THE GOLDEN YEARS

FATHER ROGER'S REFLECTIONS

HOMILY FOR MY GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY ON GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY, APRIL 25, 2010, 10 am Mass.

They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes….Then, one of the elders said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the times of great distress, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14b ff.)

 

Now, today, perhaps for the first time, my faith is being tested.  Fifty years of priestly ministry!  Who can believe that? I can hardly believe it myself!  In the light of these last 5 decades (I like to talk decades because five sound better than 50 years) I guess we could very well say it is a matter of survival. 

In 1949 at 5 am in the morning while it was still dark, my father drove me to our parish rectory where I joined four other boys to be driven from southeastern Massachusetts to a little town 25 miles north of Montreal by our then 80 year old pastor.  We all had a vision of one day becoming a priest.  When we arrived at College de L’Assomption, I soon learned how to translate and was moved by the words written over the doors of this educational institution:  “Parare Domino Plebem Perfectam” (To Prepare A Perfect People For The Lord).  We all entered the same door; all received the same form of classic discipline in liberal arts.  Today, I stand as the only one who remains to give thanks for the gift of the priesthood and the gift of celebrating with you 50 years in following the Shepherd of the people as his priest.

While at Seminary some years later, Fr. Van Antwerp of the Society of St. Sulpice warned us that “after you are ordained you will eventually celebrate your fifth anniversary, God willing (in those days there was more security in priestly live than we experienced in later years).  “At that time you will say: “Well that was a nice initiation, now let’s get to work.” – At the end of 10 years you will say: “It’s time to get out of my own way and begin to serve the people.”  - At your Silver Anniversary you will try to find out what you ever accomplished if anything. – By your Golden Anniversary, please God, you will realize that whatever little you might have done was all done by the grace of God and even then at times in a wimpy sort of way.

 

By the fifth year of priesthood, the Second Vatican Council had moved in and began a vast change in the ways of perceiving liturgy, dogmas and morality.  Oh, the essence was the same, but the adaptation to the Church of the 20th Century made a vast change in many of our ways of understanding our role in the Church, both as laity and as clergy. It was the task of turning to face the people at the altar, walking up and down the aisles to challenge the congregation to open their tongues in song and to adapt to hearing prayer in their native language rather than in the near death language of Latin.  It was a matter of perceiving in a new way the role of bishops and clergy in the Church as well as a process for the laity to assume new responsibilities.

By my tenth anniversary we had been dealing with the whole issue of birth control and anger at the changes taking place in the Church’s celebration of Eucharist. Teaching people how to handle freedom of conscience with wisdom and understanding and helping the flock adapt to a deeper understanding of their faith was no easy task.  Creating an environment for increased lay participation in service to the Church was a daily challenge.

By my 25th anniversary we had started dealing with the issue of some clergy’s struggles with sexual responsibility and we all bore the mark of rejection with a dwindling of numbers in our faith communities, a lessening of religious education to our youth, a breakdown of Catholic  Education, a distrust in the role of all clergy and a weakening of the morale of the clergy in the last decade of the last Century.  But from the age of 5 until this my 75th year I never stopped hearing the voice of the Shepherd who calls us to follow.  “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”  So very “sheeply” I always followed through thick and thin as did and do the white robe shepherds present here today who hear the same voice as you and I have heard.  In Baptism and again in Holy Orders we hear the voice of Jesus say to each and every member of his flock: “Come, follow me!”

What keeps us going?  Even when it seems to us and sometimes to our communities we serve that we are not accomplishing much or enough, we somehow can find the strength to carry on.  Why? Because “No one can take them out of my hand,” says Jesus.  The security of a faithful vocation is not in what I do or in what you do to me or for me, but in what we do together for the love of Jesus.  Jesus is the security we have in terms of the love we trust will never run away when trouble comes.

Oh, I may count on one hand or two and maybe a couple of toes, what I have found of any productivity in my priestly life. But most of all I cannot count the innumerable blessings God has given to me through all of those years filling me with grace upon grace to counteract my human limitation with the continued faithful support of his Holy Spirit.  I am unable to count the numberless brothers and sisters who gave me love and courage when so many were casting aspersions against the Church and her priests. 

By the grace of God and an inspiration of the Spirit, this year has been proclaimed the Year of the Priest.  How privileged and providentially blessed I am to see and celebrate the miracle of renewal that is happening in the hearts of the faithful toward their clergy and in the hearts of the priest in healing grace to remain faithful to his call.  I have been more blessed by other priests than I could have ever been a blessing as a priest in service to others and I have sensed the compassion of Jesus through fellow priests who walk courageously with one another in an endless dedication to Christ the Shepherd. 

Today I celebrate the Good Shepherd who has called us men, simple human beings, to accomplish such a huge task in his name for the care and the protection of his Church.  I pray that the love of the priesthood will always live on in each of your hearts as a sign of security that in the priest you have found Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Indeed, in spite of our human foibles, we are still graced with the ministry of Jesus who constantly calls the weak to confuse the strong. 

The average age of the active priest in the United States is above 60 years, which makes me still very young in service.  Yet as we seek more vocations and courageous young men to hear and answer the call we have received and respond to day by day, I know that the priestly work of the Good Shepherd will never abandon us or the Church.  “We are his people, the sheep of his flock,” says the psalmist.  And in the words spoken to John in Revelations: “The one who sits on the throne will shelter them and will lead them to springs of living water.”  AMEN!

The normal greeting to priests who celebrate their jubilee in the brotherhood of priests is: “Ad multos annos!” (for many more  years!). And so I take this opportunity of my jubilee year to celebrate the permanent priesthood of Jesus among us by raising the Eucharistic cup of salvation and greeting you all with the greeting of joy: Ad multos annos.

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