+ In big bold letters, chiseled in stone, above the porticoed three main doors, at the entrance of the Romanesque-style Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, in Richmond, Virginia, where I was ordained a priest thirty five years ago tomorrow are the words: IF YOU LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS. On that bright, sunny Saturday morning, I walked under those letters and into the cathedral a deacon of the Church, and came out two hours later "a priest forever" – a priest of the New Covenant, according to the older "order of Melchisedech." It would now be my mission – filled with the Holy Spirit of God, in a powerful way - to encourage others by my preaching and teaching and most importantly by my example - to do what the Lord Jesus commanded all of us to do: TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS HE LOVED US, and still loves us – and will always love us!
This, on that day, I promised to do! This I have tried my very best to do for thirty-five years! Only God knows how truly successful and pleasing to him I have been, thus far. And with the help of his grace I will continue to minister for as long as he wills and needs me to do it.
The first reading today talks about the hardships endured by Paul and Barnabas and the first team of Apostles and evangelists as they went about setting up the first communities of faith. We too, here, are in the process of, really, doing the same thing – taking six communities of faith and combining them into one: FOR THE HOLINESS AND GOOD OF ALL INVOLVED: and for the good of the local diocesan church which has a God-given responsibility to look after our spiritual needs! This venture is not without its difficulties and hardships as well. But it was getting together to talk about what the Lord had done in their midst in building up their numbers and their faith that sustained the early communities; and it can do so for us as well. Real physical getting together for not only worship, but for all kinds of parish activities, including pot luck dinners, parish reads and other faith sharing projects can only be good for the material and spiritual well-being of all involved, and for the new parish as a whole!
The one faith-related story that I would like to share with you today, stemming from the gospel mandate, and my personal mandate "to preach and teach the dynamics of theological love," is this: as I stood in the pulpit of my home parish in Upstate New York, at the end of my first Mass there (which just happened to be Pentecost Sunday) – wearing these handmade vestments: quite unexpectedly I blurted out this statement: which surprised me to say the least: "And it is only through the red cross of suffering, that one can attain the gold cross of victory!" I had not planned on saying that at all, even though I had obviously chosen this "gold-cross superimposed on the red-cross" for my symbol and vestments and prayer cards as well. I suppose I thought the image was just obvious and not worth commenting about; but the Holy Spirit, whose feast it was, had other plans and out it came! Well, little did I know…little did I know that only a few weeks later events would start to happen in my life, beginning with an automobile accident, that changed everything from what I thought it was going to be like. After that, nothing seemed the way it should be!
And so now, here I am, thirty-five years later with a different "Richmond" as part of my "voluntary pastoral duties" – in the state of Maine, of all places! I was not even sure that Maine was part of the United States back then! I have seen a host of red and gold crosses thus far since that day in the pulpit in New York State – but what I can share with you most assuredly is that I was right (HSP) way back then in 1975 – every one of the red crosses eventually turned into gold ones sooner or later, one way or another, and mostly in their own sweet time – the goldest of which I can guarantee is my association with this wonderful new parish of All Saints, in Maine, with all the amazing acquaintances and friends I have made these years that I have been here! Father Steve Concannon asked me four years ago if I would be willing "to help take care of a little country church in 'Richmond'" when, schedule-wise, he wasn't able to do it, and I replied: "Sure, Steve with the grace of God, I would love to!" And with the grace of God, I am still here – and now with three more churches that I have the honor to visit each week – and all within the same parish! It is my joy to visit you and to serve you, and to love you, all!
The responsorial refrain today prompts us to say: I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God: I praise and thank God daily for bringing me to Maine and for entrusting me with the sacred duty still, of encouraging others to love as selflessly, self-sacrificially and self-givingly as Jesus did for each one of us, and for all people everywhere! How about it? Let's do exactly what Jesus said to do and see what happens: let's see how many more of those sometimes very painful red crosses can be transformed into indescribably glorious and radiant gold crosses of victory in both your lives and in mine!
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord: love one another as I have loved you. God bless you all!