6th Sunday of Easter
Installation of Fr. William Keown as Pastor of Our Lady of Victory
May 9, 2021
Scope, Content, and Goal of Mission
I am delighted to return to Our Lady of Victory for the installation of Father Bill Keown as your pastor. During this past year, dear friends, you have witnessed his priestly dedication, his enthusiasm for the mission, his vision, and his energy. In officially installing Father Keown, I join you in expressing gratitude for his service, and confidence in his leadership of Our Lady of Victory Parish in the years ahead.
As it happens, today’s Scripture readings speak eloquently, Father Bill, to your mission as the pastor of this parish community. As we shall see, today’s readings shed light first, on the scope of the mission of this parish; second, on the content of that mission, and third, on the goal of the mission.
Scope of Mission
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the scope of mission of this and indeed of every parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and beyond. As the reading opens, we suddenly meet a man named Cornelius who, for the first time, encountered the Apostle Peter. To understand this reading better, we need to know something about Cornelius. We learn from the Acts of the Apostles that Cornelius was a Roman Centurion, a military man. As his title indicates, he commanded a force of one-hundred men. We would also be right in concluding that Cornelius had grown up as a pagan, that is to say, as one who engaged in the idol worship common in the Roman Empire. Yet, at some point in his life, Cornelius heard the voice of God. He began to believe, not in just any God, but in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He began to pray and to give alms to the poor, and in so doing, joined the ranks of so-called pagans who were known as God-fearers. Even so, Cornelius knew that his journey of faith had not ended. He was seeking the fullness of the truth. Today, we would call him “a seeker”.
Apparently, though, Cornelius’ encounter with Peter began awkwardly. Still clinging to vestiges of paganism, Cornelius regarded Peter as a demi-god, and so he fell at his feet, not merely to do him homage, but to worship him. That is why Peter raised him up and said, “Stand up; I too am a man.” . . . But Peter also learned something critical from his encounter with Cornelius. The breadth of the Church’s mission dawned on Peter in a defining way: As Peter himself said: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation, whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” And with that, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Gentiles who were assembled there and produced a second Pentecost, as the Gentiles gave thanks to God in various tongues. Amid the joy and wonderment of the Holy Spirit, Peter baptized Cornelius.
The point I wish to draw from our reading is this: The scope of any parish’s mission is not confined to those who go to Mass on Sunday, or to those who contribute, or to those who maintain an active connection – important as it is to minister to active parishioners with pastoral love and generosity. The scope of mission is to every person within a parish’s geographic boundaries, and indeed to anyone who is seeking the fullness of truth. Let us make no mistake: even in this increasingly neo-pagan culture, many are seeking something better, some are actively seeking the fullness of faith, and many others are waiting to be invited back to their parish communities. Like Peter, all of us need to have that eureka moment, when the breadth and length and height and depth of mission becomes evident. And like those gathered together in today’s first reading, we need to pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new Pentecost.
The Content of Mission
Let’s now turn to the content of the mission and for that, let us draw inspiration from today’s Gospel reading from St. John. Recall that Jesus spoke these words on the eve of his Passion and Death, and that the Apostles recalled and understood them only after they had encountered the Risen Lord and had received the Holy Spirit. What the Evangelist John, in particular, recalled was the oneness of Jesus with his heavenly Father and Jesus’ burning desire that we, his followers, would be united in sharing in that union of love which he and the Father had enjoyed from all eternity. So, Jesus offers to his Apostles and to us the Good News of salvation: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; remain in my love!”
The content of the mission, then, is the Good News, the message of salvation described so well in the Gospel and today’s reading from the 1st Letter of John and it’s this: that God is love, that God created us in love, and that, when we went astray, the God of love came to our rescue, not by issuing a mere decree of pardon from on high, but by sending his Son to become one of us, to preach, to heal, to suffer and to die – to lay down his life for us with a sacrificial love that has its own name, agapē. Jesus’ sacrificial love reveals the passionate, loving heart of God, his heavenly Father, and in that love we are to be united with one another in a life of faith and virtue, in a life of prayer rooted in the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, coupled with generosity for the poor, a passion for justice, and a passion for spreading the Gospel far and wide among believers and non-believers.
The Goal of Mission
What, then, is the goal of the mission entrusted to the Church’s pastors? This, too, is described in both the Gospel and in the excerpt from John’s First Letter. The goal is to create a community of faith that worships in spirit and truth, a community that is so taken with God’s utterly generous love and mercy, that it embraces the Commandments, not as an infringement on human liberty, but as a way of loving God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself. But even that is not enough for a community that lives in the orbit of God’s love. Rather, such a community (and the individuals who are part of it), will want to love others, not merely as they love themselves, but as Jesus has loved us first – with a sacrificial, self-giving love we call agapē. What is more, a community that is made up of disciples who love as Jesus loved will never be a closed circle, a group of self-satisfied, self-congratulatory illuminati – but rather a community that is on mission – on a mission of love – on a mission to serve the vulnerable and to attract others to the heart of the Church, to the Church’s life of faith, worship, and service . . . In a word, the goal is to create a community of missionary disciples.
Yet, the ultimate goal of this mission lies beyond the confines of this present world. Jesus, in claiming his Apostles and ourselves as friends, pulled back the curtain and allowed us to glimpse from afar into the inner secret life of God, summed up in three stunning words: “God is love”. The eternal Triune God is an eternal exchange of love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and you and I and every believer who seeks God in sincerity of heart is destined to share in that eternal exchange of love, the source of love in which we’re made new, the source of love by which the present world will someday be created anew.
So, my friends, it is no small mission that is entrusted to Father Keown today! It is a microcosm of the universal mission, which Jesus entrusted to his entire Church. Let not, however, the word “microcosm” deceive: it is a mission that will require, Father Bill, all the love you can give, as well as your wisdom and perseverance. And, as this installation ceremony will demonstrate, it is not a mission that you will fulfill on your own but only in a spirit of communion with me and with the entire Church, with good co-workers here at Our Lady of Victory Parish, and above all with the help of the Holy Spirit who pours the love of the Risen Lord into our hearts and our communities. Warmest congratulations, Father Bill, and may God bless you and keep you in his love!