Second Sunday of Advent
St. Joseph Parish, Sykesville
December 6, 2020
I am indeed happy to install Father John Worgul as your new pastor. Because Father John has served for some years here at St. Joseph Parish, you know him to be an excellent priest with a truly pastoral heart. I am very grateful to Bishop Steven Lopes and the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for agreeing to succeed the Marianists in the pastoral care of this parish, and for making it possible for me to appoint Father Worgul as your pastor, along with Father Armando Alejandro as your Associate Pastor.
In the midst of this season of Advent, today’s Scripture readings shed considerable light on the office of pastor, the role and responsibility, which Father Worgul has assumed. So I won’t burden you with his complete job description. Instead, let us gain insight into his mission by viewing it through the lens of Holy Scripture.
The Prophet Isaiah
The reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Perhaps it is a bridge too far to describe the pastor as “comforter-in-chief”. Yet, a pastor does indeed offer comfort and consolation to his people, especially when they experience illness, loss of loved ones, economic hardship, or in times like these when we continue to suffer through a pandemic. Yet, the solace he offers is not mere soothing words. Rather, he helps them see that, despite whatever we might be going through, the Lord remains with us and delivers us, each of us individually, from the sufferings and challenges of life and from the alienation of sin. Indeed, the pastor and his co-workers accompany their people at all times, but especially in time of trouble, leading them into the heart of the Gospel.
The good news is that the Lord, born for our salvation in Bethlehem, continually draws near to us, and loves us deeply and personally, even as we look to meet him at the end of our lives and at the end of history. This is indeed the good news, the glad tidings proclaimed afresh during Advent, yet also a message of hope to be proclaimed day after day in homilies, instructions, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in pastoral conversations.
St. John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist takes up where Isaiah leaves off. It turns out that the road that the Lord travels, the mountainous road that must be levelled and the rugged way that must be smoothed is nothing other than our own hearts. Thus, St. John the Baptist appears in the desert, preaching a message of repentance, and baptizing people of all walks of life in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sins.
Might I say that, the “core business” of the Church is repentance and redemption? Thus, a pastor leads the way in proclaiming the need of repentance and the joy of forgiveness. He is indeed the “repenter”-in-chief who, by his own example of humility attracts others into the desert, a place apart from our noisy and troubled world where we can prayerfully listen to the voice of the Lord. As a shepherd of souls, he helps us to construct in the recesses of our hearts a pathway, a pathway the Lord can travel to reach our inmost selves, there to make his home in us, there to show us his mercy and love.
Yet, every priest has a role even greater than that of John the Baptist. Not only does he preach with joy and confidence the good news of salvation … not only does he point to the coming of the Lord Jesus into our midst … but indeed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the ordained priest speaks and acts in the very Person of Christ. It is through your priest and pastor that the living Christ is truly present among us, in the strength of his mysteries and in the power of his love. IV. Greater Than John the Baptist
How, then, does your pastor and all the priests who serve the Church enable us to encounter the living presence of Jesus Christ, our Messiah and Lord? I have mentioned already that a pastor proclaims a message of consolation and mercy. Let me now add that he conveys this message, not solely on his own authority. Rather, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he speaks in the name of Christ. When he proclaims the Gospel, or preaches authentically the Word of God, it is really Christ who speaks to us in the fullness of his wisdom and love. Bearing witness to Christ and teaching the faith is fundamental to all that a pastor and his team do in their service to a parish. And, when the living Word of God is alive and well in each of our hearts, then, dear friends, the parish itself is alive and well!
From the Word that is preached flows the Sacraments that are celebrated. So it is that, having proclaimed Christ, the pastor baptizes, not merely with water, but with the fire of the Holy Spirit. So too, in the celebration of Holy Mass he is empowered to re-enact Jesus’ sacrifice of love on Calvary, his saving death and blessed resurrection, and through his hands we are fed with Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Acting in the Person of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, a pastor of souls forgives our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, thus, indeed, helping us to make of our hearts “a straight path for the Lord”. In all these ways, a pastor is like Isaiah and John the Baptist, but through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he is something more, for his very humanity has become a living instrument of the Lord’s saving presence. This is not to be a source of pride for any of the ordained, myself very much included. It is rather a cause for wonderment and a cause for deepest humility, for we your pastors need, no less than you, the consolation and mercy that the Lord Jesus Christ offers us in Word and Sacrament, and private prayer.
Arising from ordination and from the pastoral office are many other responsibilities: inspiring and overseeing ministries of evangelization and religious formation; reaching out to parishioners who no longer take part in the life of the parish; supporting married couples and family life; working for priestly and religious vocations; animating ministries of charity and justice; supporting Catholic education, and much more. No pastor can bear all these responsibilities alone, but only with the help and cooperation of the lay women and men with whom and for whom he serves. That is why, in this ceremony of installation, we shall recognize and thank the parish staff, the members of the parish council, and the parish corporators, and, by extension, each of you, the members of this parish family of St. Joseph.
The Intercession of Mary and Joseph
As we give thanks for the ministry of Father Worgul and celebrate his installation, let us ask, through the loving intercession of Blessed Mary and good St. Joseph the blessing of Almighty God on this parish family, now and in the years ahead. Let us ask also for the grace of a holy Advent and a joyous Christmas, and may God bless you and keep you always in his love.