Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The "grace of orders" (aka: the Holy Spirit)

So after a sad week in which we commended to God my dear friend Fr. Scott Carroll, I spent last weekend back in Jeffersonville, IN, where I had done my 2-year internship during seminary.  While my pastor thought I was crazy for taking my weekend off and going to cover masses for someone else, I found it to be a rather relaxing and somewhat refreshing weekend.  I had wanted to return there to celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving since I was ordained and this was the last chance that I would have to do so.  It also turned out to be rather fortunate as Fr. Tom had developed a pretty serious back issue that made it pretty painful to stand for long periods of time.  Since he also ended up with two funerals and a deanery youth Mass that weekend, he was pretty happy to see me when I showed up on Saturday!

The rest of this week has been an attempt to rest and relax with my folks in Illinois.  I'm not sure if I can say that it is deserved, but it is definitely needed!

I hope that you'll enjoy my homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost that I preached in Jeffersonville this weekend.  PEACE!


Homily: Pentecost – Cycle C

Please let me say again what a joy it is to be here with you all to celebrate these Masses of Thanksgiving for my own ordination last June, especially today as your own Archdiocese celebrates the ordination of three men to the priesthood!  Add to that the announcement of your new pastor and you all have more than enough reasons to be excited (…and perhaps a little frightened) this weekend.

Back in the seminary, one of the priests on the formation staff named Fr. Ron spoke to us often about what it would be like to transition from the seminary into priesthood and parish life.  He repeatedly quoted a certain bishop (whose name I can’t quite remember) who described the transition in this way: he said, “Leaving the seminary and entering the priesthood and parish life is kind of like leaving the hospital and having all of your IVs pulled out at once.”  What this bishop was implying was that there are many support systems built into seminary life (structured prayer schedule, ready-made food, and plenty of mentors and guides) that simply aren’t part and parcel of the life of a parish priest.  And so to leave the seminary is literally like “pulling the plug” on many of these support systems.  And if a new priest is not prepared for that, it can actually “shock” his system somewhat.

In my own transition out of the seminary and into parish life, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of truth in this bishop’s admonition.  My first assignment is to All Saints Parish in Logansport, Indiana, a town that I had perhaps driven through one time, but in which I did not know anyone and which was at least an hour’s drive from any of my close friends.  Oh, and did I mention that I had to start speaking Spanish almost from the moment that I arrived?  Even though everyone was very welcoming and assuring, it could not change the fact that I felt like I was very much alone as I made this transition.

Nearly eleven months after ordination, however, I can say that I’ve weathered the storm pretty well, so far.  There have been lots of challenges and new and exciting experiences, and many moments when I was about to enter into a new situation feeling like I might make a complete mess of it all, which turned out to be very beautiful.  As I reflected on all of these situations, I realized that there is one very real aspect of what we describe as the “grace of ordination” that has helped me through it all: and that’s the promise of the Holy Spirit.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells his disciples that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  In many ways this is the same promise that the seminary makes to each man as they send them forth to be ordained, and it is the promise that every bishop makes to them as he ordains them.  It’s as if they are saying, “We’ve done our best to teach you everything, but there will inevitably be things that we could not have fully prepared you for.  But don’t worry because the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and remind you of all that we have told you.  After eleven months of priesthood, I can say that this promise certainly rings true.

This promise, however, isn’t limited to the newly ordained transitioning into parish life.  Remember, the Gospel tells us that “Jesus said to his disciples…”  Therefore, this promise is for all of us and especially when we are experiencing any big transition in our lives.  This could be individually, as we transition from single life to being married and then from married life to having children.  It can also be when we are moving from college into the working world, or if we are changing jobs or even careers.  So, too, once all of the children leave the house and we transition back to the “solitary married life” or when we transition from working into retirement.  But it could also be a communal experience, like the one that the Catholic Community here in Jeffersonville is about to embrace in the transition from one pastor to another.  In all of these cases Jesus’ promise remains with us: that the Holy Spirit would be with us to teach us and remind us of what it was that he told us.

The danger in each of our vocations, however, is becoming too comfortable in how we are living it out, because when we become comfortable, we start to close in on ourselves.  We think, “I have this all figured out and now I can just cruise from here.”  What this does, however, is close us off to the voice of the Spirit and we start to get stale.  After a while this staleness can lead to disillusionment and apathy.  How many people do we know who have said “Well, there’s not much I can do about it now, so I guess I’m stuck here.”  But it’s precisely in these moments that the Holy Spirit is most available to us and when it is most likely that he is waiting to show us a new avenue—or a new aspect of our vocations—that he is calling us to embrace: perhaps something that will take us out of our comfort zones and move us towards a place we never imagined we would go.

My brothers and sisters, times of transition can be exciting times; but they can also be scary.  More than anything, however, they are chances to shake off the cobwebs of our routine lives and wake up to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit moving us once again: the Spirit who Jesus promised to his disciples nearly 2000 years ago and who has remained with the Church ever since; guiding her and each of her individual members even to this day.

And so today let us give thanks for the great gift of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit; and let us renew our trust in his presence and guidance in the life of the Church.  Let us also, however, renew our trust in his presence and guidance in each of our lives so as to joyfully embrace all that the God wishes to give us.  My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church and in this parish.  Perhaps it’s time for us to let him loose once again.

Given at Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes: Jeffersonville, IN
May 18th & 19th, 2013 – the Solemnity of Pentecost

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