Remarks at the End of Retirement Mass
September 21, 2003
Many thanks for this gift, testimonial Mass and "the tent event" to follow. Thanks to Cardinal Keeler who in his thoughtfulness and generosity proposed this celebration. Congratulations on your 24th anniversary of episcopal ordination. I extend this gratitude to the Testimonial Committee lead by the Co-chairs, Monsignor Paul Cook and Sister Edithann Kane who arranged today’s celebration. I am grateful to the Church of Baltimore who has responded so enthusiastically and generously to this threefold occasion in my priestly and episcopal life. And I thank all of you who have come from far and near to join in my praise of gratitude to the God who has truly blessed me over these past 50 years. In particular I want to thank Monsignor Armstrong for his hospitality, the music ministers under the direction of Dan Sansone, the liturgical ministers under the direction of Father Rob Jaskot and Father John Williamson.
Obviously this is an overwhelming moment in my life as I celebrate my 50th years as a priest and 20th as a bishop and begin the type of retirement I spoke about in my homily.
Thank you for marking these milestones of my share in Christ’s priesthood with such special festivity. This farewell celebration far outstrips my initial welcome into priestly ministry. As many of you know, I got off to a very inauspicious start with my first pastor, Bishop Sebastian. Upon arrival at St. Elizabeth’s back in 1954 I unknowingly parked my automobile in his personally reserved parking space. You can imagine my first meeting with him was very unceremonious with his telling me in no uncertain terms to move my car immediately. No welcome. No expression of happiness that I was assigned to St. Elizabeth. Things had to get better for me and my relationship with the pastor and they did.
Over the years some of us have been noted for criticizing the Baltimore Sunpapers but I can give testimony to the fact that the Sunpaper can be prophetic at times. Take its Sports page of July 14th for example (Yes, Your Eminence, I have been known to read the sports page once in a while.) I don’t know whether you have heard of Ryan Newman. Well, on July 13th my namesake won the Tropicana 400 auto race in Joliet, Illinois. In the report of Newman’s victory, the Baltimore Sun became prophetic. The headlines given to Ryan could have been applied prophetically to me. The first read: "Newman proves he’s good till the last drop." Then inside: "Newman has enough in the tank."
The buildup and reality of this testimonial has been a very humbling experience for me. Everybody has been telling me just relax and enjoy - we need to praise and thank God for His grace working through your priestly life and ministry. But with all the accolades and tributes for which I am truly grateful, I still can’t block out the St. Paul awareness within me: "the things I should have done, I didn’t do." And "the things I should not have done, I did." I trust before God these reservations are normal.
Bishop Gordon Bennett unfortunately could not be with us today because of a prior unchangeable appointment. You can tell him though I stole his episcopal motto for the moment: "Grace upon Grace." I have been the beneficiary of God’s grace to the superlative degree throughout my life and ministry. First, it was the gift of life, faith, family, parish and priestly vocation. Then it was all of you and beyond - you have been God’s grace for me as hopefully I have been for you.
Grace upon grace was my constant companion on my journey through life and ministry. And God packaged those graces in a variety of ordinary circumstances and personal relationships: my many friends, my teachers and seminary formators, my beloved parishioners and colleagues in ministry along the way, my sister and brother religious, my brother deacons, seminarians and obviously in a very special way my brother priests and bishops. I thank all of you for being God’s grace for me.
Now for the future. I consider myself fortunate to have shared in Christ’s Priesthood nigh these past 50 years. They have been challenging and exciting times for both the Church and Society. For the Catholic Church it has been a time of change and redefinition. Vatican II triggered much of the change renewing the pastoral approach of the Church into a more personal and relational Church in which God’s people became less the spectators and more the collaborators in the mission. The priest no longer lead from a pedestal above the community but from within the faith community itself. The Church became less the museum for the saved and more the hospital for us sinners.
I knew and ministered in both the Church of the 50’s and the Church of the early third Christian Millennium. If my assessment of the Church in its mission then as opposed to now is accurate, I believe the Church is more on target to accomplish its God-given mission today than 5 decades ago. Of course, the Church and its mission always must be measured in context of the historical realities of the day. My 50 years of priesthood have been happy, exciting and challenging ones. I have a lot of hope for the Church in the future and despite her human side, I believe the next 50 years will be glorious ones for her.
Now that I have settled the future of the Church, what about my own future? Again, God willing! Much to the chagrin of one of our brother priests, Father Willie Franken, my stable mate, and I have been known to take in a movie or two. One such movie was the recently popular, Seabiscuit. Strange as it may see, I drew an analogy in the movie between a horse race and a priest’s active ministry. In a race the horse goes all out till the horse crosses the finish line. Then it reduces its stride to a gallop and when it is all galloped out, it walks to the winner circle.
The priest gives his best shot during the course of his active ministry and when he retires he reduces his pastoral stride to a ministry gallop until he walks into eternal life.
Well, God willing, I intend to spend my ministry galloping time left to me assisting my priest friend, Father Willie Franken, at St. John’s Parish in Hydes, Md. Then I will have come full cycle in my priestly life and ministry. From an assistant pastor back in the 50’s to assisting the pastor now in the 21st Century. And I will be happy as can be to be back in the trenches of salvation or, should I say, back in the parish stable to continue God’s work.
God certainly has been very good to me. And your presence represents all the people of God who have been very good to me. So, instead of "Yea, Newman", it is "Yea God" and "Yea, you." Thank you!