29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Installation of Father Brian Nolan
St. Isaac Jogues Parish
Oct. 20, 2019
It is normally the practice to install a pastor within weeks of his appointment, but, in this case, it has been well over a year, indeed a year and two months. So, Fr. Brian, I would say that this is not so much an inauguration as it is an affirmation of the wonderful leadership and service you’ve given this parish since your arrival. Together with this, your parish family, I say thank you!
And I also offer my warmest thanks to you, the parishioners of St. Isaac Jogues. I am always happy to visit your parish and to offer Mass but never happier when my visit closely coincides with your patronal feast. As you know, yesterday, October 19th, was the feast of the North American Martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John De Brébeuf, and his companions; and I note in passing that Pope Francis designated this Sunday as Mission Sunday. Let us ask the special intercession of St. Isaac Jogues as we reflect on the mission of your parish named in honor of this courageous missionary among the Native peoples.
Today’s readings, to your relief, do not give a full job description for a pastor (otherwise you might have to cancel your dinner reservations), but they do highlight three essential aspects of a pastor’s leadership and three essential elements of every parish’s mission, namely, prayer, preaching, and mission; permit me a word about each of these. II. The Power of Persistent Prayer
First, a word about prayer. The story is told of a founder of an orphanage in 19th century France. To secure much-needed donations, he considered placing ads in a local newspaper. But before he did so, he asked the advice of his parish priest, St. John Vianney. This is the advice offered by the holy Cure of Ars: “Instead of making noise in the newspapers, why not make a fuss before the Tabernacle?” Very much in accord with today’s Scripture readings, St. John Vianney put his finger on the prime importance of prayer for the success of the Church’s mission – and his words apply to the mission of this parish as well.
In the first reading from Exodus, God’s People are fighting against Amalek and his forces. They were a fierce enemy and the odds were stacked against Israel. But Moses knew that God was with his people so he turned to him in prayer. As long as Moses’ arms were raised in prayer (in the form of a cross), Israel prevailed. When he let his arms down and stopped praying, Israel suffered setbacks. So Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms who prayed until the victory was won.
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the power of prayer and persistence in prayer. To illustrate, he tells us a story about an unjust judge and a persistent widow – the widow who stands as a symbol of those who are poor and defenseless. It was unlikely she’d receive a fair hearing from the judge, but, in fact, she prevailed… …not because she changed the judge’s heart but because she wore him down. The point isn’t that we have to wear God down–that is neither possible nor necessary. After all, the Lord knows us and loves and he knows better than we do what we truly need. Thus, the Lord wants us to persist in prayer and not for his sake but for our sake. And here’s the reason: the more we pray, the more persistently and intensely we pray, the more our hearts are enlarged to receive God’s love and the more open we are to the gifts God wishes to give us – as St. Augustine says: “God wants us…to exercise our desire through our prayers that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. [So, he continues] Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with the unbeliever.”
Among the primary responsibilities of a pastor or of any priest is to lead the people he serves in prayer, primarily the Eucharist but also many other forms of liturgical, sacramental, public prayer. It is in this role that your pastor is most visible to the great majority of you. But public prayer does not exhaust the pastor’s role in leading you in prayer. He must also be a model of praying in private, in the hidden recesses of the heart, praying always, praying persistently, praying for you, praying for the Church’s mission. He must be a man who spends time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, indeed, making a fuss before the Tabernacle on your behalf, and thus serving as a model for you and for me in developing our own lives of prayer. A good pastor knows that the energy and wisdom for his parish’s mission comes, not from his own good will and intelligence, nor even from that of his people, but ultimately from the Holy Spirit whose power is unlocked when we pray.
The Centrality of Good Preaching
In prayer, the Holy Spirit’s power and inspiration is unlocked also for preaching which is among the most important responsibilities of every priest but especially a priest who is entrusted with pastoral care of a parish. St. Paul makes this clear in today’s 2nd reading addressed to his co-worker, Timothy. He tells Timothy whom he entrusted with the care of the Church at Ephesus, to turn his whole mind and heart to the Scriptures, in a word, to pray the Scriptures, “[the] Scriptures which [are] inspired by God and useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness”… …with the utterly important goal that every member of the Church “may be competent and equipped for every good work.” When a priest’s preaching flows from his prayer contemplation of Scripture and when he has first applied it to his own life – his preaching changes. It is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and becomes, not a matter of words, but rather words of spirit and life that changes and transforms minds and hearts.
What’s more, a priest whose preaching is charged with the power of the Spirit, will preach as persistently as he prays – proclaiming the word, as St. Paul says, “whether it is convenient or inconvenient” … whether it is welcome or unwelcome! Filled with God’s presence and the Spirit of the Risen Lord, the preacher will bear witness to Christ “in season or out of season” so as to ‘convince, admonish, and encourage’ the people he is privileged to serve, and lead them to find the Lord’s saving love in the assembly of the Church. To reiterate, this task of preaching has pride of place in ministry, for if it is done well, the mission of the Church – faith, worship, and service, will flourish.
From prayer, good preaching, and joyful celebration of the Sacraments the mission of the Church is takes on strength – not mere human energy but the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in addition to prayer (both public and private) and preaching, the pastor’s main responsibility is to transform his parish into an intense center of missionary activity – a place in which he and his parishioners go forth on mission to those who have left the practice of the faith for whatever reason, to those who are searching, to those who have been wounded.
This is not a grim duty imposed upon us by ecclesiastical authority but rather a way of participating in the mission of the Good Shepherd himself who came to gather into his Kingdom those who were considered to be lost. And if we spend time in prayer with the Good Shepherd and his words of spirit and life make inroads into our hearts, then you and I will no longer want to keep the Good News to ourselves. Rather, like the disciples after Pentecost, we will want to share it – with family members, with colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers, and we will find ourselves being equally persistent in prayer and in our mission to share what we have been given with others. This is what we call, “missionary discipleship” and this how this and every parish can be “a light brightly shining” in our Archdiocese, in the Church, and in the world!
Prayer, Preaching Mission – three essentials for me and for every pastor and parish. I renew my thanks to Father Brian and all of you for your openness to the Holy Spirit… and I pray that God will always bless you and keep you always in his love!