A. Dear brother priests, dear friends, we’ve gathered this evening to give thanks and praise to God for the extraordinary life and ministry of one of our own – Msgr. Art. Bastress. In these days, he celebrates the gift of 90 years of life and 65 years of priestly ministry.
B. We are all grateful to Msgr. Kevin Schenning for hosting us so graciously as has been his custom through the years and we are especially happy to celebrate a life so dedicated to the Lord, the Church, and the priesthood. At my own advanced age, it boggles my mind to think that Art was beginning his priestly ministry just about one week after I was baptized (it was an infant baptism!). And it warms my heart, Art, that you wanted to mark these milestones with a simple celebration with brother priests and deacons. One gift I can give to you and to all gathered here is brevity. The fact is we’ll all really waiting to hear what you will have to say at the conclusion of Vespers! … but for now, allow me a few observations.
II. The Divine Office
A. First is that we are gathered to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, of the Divine Office or the Breviary, as it was commonly known in 1951. This is really a prayer that binds us together as members of the clergy in praying for the people we serve, for the Church at large, for society, and for the many people who ask us to pray for them each and every day.
B. When I sit down to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, in my mind’s eye I like to think of my clergy all over the world who are doing the same thing at approximately the same hour. And I think about all those many years that Art has been praying the Breviary, even when the Breviary wasn’t quite as “brief” as it is today. The Prayer of the Church which we promised to pray is a hidden key to the priestly and diaconal fraternity that we share and the source of many graces for ourselves and those we serve.
III. The Sacraments
The Eucharist is the ultimate tie that binds us together – it is for the source and summit of our ministry and the bond of charity. Except in rare times of illness, I think, Art, you have offered Holy Mass practically every day for 65 years. Only the Lord knows how many homilies you have preached, how many Mass intentions you have fulfilled, how many people you’ve given Holy Communion to, how many Confessions you have heard, in these latter days, using in the same confessional as Bl. Francis Seelos. We think as well of the marriages you witnessed and the countless parishioners you prepared to meet God at the end of their lives. And what a grace that we can speak of these things not in the past tense but in the present and future tenses as well.
IV. Service to the Church
A. Perhaps when you promised obedience and respect to Archbishop Keough, you did not imagine how he and his successors would take you up on that promise! You’ve been asked to do a lot for the Church of Baltimore and you’ve done a lot for the Church in Baltimore!
B. If I were I to detail all you’ve done, we’d still be here for Morning Prayer! So let me just illustrate the point – Another Art, Art Valenzano, remembered you as a young priest in his home parish and, if memory serves, you were also a coach at the time… and, if I may also say, a coach who commanded the respect of his players. I think you had something to do with inspiring a vocation in that young man who would be your neighbor in Baltimore for nearly ten years. The presence of so many deacons tonight reminds us of your pioneering role in establishing the Permanent Diaconate in the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the behest of Archbishop Borders. There weren’t many roadmaps for that back then but you put the diaconate on a solid footing and we continue to build upon what you do. And, of course, your ministry at St. Alphonsus, now a national shrine… a church that services a diverse population – whether it is the Hungarian community, those desiring the liturgy in Latin, or those who work downtown or those who come seeking Confession. St. Alphonsus is a rectory where you can call at 5:00 p.m. and the pastor will answer the phone himself. Most of us think of that as heroic virtue!
V. Enduring Fidelity
A. You’ve seen a lot, you’ve experienced a lot of changes in the church, in the Archdiocese, and in the culture of which we’re all a part. No one will know how many new programs and initiatives you’ve witnessed, and how many letters from the chancery you’ve read (or not).
B. You’ve taken all this and much more in stride, not losing your bearings. One of the reasons is that you have, I think, always spoken your mind. You’ve said when you felt needed to be said, you said it openly, and you said it with real love for the Church and for your brothers. I think that may have something to do with your long life and ministry.
C. So tonight with my brother priests and deacons, I salute you, Msgr. Art, and I offer you the profound thanks of the Church you continue to serve so well, asking the Lord to continue blessing you and your ministry, asking that you may experience true spiritual joy and satisfaction as together we mark these anniversaries in your life and ministry! May God bless you, Art, and may he keep us all in his love!