Bells Soon to Ring

Shrine Serra banner

If you’re on the St. Andrew/Roanoke-Catholic campus at 4pm, you will hear the church bells ring. Why? To welcome our Holy Father to our country. All church bells will sound because: the pope, universal shepherd, successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See, Vicar of Christ—here with us.

At Holy Mass today, we read from the book of Ezra about the house of God, and we sing Psalm 122, about going to God’s house. I know that a homily is hardly the appropriate opportunity to offer you my personal memoirs, but…

Tomorrow I will be at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Twenty-one years ago, I graduated from college on the steps of that house of God. Twelve years ago, I was ordained a priest inside.

I have spent more hours of my life praying in that building that I could ever count. In college, I did a paper on the architecture. I learned how to swing a thurible in there. I chanted the gospel there when I was a transitional deacon. I said Mass there on the first anniversary of my father’s death. I have been a pilgrim there, taken pilgrims there, heard pilgrims’ confessions there, said Mass for pilgrims there.

That building is a great house of God, a stronghold of prayer, high on a hill, visible from great distances. (Like St. Andrews!)

Pope Francis will do quite a few things while he’s here with us in the US. One of the big ones is: He will canonize a saint. A saint who lies in a tomb in Carmel, California. (I visited it in 2014.) An organizer, a builder, a man of enormous love, a patron of seminarians. I have loved Father Junipero Serra for twenty years.

Also, in my twenties, I knew a good number of Jesuits. Pope Francis reminds me very much of some of them, of how they thought and what they paid attention to.

Forgive me. I’m just a little overwhelmed by how one single day will draw together for me so many strands of memory and affection. A little pilgrimage to concelebrate with the Pope, that encapsulates 25 years of my life.

When you reach middle age, you hardly expect so much of your life to come together, in focus, on one single day. May God be praised!

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Rolling into Roanoke on John 6

The ancient Israelites grumbled in the desert. The heat got to them. And thirst. And hunger. They preferred slavery in Egypt. They did not like the trial of endurance on which Moses had led them.

“Promised Land? Sure. But we don’t see it. We see nothing but parched desert sand.” So the Lord worked his ancient prodigies to help them. Water from the rock, manna from heaven. Even delicious quail.

quail-dinnerAnyone ever enjoyed quail? I only had the opportunity once. Not a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak. But very flavorful.

Anyway, the crowds followed Christ after He miraculously fed 5,000 men and their families, with five loaves and two fish, as we heard at Mass last week. These people who followed Jesus: they had the ancient miracles on their minds.

Moses gave the people bread from heaven. When that happened, the grumblers started to believe–the complaining liberated slaves. They saw the sign from heaven, and they believed. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Lord Jesus had accomplished a similar great miracle. Thousands fed to satisfaction. Seemed like the same ancient power had come to the Israelites’ aid again, like in the desert. Could the Nazarene carpenter be the new Moses? A great prophet? A liberator?

Christ knew their thoughts. He knew the crowd that followed Him liked the idea of free food. But He wanted to lift them up from their baser motives and purfity their intentions. He knew that, deep down, they sought God.

“What can we do to accomplish God’s works?” they asked. They liked to fill their hungry bellies, but they liked the idea of serving God more. Hopefully that describes us, too. Who doesn’t like to eat? But obeying God aways comes first.

What do we do to do work of God? Lord Jesus says, “Believe.” Our first act of obedience; our first act of service to God: believing. Marching hungry and thirsty through the desert might strike us as challenging. But believing, through thick and thin, requires even more. Believing in God and believing in the Christ that God has sent. Focusing our interior eyes on Jesus Christ, on His Mystery, which transcends everything we think we know–seeing everything else by the light of Christ–that gets every bit as hard as slogging through a desert sometimes.

So He works for us an even greater sign than His ancient feeding of the 5,000. He gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He gives us Himself, when we come together and celebrate Holy Mass. The Bread of Life, come down from heaven to give life to the world.

taubman museum in roanoke[Material of local interest follows…]

I take it as a great privilege and a sacred responsibility to have been made the pastor here [at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke.] I know that Fr. Matt feels the same way about being parochial vicar. We have the honor of celebrating Mass for you. We come together; we believe. And the Lord feeds us and refreshes us. With Himself. Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. What kind of priest am I? The kind who can’t belive that I get to say the words of consecration and bring the Incarnate Word of God into the world, as our food.

I’ve been a priest for twelve years. For the past four, I was the pastor in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. For the past two years, I also cared for the school here as the chaplain.

Raise your hand if you already know Fr. Matt Kiehl from his Masses this past month… Fr. Matt will take over as chaplain at Roanoke Catholic.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of St. Gerard’s parish… Down Orange Ave. Fr. Matt and I together have the responsibility for these two parishes, St. Andrews and St. Gerard. Seven Masses, each weekend, between us. In these two beautiful churches, full of inspiring people. It’s not a “parish cluster,” in case you were wondering. Not a parish cluster. It’s just that the two parishes have the same pastor and the same parochial vicar.

We will have years to get to know each other. Roanoke’s as close to heaven as you can get on this earth, so I’m fixing to stay here as long as I can. I’m looking forward very much to the years we will have together. These pastoral assignments start kind of like arranged marriages in rural India. I promise to do my best to be a good husband.

For right now, let’s respond to Christ’s words to us with the faith He asks for. Let’s declare, by our devotion, that we believe, and that we want to receive the Bread from heaven always. He will feed us with this Bread as we make our pilgrim way. He will refresh us in our thirstiest moments.

The Promised Land to which we journey–it is real. Roanoke seems altogether wonderful to me, but the Promised Land–the land of true justice, of peace, of genuine fulfillment and happiness–the Promised Land of light without darkness, where death no longer has its sting, where love doesn’t end–the Promised Land which we read about at the very end of the Bible–it exists. It’s real.

The Lord feeds us with His own Body. We unworthy priests bring the Bread from heaven to earth, so that we can eat and drink, and restore our strength as we make our way. I’m glad that we will be making our way together.