“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)
Two weeks ago, Archbishop Wenski called me to give me the joyful news that he was naming me the pastor of Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish in Miami. I am honored by this appointment, however it means that I have to say goodbye to my parish family here at St. Gregory that I have grown to love over the last year and half. This appointment becomes effective on Monday, November 5th. Every priest makes the promise of obedience to his bishop at both his diaconate and priestly ordinations, and I’m sure you can ask any priest and he will tell you what I have come to discover: that it is always difficult to leave a parish because of the bonds you form with the holy people of God.
Tonight I am filled with mixed emotions. I am excited to take on the challenge of my first pastorate, but I am conscience of all the work that I had yet to do here that I must now leave behind. We have such a vibrant parish here at St. Gregory. I am going to miss dancing around with the ladies at the Life After Fifty nights, leading prayer for our newly formed Knights of Columbus Council, giving out the vocations prayer baskets, having fun with our teenagers on LifeNights, visiting our classrooms during school and CCD, being part of huge bear hugs during Emmaus retreats, barging into the Thursday night Spanish Scripture studies for a good laugh, celebrating School Masses, giving classes to a captive audience of Catechumens, standing up with our Respect Life group, listening to our divine 10:30am and 6pm choirs, having lunch every day with our school kids, and watching our new Spanish Mass take off and blossom into one of the largest Masses of the weekend with one of the largest choirs and an abundance of ministers in just one short year. None of this was my doing, but the work of God through all of you. To be honest, what I am going to miss most of all is preaching and celebrating the Eucharist with you, for it is at the table of the Lord where our Church comes to life. You were always so complimentary about my homilies. Those precious few minutes that I had every Sunday were so important to me because I wanted to share with you the passion that I have for the Gospel and the joy that Christ has placed in my heart which I was ordained to share.
In today’s readings, Jesus sums up the whole law in one simple word: love. Love of God and love of neighbor is what I have tried to instill in you with my preaching. Make no mistake, priests may come and go, but no matter what man stands behind that altar, it is all of you that make St. Gregory great. This is your parish. These are your deeds. It is your love of God and neighbor that you share with the world that helps make this parish one of a kind.
As I take my leave from you now, I ask you for only one thing: your prayers. I need your prayers as I become a pastor for the first time. Your faith has always inspired me, and your devotion to prayer, particularly the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration, has led me to spend even more time at the feet of the Master. I take all of you with me in my heart and encourage you to continue doing the good work that makes St. Gregory so great. Please take care of Father Hoyer and Father Naughton and my successor, and after 16 all too brief months witnessing this holy outpouring love before me, I leave you with the same words that Jesus told the Scribe in today’s gospel: You are not far from the kingdom of God.