May 21st marks my 30th anniversary as a priest. I was ordained on the Saturday before Pentecost in 1988 (which is today on the calendar) and then I celebrated my first Mass on Pentecost Sunday at St. Pius X three decades ago. It has been quite the journey of parish service since then for me, as I have been an associate pastor three times and a pastor five times, counting this one, if I may. That’s eight parishes, plus an in-residence one along the way. I have met many Catholics throughout the Archdiocese and from St. Mary’s, P.G. and Montgomery Counties. I’ve learned many things about the Church in 3 decades.
Yet the guest homilist at my first Mass in 1988 had some things to say back then that appears to be true to me now. He shared that “parish life is the bread and butter of the Church. It is the Main Street of the Catholic Church.” He added: “It’s really more in the center of things than would be a cathedral or chancery is, even as important as those places are.” At least, that’s what homilist Msgr. Andy Cassin said at my first Mass. Now I suppose I can concur with him, as I have now for myself shared many experiences with parishioners and staffs all over. The heartbeat of the Church is in a regular parish’s activity.
While it is my own “anniversary celebration” today, I did want to recognize some current people who assist with the “heartbeat” being strong in this parish, too. Today, I’d like to especially recognize two long time parish lay staff here at Resurrection: Annick & Helene. They have each served, themselves, for over up to four decades for the Church, at parishes, or in the diocese. Annick is in her 25th year at Resurrection, with another 15 years of service beforehand for the Church, and Helene is here for her 15th year, but she has been a worker in the Archdiocese back to the time even of Cardinal Baum. They have come to know a thing or two, like me, about parish and Church life.
I wanted to be sure to honor them today, as some key people beside me in service here. With staff like them, a priest like me feels so blessed to have those women helping me with the parish, and a pastor can really only be good and effective with good staff persons around them, such as them, serving the continuing life of God’s people, as gathered for liturgy and in coming for the teachings of the faith. Their labors of love here are to be recognized with mine, and so we have a Staff recognition day today, on the Church’s birthday, quite appropriately, instead of just noting my own anniversary. With honorable mention, I also note two persons who have been on staff here the longest after Annick, and they are Gwen in the Business Office and Levi in the maintenance care of the parish church. Bravo to you!
Of the five of us staffers, I know we all put in much effort in of hours and give the congregation out our talents. We also have about 150 total years of parish life to our tally. After Mass, we have a reception downstairs for the five of us, in celebration of Pentecost and in tandem with some program of recognition in our honor, so please come down for the social-party for some fun and food.
In telling my vocations story in brief for three minutes here, I grew up in a solid Catholic upbringing, yet still had a rousing and personal faith experience with the Lord, as when as I ended my teens and went into my twenties. That conversion (to a more dynamic faith) was much about the Holy Spirit’s work in me. I honor His work in today’s Pentecost Mass. Another key conversion for me, when as a young adult, was in my linking together closely the personal salvation with Christ experience to the experience of Him communally in His Church. I discerned better of how Christ is with us in the Church, and it led me to a deeper practice of serving her, and getting blessed in the Sacraments, and of reading of the Bible with help and guidance, and praying more. I also got a clear sense of tithing and evangelism, which are passionate flames that are still aglow in me for decades now. What got me into the priesthood was just a series of stepping up more and more in contributing what I could to our Catholic Church. I wasn’t thinking or planning of priesthood all along, but only about the time of 25 years old. It was then a Bible verse caught the attention of my heart, which was Psalm 116:13, as it says: “How can I give a return to the Lord, for all the good He has done for me? The cup of salvation, I will take up, and I will call upon the Lord.” Now I live that out literally! I could sense in my prayers the Lord wanted me to lift up the chalice as a priest for Mass. With some help, I discerned it was His will I would become a priest. So I went from Mass Communications as a Univ. of Md. Radio/tv/film major to communicating the Mass instead. I just had to reverse the title of my life’s goal from Mass Communications to Communicating the Mass. The chalice of mine on the altar today is lifted up by me for perhaps the 15,000th time now.
I was trained for priesthood in a short five-year plan, in the graduate “Masters of Divinity” level at Borromeo Seminary Cleveland and at Mt. St. Mary’s Emmitsburg. That half-decade in seminary was much of another conversion experience for me. Then, I was ordained to the Church of Washington in 1988, by Cardinal James Hickey, in a class of three priests. My first solo Mass was on Pentecost Sunday 1988 at my home parish of St. Pius X in Bowie. Fr. Paul Hill, seen here as a co-celebrant today, was an eye-witness to it all, as he was pastor at St. Pius at the time. I have a re-issued homemade holy card by me, given out at my ordination and that first Mass, and I am wearing the homemade vestment of that first Mass today, too. Also in the sanctuary is Msgr. Kazista, who was at one of my associate pastor assignments, as you might know, and I shared three Pentecost with him in 1999, 2000 and 2001 (and now in 2018). These two priests are past their golden jubilees of priesthood, so they give me that goal to reach in 2038, if the Lord is willing, and the creek don’t rise.
As for the eight parish assignments I’ve served to date, I should say that each of the parishes, and their people, have done much of the assisting work of conversion in my life, as we have been brothers and sisters of service to the Lord, and growing in faith together. You, the people of God, have helped me become the person I am today, and the future hope of the person I want to be when I am finished with my life on earth. My co-honorees Annick and Helene can tell you, too, of how much joy the people have been to them with whom they have served and for whom. On the Church’s birthday, can’t we all say the same? We have needed one another, and Christ has needed us in His purposes to build up the kingdom of God on earth for now.
In a last couple of remarks to say here, I would need to mention that I would not have a ministry if it were not for the leadership of the Church in the bishops. I have served under three Archbishops here in this Archdiocese, and they are how the Lord works His Church, via the apostolic line. So, while I know that the rubber meets the road in parish works, we are shown the road and right direction by our appointed shepherds of Christ Jesus.
Lastly, I would not have life nor a Christian life (as in the baptized life in Christ) nor a sustained life of faith nor an ordination to priesthood, but for the influence and life of my Mom, who is here in church at this anniversary Mass. You deserve the great honor of the moment. You were there on May 21st 1957 at my baptism, and then 31 years later to the day I 1988 at my ordination, and I am happy you’re here today.