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.