08 May 2009

Homily - 8 April 2009

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Mass with the Students and Parents of the High School
The Announcement of My First Pastorate

My dear young friends,

Four years ago, Bishop Lucas sent me here to proclaim the Good News “that what God promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32). When he asked me to return to St. Anthony’s as a priest, he said to me, “You’re young and have lots of energy, and if you want, you can help out at the high school.” As you know, I accepted these “marching orders” and invested myself here among you. These several years later, my time with you has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Some of you know that for the past three years I have served on the Priests Personnel Board, advising the Bishop about the assignments of priests. This Board met Tuesday morning; it was a difficult and heart-wrenching meeting for me.

Tuesday evening, one of you posed this question to me: “At the end of the [school] year, if you could have your choice of going anywhere or staying here, what would you choose?” He had no idea how his question stung, how it cut straight to my heart.

I told him I would choose to stay here, but only six hours earlier, Bishop Lucas asked me to assume the pastorates of Sacred Heart Parish in Virden and of St. Patrick Parish in Girard. With great reluctance I accepted, remembering my promise of obedience given him on the day he ordained me to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. I wanted you to be the first to know, after the parish staff.

It is with a heavy heart that I hear the words of the Psalmist today: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before him; with trembling rejoice” (Psalm 2:11). These are certainly the sentiments of my heart.

I knew this day would come, though I honestly thought and hoped I would have one more year with you. Indeed, it was my heart’s desire to remain here among you. You know that many plans have already been made with you and most of these will – I regret to say – have to change. At the same time, many celebrations will have to be planned in the weeks ahead. Exactly what this means I do not know; we can work this out.

At this moment I do not know when my new assignment in Virden and Girard begins. All I can say is that it will likely begin sometime between the first of July and the middle of September.

Although I know that the Lord will bring many blessings through this new assignment, I have no desire to leave St. Anthony’s – least of all to leave you.

My heart feels as though it has been torn from my chest and pounded several times. And yet, Jesus says to me today, as he says to you, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (John 14:1). With these words, let us recall what I have told you so often these past few years.

I have told you that our only happiness lies in God and in following his will for our lives. This new assignment two hours west of here – just south of Springfield – is the will of the Lord for me, as given through Bishop Lucas. Difficult as it is, I accept this assignment with humble trust, remembering that when I laid down on the cool marble floor of the Cathedral the day I was ordained I gave my life to Jesus Christ and his Church. As I ask the Lord today to give me – and you – his joy and peace, I place my life again at the service of his Church.

We know that Saint Thomas said to Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way” (John 14:5). The Lord is now entrusting me with a portion of his flock and I find myself saying to him, “Master, I do not know where you are leading me; how can I know the way?”

One of my favorite singers and songwriters is Rich Mullins. In his song, “Hard to Get,” he sings,

I can’t see how You’re leading me
Unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get.
Jesus is now asking me to let myself be led by him so that I will be better able to lead others to him.

I do not fully understand the Lord’s will in this new assignment, but I will listen to his words, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

His way is the way of the Cross, the way of self-abandonment and love. His way requires the giving of one’s own self, of one’s own life, so that others might live. This I have tried to do for you during my time among you, and now, as I prepare to leave you, I am offering this for you as well.

In a time such as this, I find myself asking, “How do I want to be remembered here?” We have had many enjoyable moments, my friends, in the classroom, on the soccer field, on the wrestling mat and the track field, in the weight room, in busses and vans and cars, and even at Buffalo Wild Wings. These moments I hope you will remember; I will remember them and cherish them. But this is what I want you to remember above all else: the love of Jesus Christ.

If my time among you has been nothing more than a bunch of laughter and goofing around with Dr Pepper, sour balls and Apples to Apples, if I have not somehow helped you to realize and understand more deeply the love of God, then I have failed in my mission. If such is the case, I offer my sincere apologies and beg your forgiveness. But if my time among you has helped to lead you closer to Jesus, let us together give him thanks and praise, for it is he who has used me, his simple and humble laborer, for his own glory.

Five or ten years from now, if you think of me I hope it will be because you have realized the beauty and the importance of living for others. The way of Jesus Christ – the way which the saints have followed – shows us that it is better, that is more fulfilling and more human – to care more about other people than to care about myself. I want to leave behind a group of young people who care more about others than they do themselves. This is what I want you to remember: that life is best lived when it is lived for God and for others! Live in this way, my dear young friends, and despite what storms of life may be befall you, your hearts will not long be troubled, for you will rest securely in the embrace of God.

I do have one final gift to leave you: church service hours. In the weeks – and, God willing – months ahead, I will count on you to help me pack. And if you want to form a caravan to help me move, I would be deeply honored and happy to make dinner for all who help.

I cannot thank you enough for the love and joy you have shared with me these past few years. I have no words to express my deep gratitude but these two simple words: thank you. With all my heart, I thank you. I have very much enjoyed your friendship and I count on your continued friendship in the years to come. Know that if you ever need a laugh, if you ever need to talk, if you have a question that needs an answer or you simply want to try to stump me still, I am only a phone call, a text message, or a Facebook message away.

Finally, I must beg your prayers for me. I have no idea what the future holds for me and I look into it now with much trepidation. I do not feel ready to be a pastor, but this is what the Lord is now asking of me and he will strengthen me with his grace to fulfill the duties he is entrusting to me.

Pray, my dear young friends, that I will be a good, holy and zealous pastor of the flock that will soon be entrusted to me. And know that I will remember you each day in my prayers, as I ask the Lord to bless you abundantly. May his joy and peace be with us all this day. Amen.

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