Homily: The Holy Eucharist
St. John, Chapter 6
Today begins the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6, the great Eucharistic teaching of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to read this chapter carefully and not be Catholic. Today Jesus feeds 5000 men with five loaves and two fish. Next Sunday he declares himself to be the bread of life. August 12 he will reveal that “the bread that he will give is his flesh for the life of the world. On August 19 Jesus will say five times that “unless a man eat my flesh and drink my blood, he has no life in him, but if he eats my flesh, he will never die;” and finally, on August 26 Jesus will allow most of his disciples to leave him over his insistence on the doctrine of the Eucharist. How many disciples have left his company over this very teaching throughout the centuries? How many find this teaching “too hard to accept,” and so reject the Catholic Church, and reject Christ’s sacraments? And yet the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is our very life, our only hope for eternal life.
In a few days I will be leaving this community after 12 years with you. If I have done nothing else, I hope I have been able to provide you with the Holy Eucharist, the one thing necessary for our salvation. The Eucharist, however, will not save us, if we don’t receive it in faith. Jesus will not save us, if we don’t surrender to him in faith. I hope that over the last 12 years, I have been able to walk with you a little farther on the lifelong journey of true faith. I hope that together we have been able to study the Scriptures, and so been able to receive the Sacred Eucharist in purity and faith. That is the only real desire of every priest: the sanctification of his people through Word and Sacrament.
Stewardship: Five Loaves and Two Fish
In today’s Gospel, 5000 hungry men, not counting women and children, crowd near to Jesus. Where to get food for all these people? A boy has brought along five loaves and two fish—just enough for his family. Little boy, will you entrust your supper to Jesus, so that he can do a miracle? The boy knows that the food he has is from God anyway, so he gives it back to God: “Stewardship.” He trusts Jesus to provide. And this boy goes down in history as the “efficient cause,” God’s chosen instrument, for the great miracle of the multiplication of loaves. I would like to know your name, little boy. Thank you for offering what you had to God.
The same happens at every Mass. A little boy, or girl, brings up a little bread to the priest. Someone else brings up a flask of wine. We also give a little bit of our financial blessings at the offertory. And hopefully we give this little bit with trust and joy. Let me entrust this to God, that he may multiply it. And from the little bit that we give, God gives us the body, blood, soul, and divinity of His Son. He gives us the means of eternal life, at every Mass.
For what am I grateful as I leave this parish? Most of all, I am grateful for the Mass, our supreme act of thanksgiving. It is only a small thing that we do—giving an hour or two of our time each week, standing with the Lord as he dies for us at Calvary. But in this parish, we do it with great love. I can see it on the faces of the altar servers, in the tenderness with which folks receive Holy Communion, in peoples’ rapt attention during the Scriptures and the Consecration. I can see it in the folks who prepare for the Mass, and sing the Mass, who read the Scriptures at Mass, those who come day and night to our adoration chapel, and to confession, and in those who feed the poor, who teach our children the Gospel, and who give themselves in 95 different apostolates at this parish. Let us “live in a manner worthy of the call we have received,” as St. Paul says in our second reading: with all humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, striving to preserve unity. Not big things; just small things done with great love.
I leave you in the hands of our Lady, where I began 12 years ago. The first act I did as your new pastor was to consecrate this parish to Our Blessed Mother. She will teach us the way of humility and gentleness. Let us turn to her in every difficult moment, and she will show us her Son, Jesus Christ.
It is time to say good-bye. This will be my last “Pastor’s Laptop,” the last in a weekly series that I’ve managed to keep up for 12 years.
What do I love most about St. Joseph’s, and what will I miss? I love the silence just before daily Mass—a good hundred of us quietly awaiting Christ’s Presence in Word and Sacrament. I love the fellowship after Mass, when adults catch up and children race around the fountain, and no one wants to leave. I love teaching PSR classes to eager sixth-graders, Christmas Eve pageants, and all our parish choirs. I love Wednesday staff lunches in the rectory with my dearest co-workers, and the joyful fellowship of Volunteer Appreciation Dinners in November. I love visits to your homes and visits to Memorial Hospital. I treasure reading and praying in the rectory backyard, a little paradise with gurgling fountain, chirping birds, bright flowers, and swaying birch trees.
I will never forget my 12 Lents at St. Joseph’s—KOC fish fry's, Stations of the Cross, Parish Missions, the Easter Vigil, and Sunrise Masses on the east lawn. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed altar server camping trips by the ocean, five World Youth Days, and Confirmation retreats in the Sierras. I will miss morning bike rides on the Briggsmore levy, palm trees around the campus waving in the afternoon breeze, a campus full of flowers, Thursday adventures with my brother priests, and the exquisite communal silence in our Adoration Chapel. I will dearly miss every one of you, whom I have known and loved over these 12 years. I will keep you all in my daily prayers, and ask that you please pray for your onetime pastor.
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It is time to say good-bye, but it is also time to say hello to Fr. Mark Wagner, our new pastor. I know he will love and cherish St. Joseph’s as much as I did. God bless you all!
Farewell Speech to St. Joseph's Parish, July 21, 2012
Remember September 1999? Everyone was getting ready for the Third Millennium. Some were stockpiling water, food, and blankets, because we were told global computer systems would crash on New Year’s Day. Other, more spiritually-minded people, were looking forward to striding through the Holy Door in their parish to welcome the Third Millennium of the Redemption. In September, Bishop Blaire asked me to move from the Cathedral in Stockton to St. Joseph’s Parish in Modesto, to administer the parish until Fr. Joseph O’Hare recovered. I was delighted to be able to cross into the New Millennium with a parish family who made me feel at home from the first moment. I was 38 years old when Bishop Blaire installed me, and he said I could stay at the parish for 12 years. I remember thinking that I would leave the parish an old man at age 50, that I would give my youth to St. Joseph’s. Well, here I am at 50, and while I did give some of my youthful years to the parish, the parish has given me my life. The parish has formed, defined, and confirmed my priestly identity.
I want to thank all of you for the good times and the bad times, for the joys and the sorrows. In God’s perfect plan, every experience moves those who believe towards eternal life. “All things work for the good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)
Our parish has grown as Modesto has grown. It has grown in numbers but more than anything it has grown in faith. Think of God’s blessings at St. Joseph’s:
- a perpetual adoration chapel
- beautiful and sacred liturgies
- sound and effective education programs for children, teens, and adults
- 90 ministries and apostolates that feed the poor, support those in crisis, etc.
- an organized staff that keeps the whole thing from flying apart
I think it is healthy for the parish that a new pastor takes his turn. Farmers uproot trees after 20 years and replant, to gain fresh fruit. Jesus spent three years building up the Church, and then left it to his apostles. I think it is also healthy for me to move on. My seminary professors encouraged me to get my doctorate and teach, and I’m finally going to do that. The change will be quite difficult for me, and for many of you, but in the end it will be good for all of us.
I want to thank all who have prepared for this farewell dinner, and for all who brought food. Thank you for honoring my dear mother on her birthday, and for praying for her after her accident 4 years ago. Many thanks to our staff, to our volunteers, to those who prayed day and night in our chapel, and came to daily Mass, and who provided leadership support on our councils and committees. Thanks to our financial benefactors, who have provided the means to build up our parish campus, feed the hungry, and educate our children. May God bless and preserve you all.
I conclude with an experience. One of the things I will miss about my life in Modesto are morning bike rides on the Briggsmore canal. I rode this morning before sunrise. Remember the Mallard Family I wrote about a few weeks ago in the bulletin? They turned into 3 pigeons—the only wildlife I saw this morning by the water.
I especially love riding before sunrise. The sawtooth range of the Sierra Nevada, sharply outlined by the eastern dawn, greets me at the end of the road. The sun’s light intensifies at one point on the ridge, rays streaming from it. And then the sun breaks over the mountains, spilling its fire over the eastern ridge, igniting the water in the canal. Fire and water, the two sacramental symbols of our Easter faith.
The sunrise is sacramental
. It gives me hope every morning. It pours golden fire into the world, symbolic of God’s unfailing grace. The sun will always rise, every day, no matter how bad the darkness gets. The sun will rise especially at the end of our earthly day, after the last day of our lives.
It’s hard to leave, but life isn’t about this parish or that pastor. It’s about Jesus, the rising son of God. We must see him every morning, and lose ourselves in him. All of our lives will be a sunrise, full of the golden fire of his grace. God bless you all.
Homily: Who is Your Shepherd?Good shepherds and Bad Shepherds
Who is your shepherd? The Lord
is my shepherd, and “I shall not want
… in verdant pastures, in right paths he leadeth me; I fear no evil, for only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Who couldn’t love psalm 23, our Responsorial Psalm today? Who does not long for the perfect peace to which the Good Shepherd leads us? The first reading speaks of shepherds too, but Bad Shepherds. Jeremiah is speaking of the Kings of Israel, for it is the king’s role is to defend his people, to lead them into prosperity, to care for each citizen as his own son or daughter. The Kings of Israel, however, proved themselves incompetent, unfaithful, and even corrupt. They rejected God’s authority, causing great harm to the people. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter my
flock is it? Kings are stewards, not owners, of their kingdoms. An earthly ruler who turns from God’s law inevitably ends up eating his own people.
“I myself will gather my flock,” God says. “I will appoint a Shepherd-King who will rule not from an imposing palace, but from a stable. He will defend his people not with a paid army, but with his own body. He will purchase freedom for them with his own life. Jesus Christ
is our King. Viva Cristo Rey!
But Jesus told the local king, Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus will not run for president; nor will he serve as Bishop of Stockton, or even as Pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. Jesus entrusts human beings with the governance of both Church and State.The Lord is my shepherd
And yet… the Lord is my
shepherd. He must stand behind every earthly ruler. Their authority, and their very gift of leadership, is from Him. If our earthly leaders—bishops, priests, governors, members of congress, presidents—forget this, we all suffer. No one can effectively lead others without God’s help.
The day is coming, says Jeremiah, when “I will raise up a righteous shoot … he shall do what is right and just in the land.” That day came in Jesus, King and Messiah. That day comes in every elected or appointed leader who respects God more than men.Politics and Religion
Of course, we cannot expect God to be our president, or even our pastor (although Fr. Mark may get close!). But we can expect our leaders to respect God and the Natural Law. We can trust no leader who does not acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Keep this in mind when you vote this November.
Some say I stray into politics when I preach. But if the Gospel has nothing to say about the political process, what good is it? It would be just a fairy tale, out of touch with the real world. A priest should never tell you for whom to vote, but he must
give you Gospel principles on which you make your political decisions. If the Lord is my shepherd, then I must acknowledge his authority in every part
of my life, including politics: how we order our lives together.
Some tell me they are angry or discouraged over the directions our political and cultural leaders are taking this country. Don’t be angry, don’t be discouraged. The Lord is God. Nothing happens in this country without his permission. We who try to submit ourselves to Him do what we can, and trust him to do the rest. With increasing frequency, indications of social breakdown manifest themselves. Friday’s massacre in Colorado is one such manifestation. The cultural elites have been feeding us violent entertainment for 30 years, and they pretend to be shocked when our young people do what they’ve been taught to do. But the day will come, and indeed is here already, when God himself will shepherd his flock in truth and justice. That day is here right now, as we kneel before the altar. Truth and Justice reign in this place. Now you, carry it out into the world, a world starving for God.
I leave you with profound thanksgiving for a blessed 12 years at St. Joseph’s. Next weekend will be my last with you, and I begin my new assignment at Thomas Aquinas College in August. Your own faith and prayers have sustained me and inspired my vocation. You are all invited to my farewell potluck after Mass. If you didn’t bring any food, you are welcome anyway: I’m sure there will be plenty.Links:
In a few weeks I will move to my new home, Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”). I thought you might like to know a little more about it.
Three professors from St. Mary’s College near Oakland established TAC 40 years ago. They wanted to provide a pure liberal arts curriculum, challenging students to work through the masters of western thought, from Plato to Augustine to Einstein. Every student takes exactly the same courses (a “single, integrated curriculum”), fostering intelligent student discussion outside of class. Students study only original works — 100 “great books” of Western civilization. They don’t study textbooks about geometry or physics or philosophy — they actually read the original works of Euclid, Galileo and Aristotle.
The founders also sought to establish a college of the highest Catholic standards. The $22 million chapel is the center of the campus, and all dorms are named after saints. Three full-time priests provide four Masses and 10 scheduled confession times a day. While most Catholic colleges often promote student life contrary to Catholic morality, and teach courses opposed to Catholic doctrine, TAC is joyously faithful to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
Currently, 360 students come from 38 states and six foreign countries, and there is one teacher to every 11 students. The campus is situated about a half hour east of Ventura on 131 acres of steeply wooded land. The Princeton Review and US News and World Report both rated TAC “Top Tier” and “Best Value” among American colleges in 2010. I invite you all to send your children to TAC, at least for a visit. You can see the College on its website
and are most welcome to visit me on the campus at any time. It’s one of America’s finest Catholic schools, and I am most privileged to be associated with Thomas Aquinas College
Bishop Blaire is pleased to appoint Fr. Mark Wagner, currently pastor of Sacred Heart in Turlock, as the fifth Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish. He met with our staff just after his appointment, and is raring to get started. I must say that for several months the question of the new pastor has caused a good deal of angst. That angst has given way to joy as we welcome a fine priest to our parish.
And now a story of grace. Last month I attended a priests’ retreat in Poland with three other local priests, among who was Fr. Mark. Our parish was much on my mind when Fr. Mark and I entered the Shrine of Divine Mercy near Cracow. We knelt for 10 minutes to pray beneath the original Divine Mercy image, which is hung above St. Faustina’s relics. Jesus really spoke to me that day, assuring me that the parish was His, and He would take care of it. I prayed the words in Polish written on the image: “Jezu ufam tobie,” "Jesus, I trust in you," and knew everything would be all right. After leaving the chapel, Fr. Mark noticed a call had come in on his cellphone during our prayer. It was the Bishop’s office, and we knew it meant only one thing: he was to be our next pastor.
Fr. Mark Wagner was born in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 1960, the Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. He enjoys just about everything in life, and is one of the most committed priests I know. I leave the parish with every confidence in Fr. Mark’s priestly heart, his desire to be a saint. He’s a fun guy, a dear friend, and an inspiring supporter for my own vocation over the years.
Fr. Mark (second from left) with us in Poland last month.
On his scooter in Rome
Homily: God's Grace is Enough
We all complain from time to time. Some people are professional moaners, and others keep life’s disappointments largely to themselves, but we all gripe and wine. Gripenheimers and Winebuckets, all of us. Even St. Paul complained, as he does in today’s second reading. “Three times” he begged the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but the Lord did not remove it. And so what did the great St. Paul do? He stopped complaining. He embraced his limitations, in the name of Christ.
Thorn in the Flesh
Let’s look more closely at Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh.” He describes it also as an “angel of Satan to beat me.” It wasn’t just a toothache, but a chronic, painful debilitation. Perhaps it was a problem with his feet or knees, particularly difficult for one who spent his life walking around the Mediterranean region. Maybe it was persistent sexual thoughts. Or perhaps his bad eyes. Or maybe a persistent interpersonal weakness—he was disposed to lose his temper. Maybe it was a tumor, or psoriasis, or insomnia, or alcoholism, or migraines.
“Three times” Paul asked God to heal him—that means, in Biblical language, he asked God over and over for relief. But what did Paul do when God didn’t heal him? He took a deep breath, pulled himself up straight, and said: “God’s grace is enough for me.”
A great error of our time is to imagine that we can somehow, with enough technology or psychology, eliminate all suffering from life. So if you have a physical problem, just keep trying new meds until the pain is covered over. The pharmaceutical companies will love you! If you have an emotional problem, just jump from one relationship to another until something works. And see a therapist while you’re at it! And if all else fails, there’s always whisky.
But St. Paul tells us today, flat out: God’s grace is enough for us. Yes, we have to try to reduce pain in our lives within reasonable means. I don’t mean we shouldn’t take Advil, or get surgery when we need it. But if we find ourselves obsessed with avoiding pain, when we simply can’t accept the experience of suffering in our lives, then we miss life’s deeper meanings. Because some beautiful things only come through suffering, self-denial, and humble submission to what we cannot control. Pain is necessary for growth. “Growing pains.” In our fallen state, since we suffer from the disorder of Original Sin, we only learn perfection through the school of hard knocks. “But what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger….”
Strength in weakness
Suffering purifies our illusions of self-reliance. We learn to really trust God when we suffer. Suffering melts our icy hearts and opens them to others who suffer: it develops humility and compassion. “Compassion” in Latin means to “suffer with,” and we cannot know another person in their pain unless we too have suffered with them. A woman philosopher (Alice von Hildebrand) once told an auditorium full of priests: “You men labor under the distinct disadvantage of never having had a baby. When a child is pushing a woman’s body apart, trying to get out, she knows beyond doubt that she is not in control of her life. She gives herself over to Providence.” So we shouldn’t waste our energy obsessing over our sufferings and weaknesses. It is better to say, with St. Paul, that “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships and constraints, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then am I strong.” Yes, dear brothers and sisters: it is hard to suffer, to be hemmed in by life, to sustain insult with a peaceful demeanor. But we must know that … God’s grace is enough. It is enough!
Mother Teresa would often say, “I am nobody, and I have nothing.” This is really the state of things. We are nobody outside of God’s grace, and nothing we have is ours. It all belongs to Him.
Our Lady, of course, is the most beautiful example of human weakness and poverty. She was nobody and owned nothing, at the mercy of the men and the political machinery around her. “My spirit rejoices in God my savior, because he has looked upon the lowliness of his servant.” She gave herself up to God, and found herself in Him. Let us pray to her to do the same.
Outgoing pastor Fr. O’Hare
waves good-bye in July 2000
My time at St. Joseph’s is almost up, and I’m finding the approaching separation more traumatic than I had anticipated. It is said that a priest marries the Church. St. Joseph’s has been a beloved spouse and family to me for 13 years. How to bear the coming separation? The only way to bear any separation is to practice detachment from every thing and every one but Christ. Four years ago, a series of conflicts, misunderstandings, and infidelities within the parish stung me with particular force. For about a week, I struggled with confusion and sadness, but came to realize that no one can quench our deepest thirst for love but Christ. In that dark hour, I clung to Jesus Christ, my true spouse; God forced me to detach from the human and earthly consolations the Church affords. In the end, we must have only Jesus, and each other only in Him. St. Bernard wrote, “Whatever you may write, it cannot delight me unless I read it in the name of Jesus.”
Why am I leaving such a beautiful parish? A priest couldn’t ask for a more accommodating, well-ordered, and comfortable community. But we are not here for comfort, and I have become too attached. Perhaps many of us have become too attached, and we need to keep moving towards heaven. We are pilgrims, and have here no lasting city.
Besides, I think that the parish could use some fresh pastoral energy. For a while now, some indicators of parish growth — Mass attendance, numbers in the adoration chapel, offertory income, confessions, numbers of PSR families attending Mass, attendance at Bible studies, prayer groups, and catechism classes — seem to have tapered off. I myself am a bit worn out, jaded toward the Diocese, weary of conflict, and perhaps overly controlling. The Diocese has established term limits for a reason, and I think it’s time for a new pastor. We could all stand a bit of detachment from what has become too
comfortable — to seek the face of Christ with renewed purity and energy. It will certainly purify me, and I hope it will purify the parish as a whole. Let’s keep moving toward Him alone. Only Jesus can satisfy our hearts!