By Father Kyle
God never fails to inspire me through the homebound parishioners I visit. A few weeks ago, when I was visiting one of them, a woman 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 somehow 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.”
Last weekend was designated by our bishop as a weekend of prayer for pastoral planning, and I wanted to preach on this here at our parish, since I only got to preach on it at St. Hippolyte Parish last Sunday. How good it would be for us to keep the repeated words of that homebound woman 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. Speaking for myself, 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. The list of gifts and graces that the Lord has given us is endless, from our creation to the fullness of redemption that He has won for us and promised us in the new heaven and new earth which will be our true and lasting homeland.
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. In today’s first reading, the Lord called the prophet Jonah to leave Israel, the Promised Land, for the city of Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, which would be one of the chosen people’s numerous conquerors and oppressors. It was the Assyrians who would invade and destroy the whole northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. This call to prophesy against Assyria must have seemed very strange to Jonah, and we know that he unsuccessfully tried to avoid it. But after God rescued him from the stormy sea through the huge fish that swallowed him and later spat him out on dry land, Jonah obeyed the Lord and traveled to this foreign land to preach repentance to this kingdom of Gentiles, to these enemies of his people. He went to call those pagans to move closer to the one true God by leaving their sins behind them, and remarkably, they heeded this call to conversion and were spared of the punishment God held in store for them. God would not leave them where they were, nor would He do so with Jonah. In today’s Gospel reading, as Jesus was calling the people of Galilee to repentance, He called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to leave their boats, their fishing nets, and in the case of the sons of Zebedee, their own father, to become His disciples. They abandoned everything they knew in order to follow Jesus and become fishers of men.
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 them; 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 Him if they had chosen to remain in their boats, 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 Frenchtown. 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 to His call and be willing to go where He is leading us. 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 for 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; we don’t need to say and do everything we can to try to avoid it. After all, “God has been good. We know who we are and where we are.”