Sunday, November 15, 2015

Some Reflections on St. Pius X Parish’s Sixtieth Anniversary

Some pictures from our 10:30a.m. Mass today--and our anniversary cake.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on November 15, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 13: 24-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixtieth Anniversary Homily]

In his book, Priests for the Third Millennium, Cardinal Timothy Dolan tells a story about a friend of his from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Fr. George Lodes.  In 1962, Fr. Lodes was in Rome, and had the privilege of meeting Pope John XXIII (now Pope Saint John XIII) in person.  He met the Holy Father along with a number of other priests: they all stood side by side as the pope moved down the line to greet them one by one.  Each of the priests introduced himself, and told the pope what he did.

The first said, “Holy Father, I’m a university president,” and then knelt to kiss the pope’s ring.  The next said, “I teach in a college”; the third, “I’m a hospital chaplain”; the fourth, “I’m the chancellor of my diocese.”  And on and on the litany went. 

Fr. Lodes felt a little embarrassed, because his ecclesiastical credentials paled in comparison to those of the others, so when the pope finally reached him, he leaned over, and said, very softly, “Holy Father, all I am is a parish priest.”

In response the pope immediately genuflected before Fr. Lodes, kissed his hands, then rose to his feet and said to him, “That is the greatest priestly work of all!”

When I first told that story in a homily several years ago, I ended it by saying, “And who am I to argue with a pope?”

Now I say, “And who am I to argue with a pope who also happens to be a saint?!”

Pope St. John XXIII understood the importance of a parish in forming disciples for Jesus Christ.  After all, he had grown up in a parish himself—as almost all Catholics do.

Paragraph 2179 of the Catechism says this about a parish:

It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.  The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine; [and] it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of St. Pius X Parish this weekend, we thank God for how these words of the Catechism have been lived out and experienced here in this place for the last 6 decades. 

As I see it, there are three primary purposes of a parish—based on what the Catechism says:

1.   To bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, and to empower them to live his gospel of love.
2.      To help people to sustain and deepen (and, if necessary, restore) their relationship with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior.
3.    To help people to prepare themselves to meet Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, when he comes to them as Judge. 
This, by the way, is why this passage from Mark 13 on divine judgment—which we heard as our gospel reading today—is so appropriate for a parish anniversary Mass.  (Although I will admit when I first read it, I didn’t think it was so appropriate!)  But it is!  It’s appropriate because, when all is said and done, the most important moment of this life for every one of us will be the moment when we leave it and go to be judged by the Lord.  In fact, that’s the ultimate reason for a parish’s existence:  It ultimately exists to prepare people for God’s judgment and (hopefully) for their eternal reward.  You know, a parish can have the greatest programs and the most enjoyable social gatherings imaginable, but if it doesn’t prepare its people to meet the Lord at the end of their lives here on this earth, all those programs and parties won’t matter.  They won’t matter at all.

Today we thank the Lord for how this parish has fulfilled these 3 purposes since 1955.  We thank God for the many good priests who have served here over the years as pastors and assistants—and the many others like Monsignor Struck and Fr. Giudice who have helped us out, even in their retirement.  We thank God for how they have helped the members of this community to build and sustain their relationships with Jesus Christ and prepare for their eternal destinies.  We thank God for those from here who have responded to the call to serve the Lord in the priesthood, the diaconate and religious life.  And we thank God in advance for those who will respond in the future.  (Yes, we do have more young people who are discerning at the present time.  Praise God!)  We thank God for the witness of so many married couples at St. Pius who have been married for 40, 50, 60 and even 70 years—who show us that, with the grace of God, lifelong commitments are still possible.  We thank God for the many good and holy lay people from this place who have been spiritually formed here, and who have then gone out—and who are currently going out—to do great things in God’s service.

This is a special place, my brothers and sisters—a very special place.  Why do you think I’ve stayed here so long?!  I know a great parish when I see one!

And so do other people, some of whom are not from this parish or town or even this area.  I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about.  Two Sundays ago after the 10:30a.m. Mass I locked the church as I usually do after the final Sunday Liturgy, and then I went out to lunch with two old friends from my hometown of Barrington.  Well at about 2 o’clock they dropped me off at the rectory.  And as I was standing on the front lawn saying goodbye to them, I noticed a car pulling into the parking lot.  A man got out, dressed in a white Dominican habit (like Fr. Jordan Turano wears), and he began to walk toward the front doors of the church, obviously with the intention of going in—which he was not going to be able to do since I had locked all the doors a few hours earlier.

So I went over to meet him.  I didn’t recognize him at first, but once he said his name, Fr. Nic Austriaco, I remembered him from the excellent talks that he gave to the priests of our diocese a couple of years ago on one of our priest study days.  The talks were on medical/moral issues.  Fr. Nic is a biology professor at Providence College.  He’s a brilliant guy; he has his doctorate from M.I.T.—and he does research in addition to teaching.

I asked him what he was doing in little old Westerly, and he said, “Well, I’m on my way back to PC from New York and I decided to stop and visit your church.  I’ve heard so much about St. Pius over the years, and I’ve always wanted to come here. I was really hoping I could see the inside of the church and pray there for a little while.”

So, of course, I let him in; and once we had finished our conversation, I left him there to pray.

Now what really struck me about Fr. Nic’s request (and I began to think about this afterward) is that what he said about St. Pius is what people normally say about big, important shrines in the Church!

When I visited St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, for example, I said, “Wow, I’ve heard so much about this place over the years.  I’ve always wanted to come here; I’ve always wanted to pray here.”

I said the same thing at Lourdes and at Fatima and at other big shrines that I’ve visited in my life.

Fr. Nic Austriaco said it about us.

So, in effect, did our bishop.  During the past year, as many of you know, they’ve had special holy hours for vocations in various parishes throughout the diocese.  We were given the privilege of hosting the very first one that they had back in September of 2014.  Well a few days after that event Bishop Tobin sent me a little note in which he wrote the following:

Just a note to thank you and your parishioners for hosting and participating in our first Holy Hour for Vocations last week.  St. Pius X Parish is a spiritual powerhouse in the Diocese and I knew that you and your faithful would be welcoming and supportive.  Please continue to work and pray for this important intention.

“A spiritual powerhouse”—I can’t think of a better compliment that a parish could possibly receive from its bishop.

It’s humbling and it’s gratifying at the same time.

And it should cause us to praise and thank God.

Of course, we can’t rest on our past laurels.  As Jesus once said, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is unfit for the kingdom of God.”  There is a lot more work to be done here in our community (and everywhere else!) for the salvation of souls and to help those in need.  That work, as our Holy Father has reminded us many times, is everyone’s responsibility.  Everyone in the parish has a role to play.  And I’m confident this work will continue here.  After all, think of what we have going for us:

·         We were founded on September 8—the birthday of our Blessed Mother
·         We came from a church dedicated to her and to her Immaculate Conception
·         And we have, as our patron, one of the greatest saints of the 20th century!

With two heavenly intercessors like that—our Lady and St. Pius X—we can look forward, I believe, to many more blessings from God during the next 60 years—and beyond.