Exactly 34 years ago this weekend I was ordained to the priesthood. In hindsight, the timing of the day still seems curious, even callous. My parents sent out invitations to the First Mass and reception to be held on – you guessed it – Mother’s Day! Imagine: spend a day with the Valentines, or with your mother. For reasons that are still inexplicable, people actually showed up. My gratitude to those folks is heartfelt if for no other reason than that they accepted out of friendship with my parents.
Unlike ordination day, it seems eminently fitting that one’s first weekend as Pastor at St. Mary’s should take place on Good Shepherd Sunday. Pope Benedict XVI’s poignant description of Christ the Good Shepherd reverberates within the heart of the fledgling pastor:
In the Incarnation (Christ) takes the lost sheep, human nature, humanity as a whole, onto his shoulders and carries it home. The image of the shepherd thus sums up the whole of salvation history: God’s entry into history, the Incarnation, the pursuit of the lost sheep and the homeward path into the Church…
Whatever form his ministry took – teaching, healing, forgiving, or suffering – Jesus did everything to care for his sheep, however wayward we turned out to be. In order to be a good one, the shepherd cannot help getting his hands dirty in the grit and grime of human existence: glorious at times, perhaps, but also fickle and feckless, faithless and fallacious as well. Still, as any parent knows, one loves one’s children, not because they are especially virtuous, or grateful, or dear, but above all because they are one’s own. Such is the devotion of the Good Shepherd; he loves us because it is his nature.
In Sermon 340 (on the anniversary of his ordination), St. Augustine wrote:
Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian.The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation.
Without by means drawing a comparison with St. Augustine, the saint or the bishop, I find these words comforting, for indeed it is not without some trepidation that I begin a new leadership role among God’s people. Indeed, the long and happy era under the expert guidance of Fr. McCartney is a tough act to follow. With you I will try to discern God’s invitation to a deeper fidelity to the Gospel within our parish community. I hope to convene evenings of informal conversation about where we are as a Church (both universal and local) and where we are called to be. We will then proceed carefully to implement changes that will enhance the experience of faith, the beauty of worship, and the practical demands these make of us as Catholic Christians. For you, I hope to be attentive when exercising the pastoral and spiritual duties that bring healing to souls, delight to the heart, and wisdom to the mind. Please pray for the new man, that he be worthy of so great a spiritual family.