The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
At the Conclusion of My Pastorate of
Holy Cross Parish, Auburn; of Sacred Heart Parish, Virden;
and of St. Patrick Parish, Girard
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace!
In accepting John’s baptism at the River Jordan, Jesus demonstrates his acceptance of the Father’s will for him. For this reason, the Father’s voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
His baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry, of his work of manifesting the Kingdom of God through the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the sick, the deaf, the mute, blind and lame, and the resuscitation of the dead.
In a similar way, our baptism also marks the beginning of our service of God, for “baptism commits Christians to participate boldly in the spread of the Kingdom of God, cooperating if necessary with the sacrifice of one’s own life” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 28 October 2007). The Lord calls each of us, in many and varied ways, to this mission, the very mission of his Son; our baptism is our acceptance of the Father’s will for us, and the beginning of our desire to follow after the Lord Jesus Christ.
But what is the Father’s will for us? It is, really, quite simple; it is simply this: that we live holy lives through the love of God and the love of neighbor. Indeed, holiness is the goal of the Christian life.
Too often we believe this goal of holiness is beyond us, that it is something too difficult to attain. Were we to attempt this goal on our own, it would certainly be too far from us. But we do not attempt this goal on our own! The Lord himself walks with us and helps us grow in faith, in hope and in love!
In the waters of baptism, Christ the Lord says to us, “I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
In baptism he takes us, as it were, by the hand, he leads us along the path that passes through the Red Sea of this life and introduces us to everlasting life, the true and upright life. Let us grasp his hand firmly! Whatever may happen, whatever may befall us, let us not lose hold of his hand! Let us walk along the path that leads to life (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 23 March 2008).
This is the task of the Christian: to stay on that path, following always the Father’s will.
As you know, very soon now I will begin my new assignment as the Episcopal Master of Ceremonies and Associate Director of the Office for Vocations. It is an assignment that I did not expect – especially so soon after receiving a third pastorate – but one that I am very much looking forward to beginning. I am particularly grateful to His Excellency Bishop Paprocki for the confidence he has placed in me in calling me to work more closely with him.
It seems a very strange thing to be moving for the third time in less than sixteen months. By now, packing has become almost second nature and these several moves have helped me to attach myself more closely to Christ Jesus and less closely to the things of this world.
[To the parishioners of St. Patrick Parish, Girard]
I know that when I arrived here as your Pastor in September of 2009, you were hoping I would be your pastor for at least a few years. You have had a great many pastors over a short span of time, creating the inevitable effect of a sense of a lack of stability and making it difficult to grow. But you have shown yourselves to be resilient as we have seen the level of participation in the life of this parish grow in the past many months.
Although it took a good amount of time and still needs a bit of encouragement, congregational singing has increased as we continue to recall the insight of Saint Augustine that “to sing belongs to lovers.”
The celebration of our patronal feast day on March 17th with a Solemn Mass in honor of Saint Patrick followed by a potluck dinner was well attended and provided both a good opportunity to seek God’s blessings on our parish and a time for fellowship.
The return of the sale of pork chop sandwiches and the soup supper have also provided both the occasion for fellowship and the task of working together for a common goal: the elimination of our parish debt. Toward this end we have made remarkable progress and have paid off one-third of the parish debt.
While there is still room for improvement in each of these areas, they are all signs of life and growth and point toward a future filled with hope.
Most notable – and perhaps exciting – of all is your generous contributions toward the 2011 Annual Catholic Services Appeal. As you well know, you have already contributed donations exceeding your goal!
I am exceedingly grateful to you for this fine achievement, and for the other progresses you have made. Please, continue them, so that, by the grace of God, this parish may become a thriving center of Catholic life, with an intense focus on the Eucharistic Lord and the means of reconciliation he has given to his Church.
[To the parishioners of Holy Cross Parish, Auburn]
I know that when I arrived here as your Pastor only six months ago, a sense of loss accompanied me as your Mass schedule was reduced as a consequence of my limited strength. For this reason, I am happy to soon be entrusting you to the pastoral care of Father House, whose strength is greater than mine and who is able to increase the number of Masses celebrated here in St. Benedict church.
You know that I recently restored to the tabernacle of the Eucharistic Lord to the center of his sanctuary. As we have done in this building, so I urge you to do with the homes of your souls: make the Eucharist the center of everything you do and you will know the peace the Lord intends for you!
Receiving – and keeping – this peace requires us to honor the Lord present in the Eucharist by keeping the Eucharistic fast, by maintaining a reverent silence in the church lest we disturb the prayers of others and by regularly confessing our sins.
When we live in this way we conform our lives ever more closely to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross and we grow in his grace.
[To the parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish, Virden]
When I first arrived here as your Pastor in September of 2009, it was very clear to me that I was receiving a parish from Father Sperl where the faith was strong and vibrant.
There is something unique here in this parish. Finding a choir of such talent and capability in a parish this size is often difficult, but to find a parish of this size in which the Lord is adored in the Eucharist for a 24-hour period each week is almost unheard of. To find such a strong pro-life involvement and a love of the priesthood is – sadly - also a rare gift.
I am grateful to Father Sperl for leaving behind such a strong foundation of faith and I am happy to have labored to build upon it, even if only for a short time. I am grateful to you, as well, for the great example of your faith and I urge you to keep building upon this foundation yourselves, as you have already done with the Lord’s grace.
As you know, the foundation of the physical complex of this parish is perhaps not as strong as the foundation of faith. There is much work and deferred maintenance that needs attending in the near future.
It was my hope to have had the honor of restoring this church of the Sacred Heart, but that task must now fall to Father House; I expect it will instead be my honor to assist the Bishop in the rededication of this church. Preparatory work toward the restoration of the church will soon be underway as we investigate the needs of the physical structure and the costs associated with them.
As I prepare to begin my new ministry with the Bishop, I urge you to share the great treasure you have here every Wednesday through Thursday morning. Invite and encourage your family and friends to participate in the adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist. Time spent with Jesus is always time well spent.
As you have been encouraging and supportive of me through your many prayers, kind words, and generous assistance, so I ask you to be equally supportive of Father House, to whose pastoral ministry I am happy to entrust you. You will find in him an able and zealous pastor. Work well with him and grasp hold of his hand as he endeavors to lead you deeper into the mystery of Christ, so that together the parishes of this Pastoral Unit may truly become a light to the various communities, drawing all people to the Church the Lord has established.
As I begin my new assignment, I ask your prayers for me, that I might be an able and generous assistant to Bishop Paprocki in the worship of Almighty God. Pray, too, that the Lord will guide will guide me in my work for vocations, I might help young men and women discern the Lord’s will for their lives. At the same time, I assure you of my continued prayers for you as I also thank you for your many kindnesses extended to me.
Parting ways is never easy, especially for those who are so closely united in the Body of Christ. But it is here, at the altar of the Lord in the celebration of the Holy Mass, that we are never far from one another, no matter how great the physical distance that separates us. Gathered around the Lord’s altars, wherever they may be, we are one in the foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. May the Lord keep us faithful and gather us together again in the joy of his kingdom.
If we grasp his hand – and hold tightly to it each day – the Lord will bless us with his peace and will give us whatever grace we need to live a holy life, thereby making of us a light to the nations. It is this light – his own light – that is to shine before others through the witness of our lives. Holiness – like light – is attractive.
This truth Saint Patrick knew well; he took hold of the Lord’s hand and so closely followed his will that he converted an entire kingdom. Reflecting on his life, the Apostle to Ireland once said, “If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples.”
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Lord revealed his Sacred Heart, expressed this sentiment with these words: “All for the Eucharist; nothing for me.”
The wisdom of these two saints is reflected in the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which share through baptism. With Saint Paul, each of us can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
It is true, my friends: if we have any worth, it is to live our lives for God; the Eucharist must take precedence before us; we must glory in the Cross of our Lord. Let us, then, seek to live holy lives worthy of Christ that we might draw the nations to him who is the Light of the World. Amen!