As I have grown older it has occurred to me that on birthdays it is the parents who should be honored, not the child. In a somewhat similar way on the twentieth anniversary of a priest in a parish it is the parish, not the priest, which should be commended for putting up that long with their priest.
Dick Beadle was in the habit of asking the children of the parish whether they had finished raising their parents yet. You all have been raising me for twenty years and you are not done yet. But, if I have learned anything around here, it is that you all are patient and forgiving.
Putting up with each other, Fr. Rogers said in one of his letters to the parish, is the least we can do, since our forefathers in the faith were fully expecting to die for each other. It was the heart of his spiritual theology: one of the primary reasons Christians bind themselves together in communities is so that there will be ample opportunities to have your feelings hurt, to let folks rub you the wrong way, snub you, gossip about you, and generally aggravate you and still you go on loving them.
Certainly Padre did not always succeed in this discipline and neither have I. But, you all have gone on loving me, praying for me and forgiving me and for that I can only be grateful. That is the only reason I have been here twenty years.
The old silent prayer at the Offering of the Host, which the people never hear, is a good reality check for the priest:
RECEIVE, O holy Father, almighty everlasting God, this spotless host, which I, thine unworthy servant, offer unto thee, my living and true God, for my numberless sins, offenses and negligence; and for all who stand here around, as also for all faithful Christians, both living and departed, that to me and to them it may avail for salvation unto life everlasting. Amen.
These sentiments are probably best kept silent.
. . . for my numberless sins, offenses and negligence. We might think that this is just hyperbole, exaggeration, an out-of-date kind of groveling. But it is only the truth and for that I am truly sorry. Our heaviest sins are committed against those we love and those who love us. The burden of love, I fear.
St. John Vianney famously said: “Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts”. However true that may be, the reverse is also true: leave a priest without a parish and he will worship the beast which is himself.
The thing that is necessary, the thing which St. Francisfolk have always done, is to let the parish priest be a priest. These days priests are expected to be everything but a priest: community organizers, psychologists, church planters, social justice advocates, financial managers, long range planners. Priests themselves are anxious to be ‘leaders’, divorced from their Sacramental character and being. But, this parish has always understood that, whatever else a priest may be called upon to do, it is at the Altar that he does what he is. As from the side of Christ flows the whole sacramental life of the Church, so from the Altar of the same Sacrifice flows the whole life of Church and Parish.
At St. Francis, we do not have to figure out every few years what in the world a priest is supposed to do.
I have always held that the highest vocation is that of parish priest. It is what I have always wanted to be, even when I did not know that it was what I wanted to be. You all have made that possible. For that my heart forever belongs to this people and this parish.