Fr. Ritche always made it very easy for me to prepare for the diocesan events at the Cathedral. He was always on hand to find me liturgical ministers at the last minute, more chalices and chasubles than anyone should have in their sacristy, Spanish inserts of ritual texts for the Bishop, and the "cancel" mode when I tripped the security alarm to the Cathedral after hours. As Bishop McGrath said at Fr. Ritche's installation, he will be missed dearly at the Cathedral as the go-to person for things liturgical.
On a personal note, I want to say that the installation at Saint Justin was one of the best installation celebrations I have participated in. I knew from the moment I received my invitation that it would be a celebration of the entire Church, not of one person (Fr. Ritche's invitation cover read: "I am among you as one who serves"). I have always known Fr. Ritche to be a humble servant, never lording his authority, but using it to help others. His homily at the installation liturgy tried to communicate this sense of leadership and the ecclesial tone of the celebration. It focused not on his achievement or authority but on the parish's mission and the mutual responsibility each member has to the other. I asked Fr. Ritche if I could reprint his homily here, and he graciously agreed. I hope it will help us recall that each of us, whether pastor or parishioner, ordained or lay person, is called to lead, to serve, and to care for each other in whatever role we are given in our Church.
(See pictures of the installation here, courtesy of Melissa Tamayo.)
Installation homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
Shortly after I began my ministry here as Saint Justin’s, I received an e-mail from one of the parishioners. When I saw her e-mail address kick in, I said to myself: “Oh my… what did I do now?” Hence, I was hesitant to open the e-mail. I was expecting a complaint such as: “Father you keep changing things on us.” You know the feeling. So, I scrolled down slowly. The message started with: “Father, when I was at mass yesterday, I sat on the western side of the church. I listened to your homily. It was hmmmm…, well, it was good.” Thank God! I said to myself.
What struck me the most was not that she said my homily was great, although I wish more people would say that, ONLY if it’s true, but it was when she said, “I am here to help and support you. You are in my daily prayers. When you experience challenges in your ministry or when you have to make difficult decisions, you can rely on my full support and prayers. I realize your ministry as pastor will not always be easy. And I know you will need our collaboration.” I thought this is one of the most beautiful e-mails I’ve received so far: simple, yet meaningful.
I am sharing this e-mail with you today especially the part about the woman’s assurance that she will help, support and collaborate with me, not only because we are celebrating the mass of installation, but also to remind myself of our scripture readings today.
In our first reading, Moses stretches out his hands to protect his brood. Moses must hold the staff of God in his hands so that the Israelites will win the battle. But since he is merely human, he grows weary, and so, in order to continue he has to be supported by rocks and Aaron and Hur. Just as Moses needed help from Aaron and Hur to continue his mission, I also need your help in continuing my ministry here at Saint Justin’s. I believe that the image of Moses stretching out his hands with the help of Aaron and Hur is an image of the Church in general, and on this day I would say that it is an image of our parish of Saint Justin in particular.
As the pastor, I cannot do my ministry well without your help. We, as the Church, are all in this together, proclaiming the presence of God’s Kingdom in our midst. Then, Saint Paul tells us in our Second Reading: “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient, convince, reprimand, encourage, be patient through all your teaching.”
Similarly, in our Gospel, Jesus admonishes us to be persistent. The parable makes it clear that the widow prayed always, but this does not mean that she was in perpetual prayer or practicing some novel method of mysticism. That is not the kind of widow she was, nor the kind of prayer she prayed. Like Moses and us, she too most likely got weary and had to be propped up by others. Her prayer was not perpetual, but she was consistent.
I believe that the message of the scriptures is coincidental for us as we celebrate this Mass of Installation. It challenges us to reflect on the level of our participation not only in our local parish, but in the Church in general. It invites us to be like Moses, Aaron, Hur, and the widow in gospel: consistent and persistent especially in this day and age in the Church.
As I am installed as the fifth pastor of this parish, I realize that my ministry does not end here, rather it begins here. But of course, I cannot do this without your support just as the woman told me in her e-mail.
You know, to be a pastor does not make me a superman who can do things on my own, rather, I am one of you. I can get weary. I hope that today, we can make a commitment to help each other in moving the parish of Saint Justin forward. Let us all work together in making this parish a more vibrant one. Although we may often be a community that grows weary and frightened, we promise, despite this, to be consistent and persistent and loving in our support of the widow, the sick, the poor, the displaced, the children in our midst, and of the whole parish community.
It is providential that today is also “World Mission Sunday” when we are invited to reflect not only upon the missionary work of the church, but also to remember the men and women who tirelessly work to evangelize and to make present the Risen Christ. This world mission Sunday reminds us that we need each other. God invites us to “re-launch missionary action in the face of the many serious challenges of our time.” God invites us to work together in making Him known and present to the ends of the earth.
Today and always may we learn from the woman who sent me that e-mail. Let us encourage one another as we move forward to make this community a more vibrant and more faithful community.
As we continue with this Eucharistic Liturgy, let us give thanks for the gift of our faith and the Church. Let us continue to be faithful in responding to our call to ministry in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Together in Christ, we can make this into a reality.