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28th Sunday C; Installation of Fr. Ray Harris; 140th Anniversary of Holy Family

Holy Family Parish

I. Introduction

A. Thank you, dear friends, for your warm applause for Father Harris on this day of his installation as your pastor, here at Holy Family Parish. We do this on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of this parish, a history which actually stretches back even further to the 1850’s. Suffice it to say that, through the years Holy Family was served by many extraordinary and dedicated priests, beginning with the Jesuit fathers who long ago laid the foundations for this parish. In its early days Holy Family was a mission of various surrounding parishes and priests would travel long distances by horseback to offer Mass here. But as the community grew, it became a parish in its own right as successive pastors led the community in building up the parish. So, Father Harris follows a long line of distinguished priests yet he also brings gifts which, in my judgment and yours, are so necessary for Holy Family Parish at this juncture in its history.

B. At the risk of embarrassing Father Harris, I’d like to mention some of those gifts – First and foremost, he has brought a renewed sense of joy to Holy Family. The first indicator is his hearty and infectious laugh but his joy in the Gospel runs much deeper and has permeated his priestly service. That joy is not manufactured but flows from his relationship with the Lord and his desire to share the Good News with everyone he meets. Second, he brings a wealth of experience. He has served on various parishes with great effectiveness, has served as campus minister at Mt. St. Mary’s University, and continues to serve generously on the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese. Father Harris, as you know, is a wise and loving guide in all that lies ahead. Third, Father Harris brings a spirit of hope. Together with parish leadership, he sees Holy Family as poised for growth. Under his leadership, Holy Family is becoming a hub of missionary activity and many are finding their way to this parish family. So we thank you, Father Harris, for accepting my invitation to serve as Pastor.

II. A Changing Community

A. As I reviewed the history of Holy Family Parish, I was struck by how the parish has changed through the years. It began as a wilderness but changed when chrome mines were opened and immigrants, principally from Ireland, were welcomed into the area. It grew as transportation improved, especially the railroads. For a long while it remained a rural community but then experienced the post-World War II suburban expansion. In the meantime, it experienced extraordinary holiness, generosity, an abundance of priestly and religious vocations, and strong family life.

B. Today it is a community growing in diversity as all of us can see as we look about this church today. There is also a growing number of millennials and many others who are returning to this parish. And judging from the many townhouses that are being built, I would imagine that the population in this area is growing, not shrinking.

C. Since arriving, Father Harris has embraced this diverse and growing community and has done so with the love of a good shepherd. He has also found here a group of excellent lay co-workers – who are ready, willing, and able to advance the mission of the Church to live the joy of the Gospel and to spread the joy of the Gospel.

III. Guidance from Scripture

A. Today’s Scripture readings give us insight into the mission of the parish, beginning with 2nd Letter of St. Paul to Timothy. In that letter, St. Paul speaks about his own zeal for the Gospel. St. Paul suffered for the Gospel, in fact, he was put in chains for preaching the Gospel, like a common criminal. Yet, St. Paul uses even his chains to advance his mission when he says, “But the Word of God is not chained!” The first task of any pastor and any parish is to “un-chain” the Word of God, to ensure that it is preached and taught convincingly and with love and in ways that help people not only survive the problems of daily life but also gives them light, life, joy, and encouragement in trying to living the Gospel at home, at work, in acts of service to those in need. And like St. Paul, the Pastor encourages those he serves to persevere – there are so many things that can distract us or cause us to lay aside our faith. Father Harris will remind you, in season and out of season, to encounter Christ in love and to remain faithful to him all the days of your life.

IV. Healing

A. The readings from the 2nd Book of Kings and from Luke’s Gospel both speak about a healing from leprosy. Leprosy was a dread disease in the ancient near east. Those who suffered from it were social outcasts; they were marginalized by society. It is a disease that, sadly, has survived into the 21st century but today we understand better what it is and how to treat it. For those of us who read the Gospel, however, the word “leprosy” stands for all those things in our lives that are in need of healing, including those things we keep most secret, those things we’re most ashamed of. Every one of us has something like that in our lives.

B. Our parish is not only a spiritual home but a place of healing. Pope Francis has called the Church “a field hospital” where our physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds can be healed. Here in the parish, through Word and Sacrament, and pastoral charity, we can encounter Christ, the Divine Physician and confide to him whatever form “leprosy” takes in our lives, whatever our particular “thorn in the flesh” might be. This encounter often takes place in the Sacrament of Reconciliation but also in other ways, such as spiritual direction and pastoral counseling. Like Naaman the Syrian who was cured by washing in the Jordan, we too are not asked to do anything extraordinary except to open our hearts to the Lord and to the cleansing power of his love. Like the ten lepers who were cured by Jesus, we are asked not to do something complicated but to submit our lives to Christ who touches us with his healing love.

V. Gratitude

A. Today’s Scripture readings tell us another attribute of a healthy parish: gratitude, praise and thanksgiving, joy in the Lord. Naaman was angry when he asked to wash in the Jordan but he got over it and upon being cured vowed to worship the living God. In the Gospel ten lepers were cured but only one came back to say thanks to Jesus, the Great High Priest, who cured him. So too, we are to be a people who thank and worship the living God constantly.

B. In fact, the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving” – united to Christ, in his Word and in his Sacrifice, we are enabled to give God thanks and praise for his goodness to us. The mission of the parish is to extend healing but also to gather as many as possible at the Eucharistic table there to give God thanks and praise through Jesus Christ and to do so in that spirit of faith which alone brings us salvation. When we allow ourselves to be healed and when we give God thanks, we are well on our way to becoming those missionary disciples who not only follow Jesus but also proclaim him by word and example and invite many to open their hearts to the Lord Jesus!

VI. Conclusion

A. Finally, Holy Family Church is named for the Holy Family, for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who model family life for us. Just as the parish is to be a community of faith, worship, and service so too our homes are called to be domestic churches, marked by a spirit of faith, prayer, and mutual love and service. From such homes spring priestly and religious vocations, so needed in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

B. May the Lord bless you, Father Harris, and may the Lord bless your parish family now and in these years leading to its 150th anniversary! May God bless you and keep you always in his love!