My brothers and sisters, this weekend has finally come. In February I received the phone call preparing me for my departure. In early April I was able to share that news with you and for the last three months it has seemed we have had a slow goodbye. Yet, our final weekend to gather as a family of faith is here. Today, I want to share some reflections with you on the life of the priest and his connection to the parish.
The day was June 1, 2013, I had been praying and working for many years in preparation for that day and for my life to come. It was on this day that I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. I entered St. Louis Cathedral, the mother Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and before Archbishop Aymond, priests and deacons of the Archdiocese and the lay faithful gathered I pledged my life to the service of God and His Church. Prior to my ordination I already knew that my first priestly assignment would be here at Visitation of Our Lady. So as I made my promises in the back of my mind were the people of this parish. Just the day before I had prayed in a special way for the people of the parish as we celebrated our feast day on May 31st.
After making the promises required for ordination, Archbishop Aymond laid his hands on my head and then recited the words of consecration. At the end of this I was vested by a priest mentor with the vesture proper to the office of a priest and then my hands were anointed with the oil of Chrism. Lastly, the archbishop handed on to me the chalice and paten reminding me to offer myself for the people of God as I offer the gifts on her behalf. In these actions I was being united to the Bride of Christ, His Church, and devoting my entire life to loving her as Christ does and ensuring that the Church continues to grow in love of Christ.
In our first reading today we heard the Lord say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” While in many people’s minds they immediately think of marriage, it leads me to think of the union of the priest and the Church. The priest is assigned to a particular Church in which he serves to minister to the people in love. Yet, just as the priest serves the people and grows closer to them in love the faithful should also be drawn closer to God through the priest. For a priest in his union with the people of God does not represent himself but he represents Christ for all those he encounters.
In the Gospel Jesus quotes Genesis chapter 2, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This same parting from one’s family happens in the rite of ordination. On the day of ordination the candidate is called from among his family and the lay faithful and takes his place among the body of candidates. Never again does he belong in the same way to the Body of Christ. From this point forward the ordained minister is a representation of Jesus Christ. He leaves behind all the things that he used to do, sometimes he must even leave behind relationships that have been important to him. His most important responsibility now is the care of souls that have been entrusted to him by the bishop.
A priest who truly lives out his vocation of selfless service in the name of Christ will bear fruit. In his love of the Church and her people the priest preaches homilies that make the Word of God real for the people. The priest seeks to help the people through the rough times in their life so that they recognize that they are never alone. The priest also tries to bring people back to Christ who may have fallen away. In this way the Church continues to grow and bear fruit. This is like what we hear in our responsorial psalm today “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine.”
This fruit does not come about without love and sacrifice. Jesus Christ must always be the priest’s example of how to minister. As we gaze upon The Cross we see just how much Christ loved His Bride, the Church. He was willing to give His very life for her. In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we hear “He ‘for a little while’ was made ‘lower than the angels,’ that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” The priest has many opportunities to taste death for the sake of the enrichment of the community. This can only be done out of love for the Church, out of love for the people of God.
Sometimes the priest has experiences in which his heart is stretched. This may be because of his limitations in being able to help the faithful as they struggle. Sometimes his heart is stretched because of not feeling equipped with the tools to meet the needs of the parish. Most of all, however, the priest’s heart is stretched by the way in which the Church expresses love to him. Aware of his sins the priest knows that he in no way deserves the love of his Bride. This does not stop the people of God from giving their love freely to him. The young people of the parish being excited to talk to him. The adults of the parish encouraging and supporting the mission of the parish and the programs he sets out to implement.
In this way the priest and the parish begin to become one in mind and spirit. “So they are no longer two but one flesh.” The priest is not separate from his parish but must always see himself as a part of the life and ministry of the parish. He must think of himself as guide and protector of the parish so that one day all those entrusted to his care might meet the one who he represents and live with him for eternity. Hopefully, meeting him as familiar because they have already experienced Him through their priest.
While our seminary formators can try to teach us a lot about priestly life and ministry the reflections that I have just offered to you can’t really be taught in a classroom. These life lessons come about from actually experiencing what it means to be part of the life of the parish. Being invited into the homes of your parishioners, being invited into their hearts and celebrating with them the joys of their life and journeying with them through their desert experiences. Living in a parish brings both joys and sorrows. Many times the sorrows come from seeing the suffering of those you love and not being able to take the pain away.
There were days when I peered into the souls of our young people who were experiencing a challenge in life and I desired to take the pain away. Yet, I couldn’t do that because I am still human even if I stand in the person of Christ. I am limited in what I can do but I was able to pray for you and be with you.
While I now have to go away from you be assured of my constant love for you and my desire that all of you will continue to grow in love of Christ. You have been my first priestly love, the first parish where I have been assigned after pledging my life to the Church. Thank you for showing me how to love you. Thank you for allowing me to grow into this new role. Thank you for being open to teaching me about your needs and about how we work together to bear fruit for Christ. Thank you for helping me to reflect on the priesthood as a marriage between the priest and the people. Most of all thank you for loving me despite my limitations and shortcomings. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this community.
Though I depart from the grounds of VOL a piece of you comes with me and I pray that a piece of me stays here with you. You have been my first love and will always be a part of who I am and why I minister the way I do.
How can I say thanks
for the things you have done for me
Things so undeserved
Yet you give to prove your love for me
The voices of a million angels
Cannot express my gratitude
All that I am or ever hope to be
I owe it all to Thee
My bride, you have truly blessed my life in ways you may never know. For that I will be eternally grateful. I pray that the life that I live from here on out might be a testament of my gratitude to you for all that you have given to me.
May the Mother of God under whose patronage this parish is dedicated always be with you and care for you as her own children. May she take your cares and your needs to the Sacred Heart of her Son and may He answer all your prayers through her intercessions. May Almighty God bless you for your extreme generosity to this, your unworthy groom, for these years. I love you and will always remember you. Thank you.