In the summer of my first year of seminary, the diocese sent me to Mexico to learn Spanish. This time next week, I’ll be wishing that worked a lot better than it did! I have forgotten, unfortunately, a lot of what I learned, but I’ll never forget the first day. The first day was a Sunday, and we flew into Mexico City, got picked up by the school, and then introduced to the families we would be living with. The people I was going to live with assumed correctly that I wouldn’t have been to Mass yet, so on the way home we went to Mass at the cathedral in Cuernavaca. So I’m attending Mass with only my high school Spanish, and the little bit of liturgical Spanish I picked up from when we used Spanish in Mass at seminary. A lot of what I heard, I didn’t understand, but there was one thing I couldn’t miss, and that was the Eucharist.
In our second reading today, Saint Paul says, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” No matter where we live or what language we speak, we are one body in Christ, who gives himself completely to us … all of us. We try to symbolize that in lots of ways in the liturgy: saying the same prayers, singing the same songs, even holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer. All of that is nice, but the most important way that we show our unity is when we come to the altar and receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, who gave himself so that we may be one in him, and may have the strength to follow him to heaven one day.
One of the greatest joys for me the last six and a half years here at Notre Dame has been celebrating that with you. Whether it was daily Mass or Sunday Mass, or a First Communion, a wedding or a funeral, or even Christmas or Easter Mass, all of that has been a great privilege to celebrate with you.
Now over these last years here at Notre Dame, I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve even learned from Father Venard, and so I want to include a joke at this point in my homily! The new pastor arrived at his parish, and as he was unpacking and putting things into the desk in his office, he found a note attached to three envelopes in a little bundle. The envelopes were numbered one to three. They were from the priest he was replacing and the note said that if ever things got bad and there was a little storm, he should open an envelope, beginning with the first. He chuckled a bit, and set them aside, and things went so well that he almost forgot about them. Until there was a controversy. Things were getting ugly, and he remembered the envelopes and decided to open the first. It said, very simply, “Blame me, your predecessor.” So he did. He blamed the priest before him, and everyone accepted that, and they moved on. But eventually there was another controversy, and so he decided to open the second envelope. It said, “Blame the pastoral council.” So that’s what he did. He blamed the pastoral council and things blew over and they moved on. But, after a little while, there was a third controversy, so in desperation, he opened the last of the envelopes. This note was a little longer than the others, but the first line really got his attention: “Prepare three envelopes.”
I won’t be leaving three envelopes for Father David, but I do want to leave you with three things. The first is thanks. I don’t know how I can ever express my gratitude enough. So many of you have been with me in good times and bad, and have supported me and taught me and worked with me and made me a better priest and a better man in Christ. I have worked with some of the finest people I’ve ever known on our parish staff, on our parish council, finance council, school board, buildings and grounds and most recently on the capital campaign. I have enjoyed rolling up my sleeves with you on service day, singing with you at the Christmas Concert, and serving with the many fine people who help me make the Liturgy happen here each week. You have brought me soup when I was sick, and cookies when I needed joy, and asked about my family and made them feel part of the family here. Many wise priests have told me that you never forget the first parish where you were a pastor, and I am certain they are right. I will never forget you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The second thing I want to leave you with is an apology. I know there are days that I haven’t been at my finest for many reasons. So if you’ve encountered me when I’ve been preoccupied or grumpy or frustrated, if ever I have been less than Christ to you, please know that I am so sorry.
And finally I want to leave you with a gift. This one is one that maybe you’ve picked up along the way, because I talk about it a lot. The children know it by heart. And that gift is that God loves you more than anything. All of you together, and each of you individually, are loved so much by God that he sent his Son into the world to bring us all home to heaven one day. He loves us so much that he could not bear to live without us, so he sent his Son to die in our place, and rise up over death so that we could have life. If that’s the only thing you remember about God, let it be that: that God loves you. And if the only thing you remember about me is that I told you that, it will be more than enough.
God loves you, and I love you too. I won’t forget you, you’ll always be in my prayers, and I hope I’ll be in yours. We will always be one body in Christ. And because of that, I don’t say goodbye; I just say I love you. And I look forward to that great day when, as Saint Benedict wrote, we all go together to everlasting life.