31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Installation of Fr. John Williamson
St. John the Evangelist Parish, Frederick, Maryland
October 31, 2021
A New Chapter for an Historic Parish
It is a joy and a pleasure to install Fr. John Williamson as the Pastor of your parish, an historic parish here in Frederick County, founded in 1773, with the cornerstone of the first church set in place by Fr. John DuBois, the founder of Mt. St. Mary’s University and Seminary and 3rd Archbishop of New York. It is also appropriate that we recall today your 2nd pastor, Fr. John McElroy, who built the present church and who was very influential in laying the foundations of the Catholic Church in this entire region.
The original borders of your parish extended from Frederick, all the way to St. Louis, and while your territory has diminished, your spirit of faith, worship, and service has not. I thank all of you most sincerely, because, through thick and thin, St. John’s has remained a thriving community of faith, and in this rapidly growing community, it stands as a bright light, a beacon of God’s love at work in our lives, touching and transforming us. In my estimation and yours, Fr. John Williamson is just the right priest to lead this parish, not just maintaining it but leading it vigorously into “a future full of hope.”
By now you have come to know your new pastor as a man of energy and vision, an incredibly hard worker, and a shepherd who loves you, his people, deeply. Just as Fr. John was ‘taking the reins’ (so to speak), I called to see how it was going. I was not surprised to learn that he already immersed himself in the life of the parish, and was bringing to his new role those excellent leadership qualities that have distinguished his priestly service from the day of his ordination, including and especially his love for Catholic education. At the same time, I want to recognize the wonderful work of Fr. John Streifel, Fr. Peter Gervera, the parish deacons, a dedicated staff, and dedicated lay leadership, all now led by Fr. Williamson.
Source of Priestly Love
Fr. John would be the first to point out the source of his priesthood to which he has dedicated his life, energy, and talent. That source is found in today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus, our Eternal High Priest, is the source of the priesthood we celebrate today, or to put it another way, every priest participates sacramentally in Christ’s priesthood. The author of Hebrews wants us to understand the uniqueness of Jesus’ priesthood. Jesus is God’s eternal Son who assumed our humanity, and in our humanity, offered himself on the Cross, once for all, for the forgiveness of sins. Risen from the dead, he now intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand, ‘never ceasing to offer himself for us, never ceasing to plead our cause’ (cf. Easter Preface III). Those of us ordained to the priesthood participate in Jesus’ priesthood as in his name and person we preach the Gospel he preached offer the same redeeming sacrifice he offered, and join our voices to his in interceding for the people we are privileged to serve.
In spite of human weakness, a priest must strive to be like Jesus who, as Hebrews tells us, is holy, innocent, undefiled, not in collusion with sinners, that priest who continually prays for us before the Throne of Mercy. No priest on earth perfectly embodies the qualities of Christ’s unique priesthood, but when you meet a priest who is ‘on the way’, you sense it and you rejoice. In spite of all obstacles, such priests exercise a very fruitful ministry because they continually seek to encounter the Lord and lead others to do so. The overflowing fruit of such a ministry is love – love of God and love of neighbor.
The Fruit of Priestly Ministry: Love of God and Neighbor
I suppose that, on an occasion like this, I could offer you a pastor’s “job description”, so that you would be reminded of the breadth of his responsibilities. Important as that is, it is more important for us to focus on the ultimate goal, the endgame, of a pastor’s ministry, namely, to be God’s instrument in forming his people in love. The pastor and his co-workers do not pursue that goal solely from the storehouse of their own good will, energy, and talent. Rather, they invite those they serve to share in the priestly love of Jesus, that is, to open themselves to the Holy Spirit who pours the love of God into our hearts. This is precisely what happens when we worthily take part in the Eucharist and when we seek the forgiveness of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Our response to the overflowing love of Jesus’ priesthood is two-fold: First, to love God with every fiber of our being – our heart, our mind, our strength. Second, filled with God’s love, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves – indeed, we are to form a community known for its unfeigned love, a community whose faithful love stands as a beacon of hope in a very divided world. Forming others to love and being formed in love is not easy. Yet, the endgame of all ministry and the endgame our lives must be that we have responded to God’s love and have been shaped by God’s love by loving God above all and by loving our neighbor even more than we love ourselves. Such love is neither sentimental nor soft but rather requires of us hard choices, for truth and love are travelling companions and we must never delude ourselves into thinking that evil can be a loving choice. Love of God and neighbor, therefore, requires of us a daily sacrifice of our wills, much patience, sustained prayer, listening to God’s Word, and a readiness to put the interests of others ahead of our own, coupled with a passion for serving the poor and vulnerable in our midst.
In a word, we are being formed to love as the saints and angels love in heaven. We are being formed so that God the Father can see and love in us what he sees and loves in his Son, Jesus Christ.
A Prayer for God’s Blessings
Fr. John, in these still-early stages of your ministry here at St. John’s, I thank you for your priestly service and generosity, and with your fellow priests, your family, friends, and parishioners, I ask God to bless you with health, joy, peace of mind and heart, and the good and abundant fruit of the Gospel flowing from the priesthood of Jesus Christ in which you so richly share. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!