Saturday, April 25, 2009

You are witnesses of these things

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 26, 2009:

Our Gospel today, on this Third Sunday of Easter, ends with a simple yet powerful reminder, “You are witnesses of these things.” During the 50 days of Easter, we hear all of these incredible stories of the Resurrected Jesus appearing to the Apostles and disciples in different settings; and of the way that their lives were changed by the encounter. Today’s passage comes on the heels of the story of the Walk to Emmaus; that great Easter encounter that leaves those disciples exclaiming two wonderful things – that they came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread and this lead them to say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us along the way?”

And, today, we hear, “You are witnesses of these things” as yet another post-resurrection encounter takes place. You see, Christ wants us, His followers, to be His witnesses because when we witness we do two things. First, a witness sees an event, has knowledge of something through personal experience and not mere hearsay. Secondly, a witness gives an account of that event to others. So, my friends, Jesus is calling us to be witnesses. He is calling us also to first to have a personal experience of Him and then to share this experience with others.

Fr. Mike has given me the opportunity to preach at all of the Masses this weekend so that I can offer a farewell to the parish as I continue to move into my new ministry as Vocation Director. It is my swan song at St. Francis, so-to-speak. I thank him for this opportunity.

It isn’t easy trying to figure out what to say as you move from one ministry to another. But, as always, I found a little help from my beloved Boston Red Sox. Back in 2004, just before I came to New Milford actually, the Sox traded my all-time favorite Sox player, Nomar Garciaparra (properly pronounced “Nomah”). I always remember what he said when leaving Boston, “My initial reaction was, ‘Wow.’ If it was in my control, I'd still be wearing a Red Sox uniform. That's the place I know, I love, and all those fans, I'll always remember. They can take the shirt off my back, but they can't take away the memories.” I know what Nomar was talking about. I, too, share his mixed feelings as I leave this wonderful Catholic community of St. Francis Xavier after 4 ½ years of ministry here with you. Like Nomar, this is a place that I have come to know and love, and all of the wonderful people here I will always remember – and I certainly anticipated that I’d have stayed here a bit longer. But, no one can ever take away the memories. And what wonderful memories I have.

These memories tie in so wonderfully to our Gospel today, “You are witnesses of these things.” And just like our Gospel, I have been a witness of the presence of Christ so often here. I have had personal experience of the presence and power of God in my ministry with, through and for each and every one of you – so deeply at Mass, so profoundly at the fountain of His mercy in the Confessional, and so frequently in the day-to-day encounters with all of you. And we have shared that witness together. You have showed Christ to me working actively in your lives; hopefully, I have reflected Christ to you; and together we have grown to a deeper faith; a deeper love of God and of His Holy Church.

I saw a commercial a while ago that had me in stitches. It starts with two women chatting in a supermarket aisle. The first woman pats the other woman’s stomach and says, “Oooh, you must be having a boy. When are you due?” The second woman, responds indignantly, “I’m not pregnant.” “You’re not?” “No. Why?” she says. Awkward. The first woman stands like a deer caught in the headlights and finally blurts out, “Thank you?” The second woman’s face lights up and she says, “Me?” “Yes, thank you.” And the two hug it out. The tag line, “It’s amazing what a simple ‘thank you’ can do.”

And, it is amazing what a simple “thank you” can do. As I thought of what I really wanted to say to all of you as I leave, it occurred to me that what I needed to say was nothing more complicated than thank you. Thank you for welcoming me. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for praying with me; and praying for me. Thank you for sharing your deep and lasting faith with me. Thank you for sharing your joys and triumphs with me; thank you for trusting me with your troubles and challenges. Thank you for showing me true Christian community. Thank you for being a witness of Christ to me. Thank you for being my friend and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And, I want to offer a very special thank you to Fr. Mike. Most of you know that Fr. Mike and I have been best friends for almost 20 years. But, it is a very different thing when your best friend is also your boss. But, these last 4 ½ years have been wonderful as Fr. Mike’s Associate Pastor. He has allowed me to grow in my ministry and spiritually; he gave me the freedom to work so specifically with all of our wonderful young people – especially the MCs, and our teens through Life Teen and Edge. I have learned from his gentleness, his compassion and his gift of listening and praying with people. Fr. Mike, I thank you for being my brother in community, my friend, my pastor and mentor. This parish is deeply blessed to have you as its Shepherd. We have all flourished in the Lord under your prayerful guidance.

But, most importantly, I want to thank all of you for the incredible, humbling opportunity to be your priest. There is no honor on this earth that I could ever receive that would eclipse the great privilege that it has been serving as your priest these last 4 ½ years. I am a better, stronger priest because of my time here with you. I take you all – your love, and your prayers – with me in my heart. You have been witnesses to me of the power, love, compassion and awesomeness of God.

Like Nomar said, this is a place that I know, that I love, and all of the wonderful people here I will always remember. I thank you all from the deepest places in my heart and I know that God will continue to shower His abundant blessings on each of you in the future.

And, please, pray for vocations! Send them my way! And, stay in touch.

May God give you peace.

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