Farewell Mass for Joseph L. Luca, Pastor, St. Louis Parish, Clarksville – St. Francis of Assisi, Fulton
Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood (Corpus Christi)
June 6, 2021
Every Reason to Expect an Effective Priestly Ministry
In April 1970, Msgr. George D. Mulcahy, then the Rector of Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, wrote a memorandum for the file of seminarian Joseph L. Luca. It said in part and I quote: “Joseph has been an excellent seminarian and an excellent student. He presents a good appearance and has a friendly personality with a joyous sense of humor. He entered fully into the life of our community and accepted positions of leadership. He was Prefect of the Seminary, the highest position of student honor and responsibility here. He was class president, chairman of the Student Council Constitution Committee, and chairman of the Deacon Program.” Msgr. Mulcahy added, “This young man has a clear vision of the priesthood and priestly work… There is every reason to expect an effective priestly ministry from this maturely Christian young man.” I think we can agree that Msgr. Mulcahy was right on target!
In 1993, when Cardinal Keeler appointed Fr. Luca to lead an archdiocesan program of parish revitalization called “RENEW”, the principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (where Fr. Luca was pastor) wrote this; She said: “[Fr. Luca] has the skills to develop and implement any program and the vision to do so for the right reasons. He has always been focused on the spiritual needs of his people and is deeply loved for his compassionate spirit…” Thus wrote Kathleen Sipes, and later she added, “He is the epitome of a servant-leader.” I think you will agree with me that she is right on target.
In 1996, when Cardinal Keeler appointed Msgr. Luca as Pastor here at St. Louis Parish, I am told he made this memorable comment about your pastor: “Here comes a 747!” All we have to do is look around this campus to see how right he was! Under Msgr. Luca’s visionary leadership, and with the help of many, St. Louis Parish and School have become a truly beautiful place – outwardly and inwardly – and with a pastor’s love, Msgr. Luca has embraced St. Francis of Assisi Parish, building upon the dedicated pastoral labors of Fr. Denny Diehl and his team.
Msgr. Luca, all of us are here to celebrate your priestly ministry and with all our hearts to express our deepest gratitude for your priestly service. You met and exceeded Msgr. Mulcahy’s high expectations in every parish and ministry and diocesan responsibility you have shouldered. If I were to list all that you have done in the service of the Church, I would surely exceed the time limit you set for homilists here at St. Louis, (but as Fr. Bianco will tell you, I’m going to do that anyway!)
What I would like to do is probe deeper, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, arrive at the source, the wellspring of your extraordinary priestly ministry … Upon reflection, I could only conclude that its “source and summit” is the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, the gift and mystery we celebrate today on Corpus Christi. Because of your daily, life-long, and wholehearted devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, you have maintained and deepened that “clear vision of priesthood and priestly ministry” of which Msgr. Mulcahy wrote some fifty-one years ago. The heart and soul of your priestly ministry has been and will always be the Eucharist, as a mystery to be believed, as a mystery to be celebrated, and as a mystery to be lived. Let me say a word about each of these three points.
First, the Eucharist Is a Mystery to Be Believed:
Throughout his 51 years as a priest and 25 years of service here at St. Louis, Msgr. Luca has preached innumerable homilies and has given countless instructions on the mystery of the Eucharist – on the meaning of the Mass, on the Real Presence, on the Mass as both sacrifice and meal, on the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives, and on the Eucharist as the source of the Church’s mission. All this and more he has done from this pulpit, in classrooms, in informal conversations, and in any other setting where he thought he had half a chance of opening minds and hearts to this great mystery of faith. There can be no doubt that Msgr. Luca brought to the task of preaching and teaching a sound theological preparation which he deepened throughout the years – but there is more to his preaching and teaching that mere competence, and it is this: He is not only a teacher of the Church’s Eucharistic faith; he is also a witness. He speaks of what he knows deeply and personally; he speaks from his life of prayer.
If you were to visit the Rectory of St. Louis Parish, you would see there a chapel, a small room, a place of quiet and peace, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, a chapel where Msgr. Luca often retires to pray before the Eucharistic Lord – yes, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but also simply to enter into the Lord’s presence, there to absorb the wisdom, strength, and love needed for his stellar priestly ministry. If you look at the architecture of this church, you see beauty all around you but the focus of this church is first on the altar and then on the tabernacle. Amid all his many accomplishments, the greatest of Msgr. Luca’s labors are his unstinting efforts to instill in those he serves an unshakable Eucharistic faith.
Second, the Eucharist Is a Mystery to be Celebrated:
Over the course of 51 years, Msgr. Luca celebrated innumerable Masses – Sunday and weekday Masses, funeral and wedding Masses, school Masses and more. Time and time again, I have seen and deeply appreciate his care and concern to ensure that things are done rightly. Nowhere does this wonderful trait manifest itself more than in the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whether it is the altar furnishings, the well-prepared deacons, lectors and altar servers, the excellent choir, cantors, and musicians, or the graceful movements in the sanctuary: wherever Msgr. Luca is in charge, the sacred liturgy is celebrated reverently and well.
Here, I am reminded of St. John Vianney who found the time and the resources to transform the parish church at Ars into a place of beauty and reverence, and who celebrated the liturgy not so as to call attention to himself but rather to the Lord of lords and the King of kings. For his part, Msgr. Luca sees clearly how faith, beauty, and joy are all intertwined – and the care and attention that you have seen through the years are but an extension of his clear vision of the priesthood and priestly ministry, centered on the Eucharist as a mystery to be celebrated.
Third, the Eucharist Is a Mystery to be Lived:
Every reputable author who writes about priestly spirituality will tell us that the life of a priest is to be but an extension of the Eucharist he celebrates. The life and ministry of a priest must reflect the word of truth and mercy he preaches, the sacrificial love he celebrates and makes present at the altar. Msgr. Luca’s life and ministry has been and remains a life of deep pastoral love, a love that reflects the goodness and compassion of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Every one of us, myself included, has experienced his pastoral love, whether it’s a friendly greeting, his endless availability, home and hospital visits, or his wise and loving advice amid the challenges of our lives, or simply the fact that, like the Good Shepherd, he knows us and cares about us. All this and more, to repeat, is simply an extension of the Eucharistic love which Msgr. Luca absorbs in prayer, preaches faithfully, and celebrates reverently.
Even more by example than by your words, Msgr. Luca, you encourage us all to believe in the Eucharist, to celebrate it, but then to live it, to bring the love we share at the Eucharistic table into our daily lives – our relationships at home, at work, among our colleagues and our friends. You have ensured that St. Louis – St. Francis are communities of outreach and charity for those who are vulnerable, underserved, and those who are victims of injustice, and you have raised up in your parish family true missionary disciples – those who are equipped to bear witness to the Risen Lord in the wider community, especially among those who, for whatever reason, no longer practice the Faith. And last but not least, your own patient endurance, your resilience, and your courage amid your health challenges has inspired more people than even you will ever know to unite their sufferings to the redeeming sufferings of our Eucharistic Lord.
Yes, Msgr. Mulcahy was right. We had every reason to expect from you “an effective priestly ministry.” On second thought, your beloved seminary rector did not go nearly far enough – for we have experienced your excellent, transformative, and beautiful priestly ministry… and with the People of God whom you have served with so much love, I ask our Eucharistic Lord, Msgr. Luca, dear friend, to bless you and to keep you in his love, ad multos annos!