A. Father Ward, Father Wible, brother deacons, and dear parishioners: what a pleasure to be with you this afternoon and to offer Holy Mass as you bring to a conclusion a year-long celebration of a trifecta of anniversaries: the 150th anniversary of the Stone Chapel; the 50th anniversary of the parish of St. Francis de Sales; and the 25th anniversary of the blessing of the parish worship center.
B. Warmest congratulations on all three anniversaries and warmest thanks to you, Father Ward, for the dedicated pastoral care you provide to this parish! At the same time, we welcome home Father Chuck Wible who served St. Francis de Sales so lovingly – thank you for being here!
C. And let me take a moment, dear friends, to thank all of you for your loving dedication to this parish community through the years. Throughout this past year, we have not merely recalled your parish history; rather, we have celebrated a living history – the history of a community of faith that is alive and active, a family of faith that welcomes new members, a parish enriched as well by a growing Hispanic community. In your life of faith, worship, and service – in the many ministries of this parish community, you bear witness to the Kingdom of God in our midst, day in and day out. May God bless you now and for many years to come!
II. Cliffs Notes on the Parish History
A. Of course, it will not do for us to close this special anniversary year without at least one more trip down memory lane . . . to the year 1863, when Fr. McDevitt, the Pastor of St. Ignatius in Hickory, reported to Archbishop Martin J. Spalding, the 7th Archbishop of Baltimore, that there was need for a church at Abington. Two years later, William Pannell – himself not a Catholic – donated four acres on which to build what became known as the Stone Chapel.
B. Let us fast-forward to the year 1964 when St. Francis de Sales became a parish in its own right. By then the Stone Chapel, the “Church on the Hill”, was nearly a hundred years old and was like a beautiful home that its family had outgrown. Father Maurice Wolf with the support and assistance of the parish oversaw the construction of the parish center opened in 1970. Father Phillips led the effort to build a new church, the Worship Center, which was blessed by then-Archbishop Keeler.
C. Why do we recall this history yet again? We do so in thanksgiving for those who went before us in faith. In a very real sense, we are standing on their shoulders. We have inherited from them not merely a set of buildings but a legacy of faith, worship, and service. They have left behind for us all a true spiritual home where the light of Christ shines amid the darkness of the world. In concluding this anniversary year, let us be sure to pray for those benefactors who have given us so much.
III. The Deepest Reason for Building Up This Parish
A. When a community of faith is organized and a parish is established, we naturally think about factors such as population growth and development. And indeed such factors were important in the history of this parish and they remain important as we look to the future. Yet, the founding of a parish is much more than an organizational decision. It is rather a decision to continue doing what Jesus did when he began his ministry long ago on the shores of Sea of Galilee.
B. In the Gospel, Jesus begins to preach. He is unlike any other preacher or prophet who went before him. For among the people living in the darkness of sin and death, Jesus came as a great light, indeed the light of the world. He stood among them as the One who embodies the Father’s love, the One who alone could fulfill the deepest desires and longings of their hearts. To them and to us he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
C. This is why St. Francis de Sales exists, it is why every parish exists: so that the saving message of Jesus can be preached and that the power of his saving love might reach us in our day and in our times. For we, no less than the people who lived on the banks of the Sea of Galilee need to hear the Good News of Salvation. We, no less than they, need to encounter Christ as our healer – not merely for our physical wounds but for our deeper, spiritual wounds. We, now less than they need to see by faith the light which directs our steps as we journey through life toward an eternity with God. Thus, Sunday after Sunday and day after day, Christ speaks to this parish family as the Scriptures are proclaimed and Christ truly comes among us in his Body and Blood as the Eucharist is celebrated, even as the same Christ forgives our sins and tends to us when we are sick and dying. Thus, even as Jesus came as a great light to the people who walked in darkness, let this “Church on the Hill” always be “a light brightly visible”!
IV. Sharing in the Mission of Jesus
A. As soon as Jesus began to preach he called his apostles. First Peter, then Andrew, then James and John – and he told those fishermen that they would become fishers of men. What I find so remarkable in this Gospel account is that these men answered Jesus’ call so quickly. They dropped their fishing nets, abandoned their boats, and followed Christ. And from that moment on they accompanied Jesus as he went from town to town and from synagogue to synagogue preaching the Good News.
B. When we think of Jesus’ call in our day, we naturally think of those who answered the call to a priestly or diaconal vocation – Father Ward, Father Wible, and the many priests and deacons who have served this parish so well. And we should be grateful to them and pray for an abundance of vocations from this parish to serve our spiritual needs in the years ahead. And even as we work for vocations in the Church, let us also hear the Lord calling each of us not only to follow him but also to become his disciples who spread his saving message far and wide. Pope Francis is calling upon all of us to become missionary disciples – men and women who have encountered Christ and allowed him to change our lives. And once we have encountered Christ, then we will wish to share Him with others; like missionaries, we bring the Gospel to our homes and places of work. We are called bring the Gospel to those who no longer practice their faith and to those who are still searching for truth and love. Let us answer our call with the same promptness as did the Lord’s first disciples.
V. Advancing the Mission: Unanimity in Charity
A. And, one brief and final observation, if I may. If we wish to spread the Gospel effectively and attract to the Church those who have left and are searching, nothing will make our witness of faith more effective and appealing than our own unity in faith and our unity in charity. That is why St. Paul urged the Corinthians and urges us not to have any divisions but to “be united in the same mind & in the same purpose.”
B. So as this anniversary year draws to a close, let us ask the Holy Spirit to draw this parish community together as never before so that as “one body, one spirit in Christ” we may convincingly proclaim that the Kingdom of God is hand. Through the intercession of your patron, St. Francis de Sales, that great bishop and master of the spiritual life, may God bless you and keep you always in his love!