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Homily for Pastoral Planning Weekend (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 14, 2024)

By Father Kyle (Slightly Different than the Homily of the Following Weekend)


God never fails to inspire me through the homebound parishioners I visit. Two Fridays ago, when I was visiting one of them, an elderly woman who has been struggling with mild dementia, she kept saying to me over and over again, “God has been good. I know who I am and where I am.” She had lost her ability to drive and could no longer come to the church for the Mass, yet she kept telling me how she focuses on what she has and not on what she has lost. Even in her mental illness, she knew that because she could not come to the church, the Church would come to her, in me, and she was so grateful for that. Like many people in our culture, I often complain about the smallest inconveniences, “first-world problems,” as some would say, but she, in her loneliness and immobility, thanks God for what many people take for granted. “God has been good. I know who I am and where I am.”

             In addition to this being the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, this weekend has been designated by our bishop as a weekend of prayer for pastoral planning, and how good it would be for us to keep those words in our minds and hearts as we look toward the future of the Catholic Church in our diocese. Despite the difficulty of adjusting to changes and the pain that comes with sacrifices that must be made, God has been so good to us. As St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, we have been purchased at a price, and our very bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. At the cost of unimaginable suffering and death on a cross, the Lord has paid the ransom that we incurred through sin, and He has gone so far as to make all of us and each of us His dwelling place, a house for the One whom the whole universe cannot contain. In some of my past preaching, I have shared with you the agonizing pain I went through as I fell into my major depression at my first priestly assignment, during my time at St. Luke Institute, and upon my return, but God has blessed me so abundantly since then. He has brought me out of my depression and given me sweet relief in so many ways. He has given me back my joy of being His priest and has given me all of you in this new assignment that has been like an oasis, after wondering through the desert of all that darkness and misery.

            And this same benevolent God calls us, even as we struggle to carry our crosses, to follow Him to new and even greater things beyond the horizon. He helps us to understand that in a sense, movement is life, and we cannot have and preserve true faith without it. Christ meets us where we are, but He doesn’t leave us where we are. To be a disciple is to follow, which is not a sedentary action. Jesus’ first disciples knew this well. There is a lot of moving in today’s Gospel reading. The two disciples of John the Baptist heard what John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” But they did not remain standing there with him, looking at Jesus. They followed Him. They went where Jesus was taking them and found that He was the long-expected Messiah. Even after finding Jesus, St. Andrew did not stop moving – he went and found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. There continued to be movement when Jesus gave Simon a new name and a new identity as the Rock upon which He would build His Church.

Jesus changed the lives of those simple men, who would become His apostles, and He desires to change our lives too, to continually transform us by molding us more and more into His likeness. This was certainly not easy for Peter, Andrew, and the others; they would sacrifice much, even their own lives, to move ever closer to Christ and bring countless others to Him too. But think about all the good that came from that sacrifice. We ourselves would not know Christ and they would not be enjoying eternal glory with Christ if they had chosen to remain with John, if they never moved out of what was known and comfortable. I have had to move six times in the past six years – from Our Lady of Peace Church in Erie to St. Luke Institute, from the institute to Holy Rosary rectory in Erie, from Erie to my parents’ house in Franklin, from home with them to the rectory of my home parish, from St. Patrick’s rectory to Our Lady Queen of the Americas Church in Conneaut Lake, and from my sacramental ministry there to my new assignment here and in Meadville. All that moving was not something I wanted or enjoyed, believe me, but it’s where God led me. I am so happy to be here with all of you, but I wouldn’t be here if I had paralyzed myself and refused to adapt. Our Lord kept me on my feet, and as frustrated as I was by many of the things that happened along the way, I’m thankful for where it brought me, where He brought me.

Change is never easy, and we need to be aware that pastoral planning in our diocese and in our parishes is an ongoing process and necessity; there will inevitably be more changes to come in the future. While we treasure the past, we cannot remain in the past. We cannot focus on what has been and what has been lost. If we want to enjoy the bright future that the Lord promises us, we need to listen for Him and to Him, as Samuel did that night in the temple at Shiloh and throughout the rest of his life as His prophet. Our prayer for pastoral planning should imitate his – “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In prayer and in silence each day, we need to open our ears in obedience and love to the One who called to him, not once, but again and again. We need to remember that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, who are so lavishly blessed by Him, and that we are always in His presence because He is always in us who are members of His Mystical Body. No matter where we go to the Mass, we are always in the Church because we are the Church, with a capitol “C.” Therefore, we don’t need to be afraid of what is new. After all, “God has been good. We know who we are and where we are.” 

 

 

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