Holy Card from my ordination
and 25th Anniversary celebration
Today, June 6, 2011, is the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I thought to mark the occasion I would share the homily I preached at the 25th anniversary celebration back in 2006. I guess I’m just lazy enough to not come up with an original text on this anniversary to share. But, what I said 5 years ago still is true. This anniversary has been much quieter than the one marking the silver jubilee. The parish professional staff took me out to lunch and brought me my favorite cookies (Toll House Chocolate Chip, by the way) and balloons. I hear there’s a little reception after next Sunday’s Mass which I’m honored to have but still embarrassed about. I always remind folks I’m in this to serve, not be praised. But it is good for the self-esteem and spirit to accept humbly the gratitude and sincere well wishes of the people I serve.
I’ve pretty much cut and pasted the text of the homily as I typed it up back in 2006. I haven’t really looked at it since. I did note that I had a note to myself at the top of the text, where I usually put the scripture references, “Preach Christ! Not yourself!” This is wise advice to any homilist on any occasion that has something to do with a milestone in his life. I remember seeing in more than one Episcopalian pulpit this message to the preacher engraved in the pulpit itself “Sir, we want to see Christ.” And I recall my homiletics professor telling us in the seminary, “Don’t talk about yourself. The people aren’t there to hear about you. They want to hear Good News!”
Homily 25th Anniversary
(PREACH CHRIST, NOT YOURSELF!)
I Kings 19:4-8
Permit me to borrow an idea from Bishop Braxton used at the jubilee Mass at Cathedral in June for the priests of the diocese of Belleville. He quoted a song from the Broadway Musical RENT (which certainly surprised many of us in attendance!) There is a song that opens the second act, the part of the play that covers one year in the life of the main characters. The lights come up to reveal the cast in a line across the stage and they sing…
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?
Another verse asks…
“How do you measure the life of a woman or man? “
Gathered here this afternoon to mark 25 years of priesthood we might ask in a similar way…
“How do you measure a life of ministry?”
We could get mathematical: 25 years times 225,600 minutes equals 5,640,000 minutes.
We could count the number of Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, Masses, and Anointings of the Sick I’ve celebrated. But all that is just a bunch of data. And, statistics while interesting in baseball, don’t really measure a life of a priest.
The song which asks how to measure the life of a woman or a man continues with a re-occurring refrain, “How about love? Seasons of love!”
Now, this liturgy is not a Broadway musical focusing on human love making our lives meaningful, though. Let’s remember that The liturgy invites us to consider NOT how well has Fr. Joe or any priest loved …but how well has the love of Jesus Christ been revealed through the life of a priest. How well do the communities he’s been sent to serve make real the love of Christ? If a priest is anything, it’s to be a sacrament, a real presence of the face of God’s love in human flesh inspiring ALL the baptized to reflect the image of the crucified and risen Christ in acts of self-sacrificing for the good of others.
From the beginning of planning this day I’ve been uncomfortable celebrating “Fr. Joe’s milestone or Fr. Joe, the wonderful priest!”
So, I asked there be three goals for marking this milestone at St. Stephen when it was suggested we celebrate:
- Have Fun
- Build Community
- Increase awareness of the call to all the baptized to serve each in their own “order”
(All are ordered by Christ to “re-order” the creation we have been made stewards of)
Therefore, make sure you note the display just inside the gym doors over at the Hall. I thank members of the parish of St. Stephen and others who have sacrificed and served the less fortunate by raising funds for Bethany Place, Catholic Urban Programs and St. Vincent DePaul (I believe tips at the bar are going to these agencies, too…there’s a “creative way” to help the poor! Let’s drink so they can eat!) I thank those who have sacrifice for others in ways like spending 25 minutes visiting the nursing home, or promising to volunteer 25 times on the soup bus. I’m anxious to see what people have been doing to serve.
It’s good, then, that the gospel the church gives us to proclaim, today, has us reflecting on Christ calling himself the BREAD of life.
That phrase, “Bread of Life” for Catholics immediately gets us thinking about the Eucharist which is the source and summit of our life as Christians.
THE Eucharist is of course, the experience of what it means to be Christ bearers, sharers in the Paschal Mystery. That is a life of justice, right order, perfect harmony – we are lead into this order by the Christ present in our midst in the people who assemble, in priest, in word, in a simple meal of bread and wine.
Think about how so many folks here don’t all know each other, yet we are united in a bond of faith, friendship – by Christ. All equals.
This inspires us, this liturgy strengthens us to go out there, into the world, and make real what is real here, the presence of Christ, alive, His Spirit at work uniting a human community.
Bread is certainly a rich metaphor, probably the perfect symbol chosen by Christ to identify his self with to put all we believe into focus. Bread is a substance that is the result of dying to one form of existence for another (wheat grains are crushed, mixed with water and baked in fire). Christ is the one who was crushed for us, who trusted in the Father in the face of despair and was tried the fire of suffering endured by an unflinching trust in the Father to save.
We baptized folks; our very being is changed as we are mixed in the waters of baptism and given the fire of the Holy Spirit to make us grow in the stature of Christ
Recall, Bread is then torn apart by our body, and changed again into the very energy that holds off death one more day. We call bread the staff of life.
And so, The Christ is torn apart in his crucifixion and consumed by the body of the earth in his burial, only to arise as pure life, an energy so to speak that radiates out into all united to him that death can not defeat. We consume in this Eucharist not just physical food, holding off physical death for a few hours (and not really doing that very well being only a morsel) but we consume the very life giving divinity that enables us to live forever even in death, his blood coursing through our hearts and veins.
Life can be difficult at times. The journey from birth to physical death can make a person wonder, “Why keep going.” We can get tired trying to build in the here and now the Kingdom of God, priest and all the baptized, alike. The words of the angel to the prophet echo in our weekly sharing of the Bread and Cup at the Mass…
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”
And in our minds, we know the Mountain is an image of our final destiny, the eternal life of Heaven.
Not everyone “gets” this Bread of life stuff, this Eucharist we celebrate and you allow me to preside over. The messenger is sometimes unable to be heard. “Who is this? We know his mother / father” – the truth is sometimes not accepted, sometimes we hurt or turn people away by our actions. They are looking for perfect priest or the model Christian.
I am so often aware of my unworthiness to stand at the altar, a sinner, a weak human vessel. I am embarrassed by the generosity of so many who have organized this celebration and who give me gifts. Truly you all gave me the greatest gift 25 years ago, the right, the command or ORDER, a holy order, to stand in your midst and break bread and share a cup in the Name of Jesus for you so that we might all know his presence sustaining us till journey’s end.
Over those 25 years, I have experienced time and time, again that it is Christ who is at work in human vessels, broken lives like bread torn apart, hearts poured out in imperfect yet sweet compassion like wine. There’s no way some of the marvelous moments of grace of these past 25 years could have happened by my own doing, be it preaching or celebrating a sacrament or comforting the needy… And I am comforted by the realization I have you, the church to share in this work, continuing the mission of the Christ. Together in marvelous ways, each in our own Holy Order, Christ is using a very human community gathered around earthy food of bread and wine become his body and blood making us a body, bread broken, cup poured out for life of world through all the seasons of love we each are given.
Actually, St. Paul said all I’ve said so much more succulently…
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”