Men called to hear Jesus’ words of hope and mercy
November 5th, 2014
By Bishop William J. Justice
Here is Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice’s keynote talk Oct. 24 at St. Mary’s Cathedral at the Fourth Annual St. John Vianney Luncheon honoring the retired priests who served in the archdiocese.
Scripture scholars tell us that the first part of St. Mark’s Gospel is an attempt to answer the question, “Who is this person?”; “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?” It is a question that Jesus proposes to his disciples in the Gospels. “Who do people say that I am?” And it is a question he attempts to answer in St. Luke’s Gospel when he takes the scroll of Isaiah the prophet in the synagogue of his small village of Nazareth and proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4: 18-19).
Today we honor men who have devoted their lives to answering the above question: “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?” and, “Who do people say that I am?” They have done so because somewhere in their lives they have come to hear Jesus’ words of hope and mercy. They have asked as the two disciples in St. John’s Gospel did, “Where do you live?” And they have accepted Jesus’ answer, “Come and see.” Their lives have been dedicated to deepening their desire to share the Jesus they have come to know with those with whom they minister: To bring liberation to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, glad tidings to the poor, to let the oppressed go free.
On this day of honor and appreciation we ourselves might wonder who are these men? What can we say about them? A quick way to find out a bit more about them is to check out their living quarters, whether it is Nazareth House, St. Anne’s, Serra Clergy House, an assisted-living facility, or a private residence. We might find family pictures: siblings, deceased or living parents, grandparents, nieces or nephews, close friends. There also might be photos of couples the priest has married, children he has baptized, special parishioners who have become lifelong friends.
There may also be books in the room – read over the years, professional magazines, homily hints and the Liturgy of the Hours (breviary), and books on prayer, as well as a great novel currently being read. All these items would reveal a man of faith and prayer, a man of concern for his parishioners and a man of gratitude.
Yet not seen in his arrangement of his living space but seen in his face, in his spirit of service, and in his love for God in God’s holy people are the challenges these men have faced in the Lord’s service.
A. For a few, their first assignment as a newly ordained priest might have been in the pre-1962 boundaries of the archdiocese, where he could have been assigned far from the Bay Area and his family and friends. He could have been an associate in Gilroy, or Turlock or Cloverdale – far away in those days. Yet he would have shared with parishioners who this person Jesus is, and to love his parishioners and walk with them as they grew in their love of the Lord.
B. For many, the challenge to respond to the Second Vatican Council and share its hopes and dreams with parishioners became a real source of tension in the parish, and maybe in their own lives. How do you learn to say Mass facing the people and in the local language? What do you say to the people confused over the change?
C. Then there were the social upheavals of the ‘60s, ’70s and early ‘80s: civil rights, divided congregations, the Vietnam War, priest friends leaving the priesthood to marry and have a family, people calling you by your first name when for many years, “Father” had almost been your first name.
D. The population shifts in the parishes, the challenge to learn another language and customs, and how to guide and live with lay leadership.
E. New regulations from the chancery and the civil authorities that called forth managerial skills priests did not know they had, or new skills that they had to learn.
F. The challenges of the Catholic schools as they turned to lay administration and faculties, which resulted in increasing expenditures.
G. The changes in administration as new archbishops arrived and later retired.
H. The reduction in the number of priests in the archdiocese despite the growing complexity of parish life and responsibility.
Yet through all of this, these men – because they continued deepening their love for Jesus and knowing who he is – were more than able to survive.
As pastors they helped to build vibrant communities in their parishes: parish Pastoral Councils, Finance Councils, leadership development, Youth Ministries, prayer groups, Renew Groups.
Now perhaps the greatest gift they have given and still share, is to be “wisdom,” the keeper of the memory of the community. Their lives are witness to the Christian community that the lifetime response to coming to know Jesus with its ups and downs, successes and failures brings hope and mercy to all.
From November 7, 2014 issue of Catholic San Francisco.