Sunday, May 18, 2014

YOU Are the Church!

“…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

Ever since I was a little boy, I have never stayed at one particular parish very long.  My parents had restless heart and I guess they passed that on to me.  From the age of 15 when I started doing missionary work, I wouldn’t stay very long in one place (the exceptions being my home parish and my first parish I was assigned to as a priest).  Of course, this wasn’t my doing.  There was always an archbishop on the other end of the line, inspired by the Spirit, telling me where I was needed next, and I embraced each change as God’s will for me.  After all, I did lay down my life at ordination for the good of the Church and looked my archbishop firmly in the eyes (twice!) and told him that I would be obedient to him and to his successors.  Just a little over 18 months ago, I received a call that I would receive my first pastorate here in this holy place where I received my First Communion.  Since that time, I have grown to love this community that has embraced me as its pastor.  I have found a faith-filled people hungering to be fed the Living Word of God.  So it did come as a bit of a surprise that two and half weeks ago I found myself yet again on the other end of the line with the Archbishop who was asking me to be the pastor of a different community in another part of our Archdiocese later this summer.  Obedience: is it any wonder that priests make that promise twice!  While I embrace the next great challenge the Lord has in store for me, I couldn’t help but think of all of you while I was talking with the Archbishop.  As news started to spread through the parish that I would be transferred, people asked why I stayed for such short a time.  I would respond that our ways are not the Lord’s ways.  When people started telling me that they would follow me to my next parish, I would gently remind them that we follow but one man:  Christ Jesus the Lord.
In a way, today’s readings proved to be providential to go along with this news that I have to share with you today.  One of the first homilies I delivered from this pulpit as your pastor was to remind you that the Church does not consist merely of who is up here preaching but that you are the Church.  In the second reading, St. Peter calls us living stones who are called to be built into a spiritual house.  My brothers and sisters, you are the living Church.  You are what makes this parish community so vibrant and beautiful.  I am merely a humble, unworthy servant that was placed at the service of the royal priesthood you received from the Lord at baptism.  But as I reminded my staff when I shared this news with them, the work of the Church continues.  There is still so much to do and so much that all of you could do that does not depend on who your pastor is.  You are all called to “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).”  We are indeed called to be living stones that make this Church come alive.  Several years ago I wrote in a homily, “As living stones, we are called to be filled with the Spirit to help edify this spiritual house.  Unfortunately, so many of us are stones, quite literally stones, not living stones, that just sit here and do not contribute to the mission of the Church.  We forget that we are called from baptism to share in Christ's ministry.  It is not sufficient to sit here like stones once a week for one hour.  Our Lord needs you more.  The Church needs you more. “  For me as a pastor, it has never been about the bottom line or about triumphs or defeats, but rather sharing with you the joyful news of the Gospel in order to inspire you to go forth and share that same Good News with others. 

I must confess that it will hurt when I leave at the end of next month.  A friend was telling me this week that I should be used to this, but I replied that I wouldn’t be much of a priest if it did not hurt to let go of people I love.  I have done this goodbye thing all too often over the last 12 years, dried many tears, and heard the question “why?” more than I would like.  But as I said earlier, our ways are not God’s ways.  He has a plan for each of us which makes the first line that Jesus utters in today’s gospel so comforting:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  We have faith in God.  We must have faith in his divine will.  You follow not a man who wears black.  You follow Christ the Lord.  My task was to bring that Christ to you who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  As living stones, each and every one of you is precious in the Lord’s eyes.  I just thank the Lord that, even if it was for a short while, I was able to see with my eyes how precious each of you truly is.