Sacred Heart church in preparation for our centenary celebrations in 2014. (It will be some time before more information on the restoration will be possible.)

Under the current plan for Region 12, the parishes in Auburn, Virden and Girard will form what is called a “Pastoral Unit.” This effectively means the three parishes will remain separate, but will share one pastor and have a joint Pastoral Council. Resources will be shared and we will seek to coordinate our efforts to better work together, rather than duplicating projects, programs and processes. Precisely what this looks like, I cannot yet say.

Between now and the first weekend of July, a new Mass schedule will have to be hammered out for the three parishes – which include four churches. Father Kevin Laughery, the current Pastor of Holy Cross Parish, and I will soon be meeting the parishioners who were part of our regional planning committee and Mrs. Marlene Mulford, Chancellor of the Diocese and Director of Pastoral Planning, to work on a new Mass schedule for the three parishes. As one of our parishioners recently put it, it will be a plan that none of us will like, but that we will all have to accept and get used to.

We will all need to keep each other in prayer in these weeks ahead as we beg the Lord to guide us. We will look to him with confidence because we know that he says to his priests, as he said to the Apostles, “Give them some food yourselves” (Luke 9:13).

When a deacon is raised to the order of priest through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Bishop says to him, as he entrusts to him the chalice and paten, “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” From this moment on, “the priest’s life must be identified with Christ;” he must seek to make his life mirror the life of Christ. In all that he does, he must continually give himself over to the threefold ministry of Christ, of teaching, of sanctifying and of governing.

It is this food that the priest gives. He gives not his own teaching, but Christ’s, remembering the words of Saint Paul: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (I Corinthians 11:23). The priest sanctifies the faithful through the celebration of the Eucharist in which he gives the faithful “the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 9:11). The priest governs not with his own authority but with the authority of Christ, remembering that Jesus’ “way of governing was not through dominion, but in the humble and loving service of the Washing of the feet, and the kingship of Christ over the Universe is not an earthly triumph, but reaches its highest point on the wood of the Cross, which becomes a judgment for the world and a point of reference for the exercising of that authority which is the true expression of pastoral charity.”

As today I look with you toward the future, I entrust myself to your prayers and to the Lord’s grace. I am all too conscious of the Lord’s words, “Give them some food yourselves,” and I hear his call - and that of the Church – to model my own life on the mystery of his Cross, yet I am conscious, too, of my own weakness and limitations and I am tempted to echo the words of the Apostles spoken to the Lord: “Dismiss the crowds” (Luke 9:12). I fear what is being asked of me may be more than I can give.

Yet I, too, see the miracle of the loaves and the fish. I, too, see what the Lord can do so little, how he can satisfy vast crowds with all that we have, little though it is. And so I seek today to place myself again at his disposal, knowing that my life is not my own but his; I seek today to offer him what strength I have, little though it may be, trusting that he will know how to multiply it that I may continue to feed you and the additional portion of the Lord’s flock soon to be entrusted to me.

Please, pray for me that these words will not be mine, “Dismiss the crowds.” Pray that I will so conform my life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross as to always give you food to eat at the table of the Word, at the altar of God and in the exercise of my pastoral charity.

It is the Church’s firm belief that every pastor “is a means through whom Christ himself loves men: it is our ministry, dear priests, it is through us that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them.” Please pray, dear friends, that I will allow the Lord to use me, his weak and humble instrument, for such a task. Pray that I may be a shepherd to you after the heart of Christ.

Together let us go forward with our eyes fixed on the Body and Blood of the Lord. It is he who guides us and sustains us; he is the goal of our lives. Let us then look to him with confident hope, knowing that he is all we need. Amen.

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