A. It is a joy to return to St. Isaac Jogues officially to install Father Roth as your Pastor. He has served ably, effectively, and joyfully as Administrator of your parish and now it is my pleasure to express both my confidence in Father Roth and your support for his leadership, by publicly installing him as your Pastor.
B. This is also an opportunity for me to reflect with you on the role of the Pastor and to do so in light of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. In that Gospel passage, Jesus says that he has come to light a fire – and perhaps I could say that the Pastor comes to a parish to light a fire – though not literally, because that would really hurt our insurance program!
C. So what did Jesus mean when he said he came to set the world on fire? And how does that apply to a parish community? And what is the role of a pastor in igniting that fire in our midst?
II. Bad Fires
A. There are, of course, bad fires and good fires. When I was a child, our family car caught on fire at a busy intersection. As smoke billowed from under the hood, I thought it was all pretty interesting but mom pulled me out of the back seat to safety while dad ran to a nearby gas station to get a fire extinguisher.
B. In the same way, Jesus, the Good Shepherd wants to protect you and me from the destructive fires that can rage in our hearts – the fire of anger, smoldering resentment, the heat of passion, the fever of self-centeredness. These are fires Jesus didn’t light and fires that the Holy Spirit seeks to douse. So, your pastor, acting in the name and the person of Jesus the Good Shepherd, gently but firmly guides us to extinguish in our lives those destructive fires, especially those that smolder in our families, in the workplace, and sometimes even in the parish community itself. The primary way he does this is by his own example of pastoral charity and patience, demonstrating in his own life how to live the Beatitudes that mark us out as true followers of Christ.
III. Good Fires
A. The blaze that Jesus did come to ignite was not a destructive fire but rather the fire of the Holy Spirit:
B. By the light of Spirit’s fire, we can see ourselves as we truly are – unlike the people in today’s first reading who punished the prophet Jeremiah because they preferred to be deluded about their true condition before God. So too in preaching the Word of God, the pastor must never be fearful in leading us to see ourselves as we truly are and in laying aside the heavy burden of our sins. His preaching must inspire us to convert continually from the corruption of sin and to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus amid the challenges of daily life.
C. By the fire of the Holy Spirit, our sins and failings are to be burned – to be consumed by the fire of that love which cannot coexist with our sins. It is a fire that can separate us, divide us, from everyone and everything that is sinful. United to the Good Shepherd, your pastor encourages you to submit your sins – as he submits his own sins – to the consuming fire of God’s love, most especially in regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament, we become more receptive to the gift of the Eucharist and our celebration of the Eucharist becomes more joyous and profound, truly the center of the Pastor’s ministry & the source and summit of our lives in Christ.
D. The fire of the Holy Spirit also refines us, just as fire refines precious metal: it casts out our faults and imperfections so that we might more perfectly resemble Christ and his love. So too the Pastor is to be a reliable spiritual guide helping his parish family to grow in the life of prayer, to grow in virtue, and to grow in serving the needs of the poor and vulnerable. In the same way, the Pastor will help those discerning their vocation, whether to holy matrimony, consecrated life, or the priesthood – and how important that every parish community be a source of vocations so that, in the future, there will be good shepherds to guide God’s people!
E. There is yet another way that the fire of the Holy Spirit functions: as we rise above the self-delusion and burden of our sins, the Holy Spirit enkindles in our hearts zeal for the Gospel – a burning desire to share the Good News of Jesus with others. This doesn’t mean that we become zealots who drive everyone from the dinner table – It means that by word and example, we bear witness to the power, the freedom, and the joy that is ours as followers of Christ. In the language of Pope Francis, we become not just disciples, but missionary disciples who are capable of sharing our faith with others, including those who no longer practice the faith or who do so only occasionally. It is the task of the Pastor to identify and to raise up these missionary disciples, to form and encourage them, to send them forth into the community – so as to bring home those who have left and to welcome those who are searching.
IV. Involvement and Cooperation of the Parish Family
A. Looking at the pastor’s role in light of Jesus’ words about igniting a fire, we can readily see that no pastor can go it alone. He must be united closely to the Lord through daily prayer and he must also be closely united with me as the bishop of this local church. In the same way, your pastor must come to know you, to listen carefully, to draw close to you, to open his heart to you, to understand your joys and sorrows, and to walk with you throughout life’s journey.
B. As he does this, he must also call forth your gifts in service of this parish community. The Holy Spirit distributes many gifts of nature and grace among you, gifts that are very much needed in the ongoing effort to make of this parish an ever more vibrant community of faith, worship, and service. So I thank you for your hard work, your goodness, your generosity – and most of all for your hospitality in welcoming those who return to the faith, even as I encourage you to cooperate freely and fully with God’s abundant graces.
A. And so on this joyous day of your pastor’s installation, let us pray:
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send for your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth!”
B. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!