“Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)
Many of you know the story that is part of our tradition about Peter trying to flee Rome during persecutions. On his way out of the city, he saw Jesus walking into the city and asked him, “Quo vadis Domine (Where are you going Lord?)." Jesus answered, “To Rome, to be crucified.” It was then that Peter realized that he must go back to Rome to be glorified just as the Lord was. That he must go back to embrace the crown of martyrdom for the sake of the kingdom. That he had to stop fleeing from the will of the Lord and embrace the cross just as Jesus did.
So many times in the gospels, we see Peter trying to flee the will of God or trying to impose his will. Sound familiar? We do it constantly. Whether it was at the Transfiguration, right after Jesus announces his death, at the Last Supper, at Gethsemane, or when he denies him, Peter is either fleeing from the Lord’s will or trying to impose his own. Yet it is precisely this stubborn man that Jesus chooses to lead his Church. Today we also celebrate Paul who was equally as stubborn and as the preface says, both these great men by their witness share one crown of glory.
Why do we flee from the Lord’s will? Why don’t we just surrender to the Almighty? After all, he knows what is best for us. Every time I see the hand of God shifting me in one direction or another I ask the same question that Peter asked Jesus as he fled Rome, “Quo vadis Domine?” Where Jesus goes, I must follow. Where Jesus asks me to go, there I must be. I confess it is difficult to let go of a community (I have said goodbye to 6!), but the Lord always steers me in the right direction. I know it is difficult on the community, but for some reason the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila came to mind yesterday and a phrase that is often overlooked in the “Let Nothing Disturb You Prayer.” That phrase is “God never changes.” People come and go into our lives. Priests come and go into our lives. A different face will be behind this altar and this pulpit next week, but GOD NEVER CHANGES. He is the one constant in our life. And that is all that matters.
Today, like Peter, we are asked by the Lord, “Do you love me?” We are asked this question and we obviously answer yes, but if we truly mean that “yes” then our answer implies that we must trust in the Lord and his divine plan for us. It isn’t our plan. It definitely isn’t my plan. It is HIS plan. When we tell the Lord we love him, like Peter, we surrender to Jesus. We place our life totally in His hands and ask him to lead us wherever he needs us. In the life of a priest, this question is asked constantly. Saying yes, being obedient to the promptings of the Spirit is very difficult, but the rewards are heavenly.
I have been blessed for the last 19 months to be your pastor. You have taught me to be a pastor, sometimes through trial and error, but it has been an undeserved honor to come back to this church where I was taught my catechism, where I made my First Holy Communion, and where I first started to understand our faith, to be your pastor. Our time together was short but so full of blessings. Most of those blessings we shared at this table. Once more I ask, “Where are you going Lord?” While my heart is heavy that I leave you behind, it is hopeful in the will of God and excited about the challenges ahead. That comes from years of experience of moving to places where the Good Lord always takes care of me through the holy people of God. And I leave you with this quick story. Back in the seminary, our dearly departed Bishop Roman once told us: “The only thing the priest needs is an altar.” Those are words that have brought me great comfort through six moves and that bring me great comfort as I follow the Lord to a different corner of his Kingdom where another altar awaits me with different faces on the other side longing to be fed with the Word and the Eucharist. But this first parish that I was blessed to lead and serve will always be so very close to my heart. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a pastor. Pray for me and for your new pastor. Like Peter, now I must pick my cross and continue this priestly journey that began 12 years ago and has had many stops. Where am I going now? Wherever the Lord needs me. All things change, but thankfully God never changes….