Sunday, June 26, 2016

Putting Our Hands to the Plow

Elijah being taken to heaven in a flaming chariot.

(Thirteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 26, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Kings 19: 16-21; Galatians 5: 1; Luke 9: 51-62.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2016]

As many of you know, this is my last weekend as pastor of St. Pius X Parish.  At this time next week, Fr. Mike Najim will officially be your fearless leader, and I will be officially retired from my administrative duties.  It’s been a blessing and a privilege to have been your pastor for the last 17 years, and to be here at St. Pius for the last 27 years (almost 28!). 

And now I get to spend some retirement years here as well—which means I’m triply blessed!

It always amazes me (although it shouldn’t), on those occasions when I need to speak about a certain subject in a homily on a particular weekend, and the readings tie in with that subject matter almost perfectly.

As if God knew—which, of course, he did!

For example, take a look at that first reading from 1 Kings 19.  Here we have Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who lived in the 9th century, BC, being instructed by God to appoint Elisha as his successor.  Not long after this Elijah was taken up into heaven, miraculously, in a flaming chariot, and Elisha took over.

Well something very similar will happen here in the next few days—on July 1st to be exact—when Fr. Najim becomes the 7th pastor of St. Pius X Parish (although I do not expect to be swept up to heaven in a flaming chariot anytime soon!).

Although you never know!  

But don’t count on it.

Now the great thing about Elisha was this: He built on the prophetic foundation that Elijah had left him.  He didn’t undermine what Elijah had done.  He continued Elijah’s work, calling the people of Israel—and their leaders—to reject idolatry and to love and serve the one, true God—the God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt and had given them the Promised Land for their home.

From my many conversations with Fr. Najim in the last few weeks, I know he has a similar attitude.  He has a tremendous appreciation for the great things that have happened here at St. Pius in recent decades (which is not surprising, since he was part of it all as an altar boy and as a member of our youth group in the 1990s), and his intention is to build on the solid spiritual foundation that we have here.  In fact, that’s the expression he’s often used: “I want to build on the foundation that’s already in place”.

My prayer for him is that God will bless him with a “double portion” of the Spirit to enable him to do that and to do it well.  Which is precisely what Elisha asked for just prior to Elijah being taken up to heaven in that flaming chariot.  Elijah said to him, “Request whatever I might do for you, before I am taken from you.”  And Elisha responded, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.”*

Thus I don’t think it was a coincidence that today’s second reading was focused on the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul talks there about living in the Spirit, being guided by the Spirit, and serving others in the power of the Spirit.

I pray that Fr. Najim will do all those things, and that he will help the rest of us to follow his good example.

So we welcome him this week to St. Pius, unlike the Samaritans in today’s gospel who refused to welcome Jesus into their community—and we pledge to him our prayers and our obedient support.  On that note, some people have said to me in recent weeks, “Fr. Ray, I’ll bet it’s going to be hard for you to let go of your authority in the parish and not be the one in charge anymore.”

These people have forgotten something.  Yes, I’ve been the pastor now for 17 years, but for the 10 years prior to that I was not the one in charge.  I served as the assistant pastor here from 1988-1998 under Fr. Besse first and then later under Fr. Larry.

So I’ve had a lot of practice living and working and serving at St. Pius while someone else was in charge of the administration.

I don’t think it will be all that difficult to assume that type of secondary role again.

The blessing of this for me is that I will now have the opportunity to do my priestly work 100% of the time (or at least as much as my health—which is still pretty good—permits).  I will no longer have to worry about things like leaky roofs, capital campaigns, dealing with contractors and signing checks (except my own, of course!).

And that’s a “win” for me.  But it’s also a win for you because there will now be two priests here to minister to your spiritual needs.

And it’s certainly a win for Fr. Najim, since he gets to serve as pastor for the first time in a town—and in a parish—that he loves.

And so, to use the image found at the end of today’s gospel, we all now must “put our hands to the plow” and move forward with the Lord to receive all the blessings he has in store for us.

Let me close now with a quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen that I came across this past week.  The message here is certainly for me on a personal level (given the fact that I’m dealing with Parkinson’s disease), but I believe it also has an application to all of you.  Sheen wrote, “We need have no undue fear for our health if we work hard for the kingdom of God; God will take care of our health if we take care of his cause.  In any case, it is better to burn out than to rust out.”

That having been said, I look forward to “burning out” with all of you in the future—even if I never take a trip to heaven in a flaming chariot.