A. It is a joy to be with all of you so near to the feast of Christmas and on this joyful occasion of the installation of Fr. Collin Postin as your pastor. Thank you for warmly welcoming him as he began his pastoral service here at St. Anthony’s and at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And thank you, Father Collin, for your pastoral generosity in embracing both of these parishes as a good and loving shepherd of souls.
B. It turns out that today’s Scripture readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent offer us real insight into Father Collin’s role as your pastor. That role has two main components: first is pointing out the presence of God in our midst and being the instrument of God’s presence; and second is helping us to acknowledge and respond to God’s presence with an obedient faith in every aspect of our lives. Let us reflect on these two points for a few moments.
II. God’s Search for Us
A. Often, we are told that religion is all about our search for God. But today’s Scripture readings teach us that Christianity is more about God’s coming in search for us. In other words, God wants to be with us. He wants to find us. I learned this when I studied for the priesthood here at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary but it was brought home to me only after I was ordained. As a newly ordained priest, I visited a parishioner in the hospital, a wonderful woman of faith who was suffering terribly. When I saw her condition, I was lost for words and stammered something about trying to find God in the midst of her suffering. Sensing my discomfort, she smiled, took my hand, and said, “Oh, Father, don’t worry about me. I’m not trying to find God in this hospital bed; he’s trying to find me and you know, I think he’s finally got me!” It was a “eureka” moment in my life as a priest, an encounter I’ve reflected on and prayed about many times through the years. God is search for us much more ardently than we are searching for him!
B. In Advent we discover again what lengths God went through to be with us – to seek us out, to find us, to establish a relationship of love with us. Not only did God create us, he kept pursuing us even after we rejected his friendship. He passionately sought us out so as to heal our relationship with him and to restore his presence and friendship among us. That’s why he appeared to Moses, guided his people through the desert, spoke to them through prophets and raised up David as King. The Lord stood by his people through thick and thin all the while promising them a Messiah who would bring them deliverance.
C. Isn’t this what is going on in our first reading from Isaiah? King Ahaz, a successor to David, is on the ropes; his kingdom is falling apart. The Lord invites him to ask for a sign of his favor but he refuses not because of true reverence but because of the weakness of his faith. The Lord overrules him and through Isaiah offers the House of David this sign: “…the virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” And don’t we see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the Gospel reading where Joseph receives word in a dream that the child of Mary’s womb is of the Holy Spirit? The angel further instructs Joseph to name the child Jesus because he would save the people from their sins a child who is to be called “Emmanuel” meaning “God is with us.
D. Advent is a time of wonderment as we reflect on how God loved the world – how he spoke to the world, worked signs and wonders, and finally sent his Son. It is also a time to reflect on how the Lord Jesus chooses to remain with us, saving us from our sins and inviting us to friendship with the Father. As your pastor, Father Collin is a minister, an instrument of God’s presence among you as he gathers the Catholic community here in Emmitsburg and Thurmont, as he preaches and teaches the living Word of God and celebrates the Sacraments – especially the Eucharist in which Christ is made really, truly, and substantially present. Your pastor is an instrument of the Lord’s presence as he leads you in finding and serving Christ in those who are poor and vulnerable. So, even as your pastor prolongs the first coming of Christ at Christmas he teaches you to look forward in hope to Christ’s coming in glory as our judge.
III. Our Response to God’s Presence
A. An even as your pastor, through his ordination, makes Christ present among you, so too he will seek to help you respond to the Lord, to welcome him into your hearts, your homes, your parish communities. The response he seeks to engender in and among you is described in today’s readings. St. Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith” that should characterize Christ’s followers. In the Gospel Joseph awoke from a dream and did as the angel had instructed him. And in the first reading from Isaiah, we see how not to respond to the Lord. Ahaz, when invited to ask the Lord for a sign, dithers.
B. By word, by example, by spiritual direction, by listening to you, by encouraging you, your pastor will help you respond to God’s presence with an obedient faith – that is to say, a faith in Jesus that is so vibrant, so all-encompassing that your deepest desire will be to conform your life to his, even though that means letting go of everything contrary to the Gospel. As you respond to the Lord with a faith like St. Paul’s and a faith like St. Joseph’s, your parish communities take on a new vibrancy, a new capacity to attract those who no longer practice the faith and those who are searching for the Lord.
A. Pointing to the Lord’s presence, being an instrument of his presence, helping those he serves to respond with obedient faith to the Lord’s presence – this is the principal responsibility of a good and loving pastor, the pastor you have in Father Collin. Yet, good as he is, he cannot go it alone. First and foremost, he counts not only on your generosity and kindness but also on your openness to the Lord and to the Gospel…coupled with your readiness to advance the Church’s mission in this part of the vineyard.
B. Father Collin will count on his dedicated staff, the parish council, the finance council, and the corporators to assist him in leading and administering St. Anthony and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Let me thank you for the spirit of cooperation that is already evident.
So, as the feast of Christmas draws so near, let us rejoice and give thanks, and with confidence ask the Lord to bless Father Collin and all those he serves. At Christmas may we rejoice as never before the Incarnate Son of God and respond to our newborn Savior with a faith that never ceases to say “yes” to anything and everything God may ask of us. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!