33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Installation of Father Michael Foppiano
St. Mark Parish, Fallston
Nov. 17, 2019
Once again, let me say how happy I am to return to St. Mark Parish and to celebrate with you the installation of Father Foppiano as your pastor. He brings to his service among you a priestly heart and a proven track record of generous and effective pastoral service. I don’t think it’s any secret that Father Foppiano is utterly delighted to be among you and to serve St. Mark Parish with all his heart in the years ahead.
This installation gives me the opportunity to thank all of you, the members of this parish family, for your fidelity and love. “Through thick and thin”, as the saying goes, you have continued to flourish as a community of faith, worship, and service, a community of faith that looks beyond its own borders to serve those in need and to build up the larger Church. In a special way, I want to recognize the contribution of this parish to Faith Fest, a wonderful celebration of the Church’s vibrancy here in Harford County. For this, and for so much more, I truly do thank you.
“Through Thick and Thin”
Indeed, the readings for this Sunday might be thought of a primer on how a follower of Jesus and a Christian community not only survives but indeed joyfully perseveres “through thick and thin” – not merely when the times are tranquil, but above all when the times are turbulent, as these days most surely are, both for the Church and for society. We might even term this 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time as “thick and thin” Sunday!
For those who are a bit younger, the phrase, “thru thick & thin”, might not be familiar. My “internet scholarship” tells me that the phrase was first used by Chaucer and had to do with travelling through the forest— The dense parts of the forest were thought of as “thick” and the parts sparsely covered by trees and undergrowth as “thin”. (Aren’t you glad you came to church this morning?) The point of this phrase is that we need to keep moving ahead in spite of obstacles (that’s the thick part) and in spite of deprivation (the thin part). Perhaps that’s an apt description of the Church’s current situation but it also goes to the heart of the principal role of a priest and pastor. He is to shepherd us, not only in good times, but in difficult and challenging times, in times that are confusing, perplexing, and sometimes infuriating. Through his own life of prayer, his faithful proclamation of the Word of God, his dedication to faith formation, his reverent celebration of the Mass & sacraments, his loving care and concern for his parish family and the needs of the poor – in all these ways he is to engender in us a faith that endures, come what may.
Let us see how today’s Scriptures shed the light of the Holy Spirit on the calling of our pastor to shepherd us “through thick and thin” and on our calling as God’s people to persevere in living the faith.
The Destruction of the Temple and the Church’s Travails
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus, like all observant Jews, was devoted to the Temple which was the epicenter of the faith and hope of the people of Israel. But like the prophets before him, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, an actual moment in history when that magnificent structure would be destroyed: “The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”. And indeed those days did arrive when, in the year 70 AD, the Roman General, Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem and demolished the Temple.
For Jews living in those days it must have seemed like the end of the world, the end of their customs, their teachings, their values, their worship. To many it must have seemed as if God were angry or absent and that all the promises made by God through the prophets would go unfulfilled. The obstacles seemed thick, even impenetrable, and the resources were thin, very thin. Perhaps we feel much the same way in these days when the fabric of the Church is weakened by scandal, when the Church is under assault, not a military attack, but rather an undermining of the Church’s place in our culture and in the minds and hearts of many, especially the young. How can we view the exodus of so many people from the Church without feeling that the Church’s future is anything but bright.
Yet, as we survey the history of the Church, we know there have been difficult times in the past, times when the Church was pulled apart by schisms and betrayals, times when the Church’s leaders engaged in scandalous behavior, times when it seemed that the Church itself was headed to destruction. That the Church was not destroyed should not make us complacent, as if to say, “God will take care of things so we don’t have to worry about it.” Rather, if you and I look more closely at the Church’s history, we find that God raises up men and women filled with the Holy Spirit, men and women of holiness who help repair the Church and lead it forward, for example, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Ignatius of Loyola, not to mention the many martyrs – of whom Jesus speaks in the Gospel – who suffered persecution for the sake of his Name. These and other saints, filled with God’s grace and patient endurance, strove to reform the Church after mind and heart of Christ, mindful that, at the end of time, they would give an accounting of themselves before the Lord who is both Redeemer and Judge.
“In the Meantime…”
What should we do in the meantime as history unfolds before our eyes? St. Paul gives guidance to both pastor and congregation in today’s reading from his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians. He reminds the Thessalonians of the example which he, as their pastor, set for them. His conduct was irreproachable and his zeal for the Gospel was tireless. He devoted himself to his mission to the point of hardship, without counting the cost. Unlike some who were busy gossiping and opining, St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to work quietly and persistently in the Lord Jesus, imitating his own tireless and selfless devotion to the mission which the Risen Lord Jesus entrusted to the Church, namely, to spread the Gospel.
What a model St. Paul offers us in these days in which we find ourselves! The pastor sets both the tone and the direction of the parish not only through consultation, planning, and collaboration – but above all by his own example of holiness and zeal, a holiness and zeal that inspires in those he leads a living, joyful faith, a faith that does the works of justice and love, a faith that is too wonderful not to be shared with others, including those who have left the fold for whatever reason.
So, you see, Father Foppiano and I find ourselves in the same boat this Sunday, as Christ, the Good Shepherd, and as his Apostle, Paul, set the bar pretty high for us… …but not only for us and our fellow priests, but also for yourselves, for all of you gathered here this morning, who are also called to a life of holiness and to participate heart and soul in the mission of this parish, and to do so, dear friends, “through thick and thin”. May God bless you and keep you in his love!