31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Installation of Father Patrick Woods, C.Ss.R.
St. Mary Parish; St. John Neumann Mission
Nov. 3, 2019
House of Mercy and Forgiveness
From your applause, I take it you approve of Fr. Woods’ appointment as your pastor! And so do I! Father Pat, we are delighted that, in the years ahead, you will be serving and leading this large and diverse community of faith, St. Mary’s and St. John Neumann. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to Father Paul Borowski, the Redemptorist Provincial, and Father Gerard Knapp, the Vicar Provincial, for making Fr. Pat available to serve as Pastor of this important parish. And last, but not least, we thank you, Fr. Pat, for agreeing to serve here and for the joy and vigor with which you’ve already assumed your responsibilities.
On a day such as this, a homilist such as myself is tempted to provide a comprehensive job description for the newly appointed pastor. You can be thankful that I have resisted that temptation; otherwise, you’d have to cancel your dinner reservations! What I would like to do this morning is simply to allow today’s Scripture readings to shine their light on what’s most essential in the mission of any parish and the service any pastor is expected to render.
And how fortunate we are that today’s readings speak of mercy and forgiveness. If it is true that we always experience God’s love for us as mercy, then it must be true that every parish should be a house of mercy and that mercy should be in the heart of every priest, especially priests who rightly call themselves “Redemptorists”, sons of St. Alphonsus Ligouri who said to the Lord in prayer, “You never reject a repentant and humble heart”. How, then, do our readings invite us, not only to open our own hearts to God, but to see our parish as a house of God’s mercy and to see how God’s mercy shapes its leadership and its mission?
Every house needs a foundation and we find that foundation in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom where we read how God created the world out of the fullness of his love and how he continues to love and protect all that he has made, most especially we human beings, who are the pinnacle of his creation. Wisdom opens our eyes to the God who spares all things because they are his, to the God who is “the lover of our souls”, the God who is kind and patient, the God who calls us back to himself little by little and day by day, no matter how recalcitrant we may be, no matter how gravely we may have sinned. As St. John Neumann once wrote, “God ardently desires the welfare of our souls as if his own happiness depended upon it!” If a parish is to be a house of mercy and the pastor a servant of that mercy, then it stands to reason that divine mercy itself is the foundation of this house.
If mercy is the foundation, what is the superstructure of this house of mercy? We may be tempted to think of the buildings on both campuses as the superstructure: the beautiful and historic Church of St. Mary, together with the wonderful schools, both elementary and secondary; or this beautiful contemporary church dedicated to St. John Neumann, with its ample room for gathering spaces and offices. Blessed as you are with wonderful facilities and hard as you must work to keep them up, the real superstructure of your parish is yourselves, the people of the parish. St. Paul says as much in today’s reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, where prays that every member of that local church would be worthy of God’s calling, that the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified in every one of them.
How readily St. Paul’s words apply to this parish on this special day. Each of you have received God’s calling – first, the call to holiness given at Baptism; but then, a calling from God to serve his mission of mercy in some special way, according to your natural gifts and talents, according to your vocation in the Church, according to those special gifts or charisms that the Holy Spirit bestows. St. John Neumann said much the same thing when we wrote: “…God sees every one of us! He created every soul…for a purpose. He needs, he deigns to need, every one of us. He has an end for each of us, we are all equal in his sight, and we are placed in our different ranks and stations, not to get what we can of them for ourselves, but to labor in them for him” (that is for Christ).
It is the daunting task of the Pastor to bring all of this together – those who serve on staff, those who advise and guide, those with special ministries, those who simply strive to establish good homes and bring the Gospel to the world… Yes, a task that is daunting, but in God’s grace, a task that is beautiful, a yoke that is light, for, with each of you, the pastor oversees the building of “an edifice of spirit” that reflects and bears witness to this truth and beauty of God’s mercy.
A Dwelling Place for Mercy Incarnate
Finally, within this “edifice of spirit” the Lord comes to dine with us just as long ago he came to the house of Zacchaeus to dine. Indeed Zacchaeus’ house may symbolize each of our individual souls set free from sin by God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation or it may stand as a symbol of the parish itself, as a place where all are welcome, where no one is bereft of mercy, as a place where the Lord deigns to dwell and to share with us a meal, but no ordinary meal, rather his own Body broken for our salvation and his Blood poured out for our redemption.
In this is the most important work of any pastor or priest: to gather in God’s people, to share with them the Lord’s redeeming love, to offer them a place at the Lord’s Eucharistic Table, and to implant in the heart of each one the joy of a Zacchaeus who rejoiced to encounter the Lord, and thus to experience his mercy, to reform his life, and to welcome the Lord into his house.
The Mother of Mercy Dwells Here
Finally, every house where Christ dwells is a house where Mary also dwells. Whenever we gather to pray, but especially at the Eucharist, Mary accompanies us. She is with us as our spiritual mother, as the Mother of Mercy, indeed, as Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As St. Alphonsus Ligouri put it, “Such is the compassion, such the love that Mary bears us, that she is never tired of praying for us.
It is to Mary and to her loving intercession that I entrust your pastoral care of this great parish, Father Pat. May her prayers be an unending source of God’s blessings as you serve and lead this community of faith, worship, and serve – and may God bless you and keep you always in his love!