I’d like to begin with an announcement
This is my last all school Mass where I’ll be presiding as your priest.
Of course I’ll be here through the end of the school year, and I’ll have the baccalaureate, but this is my last chance to address all of you during Mass.
The Bishop has asked me to move on and become the priest at three parishes next year
And my vow that I made on the day of ordination was that I would always say yes to whatever the bishop asks of me.
I can honestly say that I would have been perfectly happy staying at Ritter the rest of my life, but I promised on the day of my ordination to go where I’m asked
I did want to take part of this time, though, to say a few words to all of you.
I almost cried this weekend three different times at Mass reading the Good Shepherd Gospel because it forced me to think about my time here at Ritter. Jesus says “A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.” If I can say anything, I can say I tried my best to point out the wolves that are constantly seeking to attack all of you.
I have tried my best to help you see those threats. Another comment here about fatherhood. People have commented to me through these years – “when you preach, you kind of seem intense.” “intense”, I think, is short hand for “mean” or “unfriendly”.
But I think Good parents have always been that way, including God the Father. In the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament as well, He was always warning people “DON’T DO IT!!!” “YOU’LL REGRET IT!!!” “IT HARMS YOU!!!” “IT LEADS TO SADNESS!!!” But what was God’s approach to anyone who actually has sinned – Love, compassion, forgiveness, …and I think if you talk to anyone who has approached me one on one through the years, especially when wanting to talk about struggles, they would say it was the latter. A great saying about priesthood is this – “a priest should be a lion from the pulpit, and a lamb in the confessional” I was always direct with you talking about issues that matter and that are real and I was intense with you because you aren’t babies and you live this stuff every day, and you needed to hear, in a very clear way, that sin = misery. If you still think, right now, that I was intense or direct or stern with you just because I have anger issues, I hope that some day, maybe not until the day when you are a parent yourself, that you will realize that what has always motivated me, from the day I stepped foot on this campus, has been love.
Also, I want to say one last time that my one goal in celebrating Mass is that it never be about me. It is VERY tempting for a priest to make Mass about himself instead of Christ…to be funny emcee guy who makes Mass tolerable by telling lots of jokes, looking around at everybody, smiling, doing his own thing…that repulses me because the Mass ISN’T about me, it is about the Eucharist, and Christ coming into our midst. I hope you know that when I have celebrated Mass with you, I’ve always tried as hard as possible to get out of Christ’s way, and I think you have mostly understood that – I hope when you get older you will appreciate it more.
These last three years have been, hands down, the best years of my life, and I have all of you to thank for that.
I’m confident that wherever else my priesthood takes me, there will never be anything like Mass with all of you. I’m not a crier, but I teared up after my first Mass with all of you three years ago because I was blown away by your respect and reverence, and you have continued that on for the last three years.
Anyone who has ever listened to me has heard me brag about you and about this staff and about this place. I’ve told you before but there is a buzz throughout the archdiocese about this place – it is a place people are talking about in a good way, and I hope you thank God for the chance to be here. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that there was never a day where I woke up and thought “I don’t want to go in to Ritter”
Any guy who gets married and has a child is called a father a long time before he figures out what in the heck it means to be a father. You figure out how to be a dad on the fly, and I certainly feel it has been the same for me. People have called me Father these past three years, but I’m still just like any other Father trying to figure out what that means and how I live that out to the best of my ability.
I had an experience just recently where it finally hit home in a big way that I was not just a priest but also actually becoming a father to all of you. My Mom told me a few years ago that when my brothers and I would be out late some night, maybe we were home for the Summer from college or something, she’d stay up and just pray for us and for our safety because there was nothing else she could do for us in terms of teaching us or guiding us anymore.
Well, the night of prom, I went to St. John’s to do some of my daily prayers. Now I’m not normally a Catholic who lights a lot of candles – I’ve maybe lit four or five in my lifetime. As I was praying for all of our prom attendees, I got the urge to go light some candles. I lit 14 dollars worth.
How awesome would it have been if some pious lady had come up and asked, “Fr. why are you lighting every candle in Church? … Well mam, I’m lighting these praying that my students have a good time and also that they not grind on each other!”
I lit some candles by the statue of St. Joseph and some by the statue of the Blessed Mother, and I felt that wave wash over me as if God was saying, “You’ve done what you can, now trust me to take care of them.” I felt very much like a parent at that point who has to simply watch and trust. As I leave next year, it will be that same feeling all over again – a lot of saying “I did what I could, I’m sure I made mistakes. I tried to fight the good fights, and now I entrust these young people to God and the saints for their prayers and protection.”
All I ask in departure is this – give whoever comes in here next year as your priest the benefit of the doubt. There will always be things that I liked to do that the next guy won’t know how to do, and there will be lots of things that the next guy will be good at that I failed miserably at.
Give the next guy a chance for me if for nothing else. Trust me, whoever comes in here next will be more intimidated and nervous with the assignment than you will be nervous or intimidated by him.
I could start thanking people by name, but that would go forever, and I’d leave people out – so let me just say – from the bottom of my heart – thank you very much and it has been an honor to be your priest.
So how in the world could we tie May Crowning into all of this? On a day like this we look at two people, the king of Heaven and the queen of Heaven. That’s why she got a crown, as the book of Revelation notes, she got a crown because she is the queen of Heaven.
They show us what we can and should be, and they do that by doing something – they SACRIFICED
I will not be in a high school next year largely because we are running lower and lower on priests. Many people say “ah ha! The Church needs to start ordaining women” or “the Church needs to start letting priests get married” but other Christian religions that let those things go on have just as much of a crisis as the Catholic Church. And the crisis doesn’t even just apply to clergy. JP II correctly notes “what we see isn’t just a crisis of people considering priesthood or religious life,…we experience a crisis of people considering ALL vocations, marriage included.”
Christ is the model for all of us to follow, men included. Christ, in his maleness, provides a great example of the key trait for men who seek to really live a Christian life – sacrifice!!! We see a decrease in the number of men today who are willing to sacrifice for other people, an uptick in narcissism and a general unawareness that it is even what God asks of them. Men have it written on their heart that they are supposed to sacrifice for other people. What does every great male hero in movies do --- he sacrifices. Batman, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, General Maximus, Harry Potter. Although women can do these things too, it seems to be part of a man’s DNA to serve in the military, to fight fires, to police the streets, to protect and serve. All of these things have at their core a willingness to sacrifice for others. Young men, that is your task, and that is what will make you happy. The priesthood is one way to do that, and certainly so is marriage. We need more men who will act like men, and when that happens, the priesthood shortage and the husband shortage will take care of itself. There aren’t just a few of you being called to the priesthood, there are a lot of you, but any call from God can be silenced or ignored. Will you ignore it?
In Mary, we see a feminine slant on sacrifice – not sacrifice in the way of protection or fighting but a sacrifice in order to nurture others, a willingness to put aside one’s own desires and to instead give of one’s self for the good of others. Because of her sacrifice, Christ found a home to grow up in
When we see people who live for themselves, and reality TV has let us see that a lot, we realize how truly disgusting living for one’s self is. We may watch the shows, but it isn’t because they are entertaining, often we watch for the same reason that we look at car wrecks.
Living for yourself is gross, using other people is gross --- I can promise you that I’ve learned one thing in my priesthood – living for others, even imperfectly as I have, will lead you to happiness. It is a beautiful thing to sacrifice yourself for other people. Will you follow Mary’s example? Will you follow Christ’s example? Or will you live only for you?