Thank you for your prompt, same-day response to my letter of Friday, June 19.
I appreciate your fraternal courtesy in asking me to resign as pastor of Rocky Mount-Martinsville. You write that you think my doing so would be for the good of the parishes.
In assessing what is for the good of the parishes, I ask you to consider the proofs that you already possess. The parishes need a bi-lingual pastor who can make a happy and healthy life, living part-time each week in two different towns separated by a 30-mile drive. Not many priests would volunteer for such duty; for me it is a great joy.
The Mass-attendance, religious-education, and financial records of the parishes during my two tenures as pastor attest to their stability and growth under my care, as do the sacramental records. Your office, and the offices of Archbishops Lori and Pierre, have received many testimonies to my fitness as pastor over the course of the past several months.
A large body of evidence, therefore, demonstrates that it would not be for the good of the parishes for me to resign as pastor. I decline to do so. I ask again that you restore my priestly faculties, so that I may continue my work in Rocky Mount and Martinsville.
On the matter of my publishing a weblog, I thank you again for providing me in writing the words of the vetitum that you read aloud to me some months ago. As I noted in my letter on Friday, I first received this admonition in writing just last week, in your letter dated June 17, 2020.
I mean no offense when I point out to you that everyone has the right to communicate with his or her fellow human beings. You have written in the vetitum:
Reverend Mark White is to cease from this moment in disseminating his opinions by means of any social media: in print, by audio, or video, or any digital means.
You do not have the authority to compel my silence in this manner. Your prohibition violates canon 212.3, as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I petition you to revoke this vetitum.
Anyone ever see “Back to the Future?” Seems to me like I have presided at Sunday Mass as the brand-new pastor of the Rocky Mount-Martinsville cluster before. I guess I must have gotten into a DeLorean… [click HERE por espanish.]
But let’s listen to our Lord. Whoever loves his life will lose it. Whoever loves his life in Roanoke will lose it. Or his life in Beverly Hills, or gay Paris, or anywhere else on earth, for that matter; whoever loves a settled, complacent existence–he will lose it.
How about “Groundhog Day?” That movie resonated pretty deeply with real life, because things can get rather repetitive. Bill Murray got stuck on February 2. Seems like I have gotten stuck on July first: July 1, 2017, seems disturbingly like July 1, 2011.
But didn’t Jesus demand precisely this? As we know from St. Luke’s gospel, the Lord didn’t just say: “take up your cross.” He said: “Take up your cross daily.” Today, take it up. Tomorrow: repeat. Our day-to-day life, repetitive as it may appear, is exactly where we meet our opportunities to follow Christ.
At first Bill Murray found it cruelly, intolerably boring to be stuck on the same day. But, after a while, he learned how to live that one day well, He saw the same people, in the exact same situation as he had seen them before, over and over again. By repeating the process, he eventually learned that each encounter with another human being presented him an opportunity–an opportunity to be kind.
His character had lived a selfish, arrogant life. But, by virtue of repeating the same day over and over again, he grew into a soft-hearted, generous gentleman. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.
Have things changed since I last saw you, dear Rocky Mounters and Martinsvillians? This isn’t a movie after all; two years of real history have elapsed. Some of our parish family members have died. And we have new members, too: new arrivals from other places, and new babies sent by God.
God gives growth. When I left, the bushes around St. Francis, outside the front door of the church in Rocky Mount, did not rise so close to his head as they do now. And the pine saplings they planted along the Dick and Willie bike trail in Martinsville, while I was stationed here before: those trees now stand almost twenty feet tall. God gives growth.
But, for us, spiritual growth requires taking up a cross. Over these past two years, I don’t think it has gotten any easier to follow the Lord faithfully in this world. The world has not grown more hospitable for the Christian life. I don’t think any of us have turned on the tv, or checked our facebook, over the past two years and thought: Oh look! There’s less temptation to pride–and self-indulgence, and despair–there’s less evil in this world than there was before!
Don’t think so. So we need to stick together, now more than ever. We need each other. We, the mystical Body, who have been baptized into Christ’s death, so that we might live His newness of life. And, as St. Paul put it: Christ’s life is “for God.” “He lives for God.”
To live for God is our duty, our business, our common undertaking together. Bishop DiLorenzo has given me the honor of serving as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph. When he first gave me that honor, six years ago, I wrote a little sonnet about it. I managed to dig the poem up.
How do I love the cluster? Let me count the ways, like Will Shakespeare of old would do. The first: a five-speed, four-wheel steed to mount and burn the road between the parishes two.
The second? These two fine towns to explore: Both Piedmont villes, of character diverse. In one, lake and farm folk both shop the stores. The other is the NASCAR hero’s nurse.
Throughout the rolling counties, I descry fertile fields for the sewing of the seed, and a band of eager discipulae, attentive to our Church’s every need.
O Lord, how great You are in every act! May we, like You, great many souls attract.
…I am honored and humbled to serve. Thank you, dear old friends, for welcoming me back so kindly. As you may remember, we had the privilege of celebrating together both the beatification and the canonization of Pope St. John Paul II–in 2011 and 2014, respectively. I think everyone knows that he is my hero. He was born exactly fifty years and six weeks before me. And he was created a cardinal exactly fifty years ago this week.
In other words, at the same age: he became a cardinal, and I become pastor of Rocky Mount and Martinsville again. I don’t envy him; I think I have the better place.
[Homily of your unworthy servant, saying goodbye to my beloved parishes of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph]
If you have a sharp memory, you may recall that our three-year cycle for Sunday gospel readings has one special late-summertime twist.
The years when we read from St. Mark’s gospel at Sunday Mass are called Year… B. St. Mark had a unique virtue in his gospel writing, namely brevity. His gospel doesn’t quite fill a whole year’s worth of Sundays.
So, during Year B, from late July to the end of August, we take a detour from Mark to John. We read one of the longer chapters of the New Testament. The chapter about the Bread of Life, come down from heaven; about ‘he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood will live forever;’ the chapter that concludes with St. Peter humbly declaring to Christ, “Leave You, Lord? To whom shall we go?”
Right. John 6. It all starts with the Feeding of the 5,000. Then the chapter continues for four more Sunday Masses
It’s my favorite interlude in the three-year cycle of readings. It presents the wonderful opportunity to reflect on the most-famous miracle of Christ, and then segue into His Presence with us in the Holy Mass. These five weeks stand wide open, like an invitation from the Lord to preach a little series of homilies. Today would be the day to start the series. Except…
My best friend in high-school and I competed with each other in many things. Grades. Sports. But the thing we competed about most was: which of us loved his mother more. Maybe that sounds totally cheesy, but it’s true. Then, when we were 22, Eric lost his mother to cancer.
Brave, eloquent man that he is, he got up to speak at her funeral. The scene seared itself into my memory forever: The picture of him standing there by himself in the front of the dingy synagogue. The sound of his strong voice, valiantly mastering itself. He said, “Anyone who knows me knows that for me to be standing here like this… is destroying me.”
That was a lot worse than a transfer from one parish to another, to be sure. But standing here, having to say goodbye… If you know me, you know that this is kinda destroying me.
We read in the Holy Gospels how the Lord Jesus promised that miraculous signs would accompany the ministry of the Apostles. The Apostles then proceeded to work miracles, as we read in the New Testament.
Recently I had an argument with a brother Christian about the continuation of the apostolic ministry in the Church. The Apostles, of course, chose successors for themselves, to carry on their mission. An unbroken succession extends from St. Peter and the original Apostles to the pope and bishops of today.
This is a hard fact to argue with. But my Protestant friend disputed the legitimacy of what we Catholics call the ‘apostolic succession’ on these grounds: I don’t see the miracles. He said that he doesn’t see the pope and bishops accomplishing miraculous healings, or handling snakes, or drinking poison and not dying.
Now, if he checked the list of promised signs in the New Testament, he might find that the biggest one is: speaking in all the tongues of the earth. And the Catholic Church, frumpy as She may be, does have the only claim, among all human institutions, to that. Does anyone speak all the languages of the earth? Yes, the Catholic Church does. No one else can say that.
But let’s leave that aside. Let’s stay more local.
What I really wanted to say to my friend is: You don’t see miraculous signs in the Church? Well, then, you don’t see what I see, man. You haven’t had the privileged point-of-view that I have had these past four years.
The miraculous sign of people, in an age of isolation, coming together. The miraculous sign of brother- and sister-Christians, in an age of selfishness, thinking of others first and making real sacrifices for them. The miraculous sign of the up-and-coming generation, in an age of relativism and self-indulgence, striving to find God’s truth and live by it.
The miraculous sign of good, competent, talented people, putting up with a feckless dweeb of a pastor, co-operating with him in spite of how impossible he is. And making beautiful things happen under this roof, week in and week out, in spite of the cluelessness of the guy in charge.
These are signs of divine power. You, my dear faithful people, have been working them for as long as I have known you. No doubt you will continue to work them, for the glory of God.
I’ll shut up now. If any good has come from my babblings up here, may the glory be God’s. I came here because Jesus Christ, speaking through Bishop, sent me here. And now the Lord, speaking through Bishop, is sending me to Roanoke. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
To Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, the divine Lamb, the Crucified, the Victor over death, the fountainhead of life and love, the Alpha, the Omega, the Name above every other name, the King of kings and Lord of lords; our brother, our Redeemer; the Heart of our hearts: to Him be glory and praise, in the Church on earth and in heaven, now and forever.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” The Lord’s flock knows His voice, and we follow Him. We follow Him as He leads us through the pilgrimage of time, the pilgrimage of our earthly life. Time passes. We listen for His voice and follow. Years pass. He leads on.
Two quick points on this.
1. Speaking of time passing… Exactly three years ago, we had just finalized the Martinsville-Rocky Mount parish-cluster Mass schedule. Remember that? On Good Shepherd Sunday, 2011, those of us down here in Franklin and Henry counties, Virginny, had to face some facts together. Life was going to get a little bit harder, for the people and for me.
1,687 years ago today: The Pope dedicated his cathedral church building in Roma.
Click HERE for a thorough digest of this event (from the archives), including wolverines.
…Re: the sacred Catholic structures of Franklin and Henry counties, Virginny:
1. His Excellency Bishop Sullivan originally dedicated Francis of Assisi parish church in 1987. The 25th anniversary of this august occasion will fall on Ash Wednesday, which makes for a bit of a buzzkill. In May of 2013, we will festively celebrate the 15th anniversary of the dedication of the expanded church building. Mark your calendars now.
2. The same Bishop Sullivan consecrated the new church of St. Joseph in Martinsville on November 25, 2001! We will celebrate the tenth anniversary of this blessed day on Thanksgiving morning, with a Mass at 9:00 a.m. Then we will dine together to celebrate the anniversary (and the holidays) on Friday, December 9!
On June 29, 1951, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest.
I had a chance to meet then-Cardinal Ratzinger in February of 2005, about ten weeks before he had to change his plans for retirement.
I was visiting Rome with a friend from Raleigh, N.C. In our brief conversation with him, Card. Ratzinger expressed interest in the region between North Carolina and Washington, D.C. He admitted to knowing little about the “upper South,” and wanted to learn.
Anyway…On June 29, we solemnize the memory of the twin patrons of the church of Rome, Saints Peter and Paul. This year, the Holy Father will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination. He has asked the entire Catholic world to pray for vocations to the priesthood as a way of wishing him a happy anniversary.
It also happens that June 29 will be the day when your unworthy servant will begin my ministry as the pastor of both Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia.
My predecessor in Martinsville will be on the way to sunny Florida. My adventures up and down US 220 will begin.
Perhaps, then, dear ones, while you are praying for our Holy Father’s health, and for vocations to the priesthood throughout the world, you could also say a little prayer for this gangly numbskull.
…By the by, we have come around the three-year cycle to another “summer of Romans” (St. Paul’s letter, that is). This summer I intend to preach on Matthew 13 instead, but if you have any interest in the prattlings I made three summers ago, you can click HERE.
[This sermon will mainly interest the Catholic residents of Henry and Franklin counties, Virginia. I offer it here for anyone interested in “the spirituality of parish clustering.”]
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
We all know what they say about death and taxes. Sure things. But Christ has revealed that the death of our bodies will not last forever. When He comes again in glory, all the dead will rise from the grave. And we won’t have to pay taxes then, either. The federal government will be shut down forever.
In other words, everything about life as we now know it will pass away, and eternity awaits. This of course changes our whole perspective. The things we deal with now are not the ultimate reality. We have no lasting city here, just a way-station.