Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On the Occasion of my departure from St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Bangor ME
July 14th, 2013
In the Gospel today we hear the beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan. And I find myself preaching on my final weekend together with all of you here at St. Paul the Apostle Parish.
There are so many things that come to mind, so many things that it seems would be good and important to say before I go. But there is not time to speak of everything, and so I want to just focus on a few things:
First of all, I want to tell you all how grateful I am to Fr. Nadeau. He has been incredibly good to me and has been a wonderful example of a good and faithful pastor. You have seen us work together, I am sure. But there are many things that you have not seen. How many times I would come home after a long meeting to find Fr. Nadeau, also back from a long meeting, working to prepare a late dinner so that I did not just end up snacking on doritos and gummy worms. Or the time that I decided to pull out the poison ivy at St. Matthew’s by hand – and the gloves did not quite work and he bought a million guaze pads and ended up waiting in the emergency room with me at St. Joseph’s for quite a while one evening.
And I cannot begin to count up the number of hours we have spent talking about all of you over the last 5 years. Whose child we just baptized, who just found out they had cancer, which altar server fainted at Mass, what new work of art one of the kids made at the school, or who we hadn’t seen for a while at Mass. Over the years, other parochial vicars were a part of those conversations: Fr. Ouellette and Fr. Tony, and also our chaplains Fr. Rolly and Fr. Apollinaire, and retired Fr. Rudy.
But because I arrived just a month after Fr. Nadeau and we have lived under the same roof for 5 years, I think we have shared in a particularly intense way the experience of being your priests these last years. Fr. Nadeau brought me into the critical discussions about the direction of our parish: involving me in the work on a new daily Mass schedule, the shape of a new bulletin, the location and construction of a new parish office, and later on in the creation of new positions for a combined parish staff, the crafting a lifelong faith formation program, the establishment of an 8 Mass weekend schedule down from the previous 12, and countless other smaller projects and initiatives and issues that needed to be addressed.
It seems that one thing has happened after another in this parish since we arrived, not to mention the larger events of our diocese: the capital campaign, same sex marriage battles, and a whole host of other bigger challenges that we have gone through together. I have watched Fr. Nadeau face more challenges than I would ever wish on a priest in these 5 years, and go face them with remarkable grace and stamina. So I ask you, as I move to a new assignment, please support him in the years to come, as I hope I have shown you by my example in the last 5 years.
What do I mean by support?
I hope that many of you, especially those who are younger, will become more involved in helping to build up the parish. Perhaps serving as catechists to teach and hand on our faith or as members of a commission to help foster community life or look after the needs of the less fortunate. Not asking what the parish can do for you, but following the example of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel: asking what you can do to help this parish be a loving neighbor to all who live here in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
When we first arrived, Fr. Nadeau would say to me “This is not normal parish life. Everything is up in the air now, but don’t worry, we will settle into a normal priestly existence in a couple years.” After a while he stopped saying that. And I think one day he said “Well, maybe this is the new normal.”
And we both had to accept that. I think it’s easier for me, because this is all I’ve ever known: rotating among 6 churches, reconfiguring things right and left, trying to balance 89 million things and often carrying a nagging feeling that you are neglecting someone or letting them down.
We are going through a time of unprecedented change in our diocese and certainly in this parish. I have had the tendency sometimes to focus on how long and treacherous the road seems to be, but Fr. Nadeau is very good at reminding me of the works of charity, the good Samaritan moments, that must be at the heart of the daily life of a priest, and of every parish: the celebration of Mass, the anointings, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The time spent in the school or at faith formation and youth ministry gatherings, visiting families, counseling couples, trying to help someone get the oil or prescription that they need, training altar servers.
It is easy, when we are anxious about the road, to overlook those who are lying in the ditches. But we cannot allow ourselves to become so preoccupied with navigating the constant twists and turns of restructurings and changes that we no longer see and serve Christ who comes to us as our neighbor in need on the side of the road.
As I prepare to leave, I want to make sure that you know that if I have in any way passed you by, neglected any of you, if I have done anything to offend you, if I have misled you in any way through my teaching, I am sorry and I ask for your forgiveness and prayer. I am far from perfect, and this has been my first parish assignment, so I pray that God will make up for my failings.
I am not even sure how to begin to express my gratitude for your love and support over these 5 years. I came to you as a baby priest, not exactly half dead along the side of the road (although I had just survived grueling comprehensive exams) but certainly in need of support along the road.
And this parish, all of you, have taken such good care of me. You have helped me to learn how to walk the road of the priesthood: how to pray with you, how to listen to you, how to teach you, how to offer Mass with you. I am so grateful for the trust that you have put in me and for the countless prayers, notes and cards, kind words, and culinary delights over the years. I have found in you so many good Samaritans. Thank-you.
Fr. Dan Belargeon is fortunate to be assigned here as your new parochial vicar. I am sure he will plug in right away and will find in you the same warm welcome and generous support and encouragement that you have given me.
I arrived a baby priest, as I said. I suppose you could say that I am now entering into my adolescence. Look out Augusta. People keep telling me that I should work on cleaning up the politics down there, but I have told them that I don’t know how to do exorcisms yet.
A final word. We should all give thanks to Christ today for the gift of our faith. He is the first and perfect Samaritan – he is continually at work to lift us up, to bind up our wounds, to carry us to the house of our heavenly father. He is the only reason that we are together in this church, in this parish. We share a communion, a friendship, that rests upon his shoulders, shoulders stretched out upon the cross because of his love for us.
Our second reading from St. Paul, the patron of this parish, reminds us:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of his cross
Jesus Christ transforms us into his body, the Church. Through the sacraments, the scripture, and tradition of our faith, he teaches us and gives us the strength to love our neighbor: to walk the chaotic and winding road of life together with compassion, generosity, and love.
So we thank God for bringing us together, for teaching us and ministering to us along the road we have walked here at St. Paul the Apostle Parish during these last 5 years, and I pray that he will continue to guide all of you and to draw you closer to himself and to one another in the years to come. Please pray for more vocations to the priesthood, please keep me in your prayers, and know that I will certainly be praying for all of you.