|Our beloved former pastor on the feast of Corpus Christi|
As he walked up, I became overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, having been blessed to be a part of this small inner-city parish for the past eight years. Some of the faces in the congregation were parishioners who had come and gone and had made the special effort to travel to this Mass to give Father their best wishes and to thank him for being a part of their lives. Many of the people in attendance were parishioners who had attended the same 10 o’clock Mass every Sunday that I had seen throughout the years. It was an entire community of people whose lives had been profoundly augmented by the grace of a good pastor.
Directly in front of me sat a man whose struggle for the past few years has been simply making it to Mass. I have observed the slow deterioration of his body each week that seems to correspond with an increasing joy of being at peace with Christ in His suffering. Another elderly gentleman will often extend his hand to this dear man in friendship upon returning from Communion. This gesture of kindness always makes me smile and consider the hospitality that our pastor had always striven to foster within our parish.
A few pews back, I could hear the sounds of toddlers whose parents had been formed by Father’s excellent instruction about marriage and family life. He always took the time to meet with a young couple and ensure that their marriage would be built on the firm foundation of Christ’s vision for spousal union. Many young families have been drawn to our parish because of Father’s dedication to speaking the truth in love.
While I watched my son serving at this Mass, I recalled the vocations cultivated within our parish, undoubtedly inspired by our pastor’s own commitment to serving Christ and His Church. It has been a tradition at our parish that altar servers are male, while the girls are trained as “handmaids” in charge of preparing the altar before Mass. Father’s wisdom in allowing this organic development of tradition to continue has had the effect of building the confidence in both boys and girls in pursuing their vocations.
Yet for all these accomplishments and countless others achieved by our pastor’s tireless cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, I would have only my own memory to rely upon. Our magnificent pastor, in his last homily, only spoke of the good works of others and most humbly said that his proudest accomplishment during his years at our parish was providing a noble liturgy that is performed according to the mind and heart of the Church.
He told us that Christ, whose presence he had the honor of bringing to us through the Mass, blessing us with in Benediction, and providing us with in Adoration, is the One who binds us together in such a way that his absence would be only in body, but not in spirit. This feast of Corpus Christi, he said, was a most appropriate way to conclude his time with us as our pastor. Christ has been at the center of his ministry from the very beginning, and now our parish has the opportunity to share the bright light of our faithful servant with another community.
I’ll never forget how he concluded his homily. His final parting words were “I love you.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pastor say that to his parishioners. It’s so bold, but I have no doubt that the love of our pastor was such that he would have walked through fire for any one of us. Now THAT is “In Persona Christi”!
Thank you, God, for the gift of having such a great pastor. Thank you for the bittersweetness of life in which we are privileged to experience your love most profoundly, in the departure of a strong and caring shepherd who tends his flock as You would, with a firm and loving hand.