Four Priests who need your prayers

[This homily was delivered on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary time – June 19, 2016 at the 9:30 and 11 AM Masses at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Staten Island, NY.]

In today’s Gospel Jesus asks his disciples, those men who would become his first priests:
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”

Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  

This applies to all Christians, but today I’m going to talk about 4 priests.  These 4 priests are linked together. 

The first is Father Joe Murray.  Joe was a parishioner here at OLGC for a number of years before he joined the Order of St. Augustine. Joe was ordained the priest yesterday at St. Thomas Church on the Villanova university campus. I had the privilege of singing for the Mass in the small choir made up of seven Augustinian friars. After the bishop laid hands on Joe, praying that the Holy Spirit come into him, everyone of us priests got in line and did the same. That part of the ceremony makes me feel as if each one of us priests is sharing our priesthood with the newly ordained.

Father Joe is not a young priest. He’s 58 years of age. His first assignment we’ll be right there at Villanova. He will work as a member of the campus ministry team. And I’m sure that he will do a very fine job. In that context the Lord will ask him to deny himself, take up his cross and follow him. 

Every day in one way or another Jesus will be asking him:
“Who do you say that I am?”   I want you all to pray that Joe answers that question in the way it needs to be answered every day of his priesthood - for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

Immediately after the ordination Mass I drove a couple miles to Bryn Mawr Hospital, and visited Father Jack.

I took this photo of Fr. Jack in the
fall of 2008 in Maggie Valley, NC. 
Father Jack Denny is from a big family - eight brothers and one sister.  His brother Bill was the year ahead of me at Msgr. Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, PA. Jack was nine years younger than me, so I didn’t know him then. But in 2008 when I returned to the Augustinians after 12 years out on an extended leave of absence, I was assigned to St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, where Jack was the pastor and Brother Bill Harkin was the prior of the friary. With their kindness, warmth and good humor, Jack and Bill made my return to Augustinian community life and active priestly ministry a smooth and pleasant one.

Five years ago, Father Jack was appointed pastor of our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Brother Bill (a permanent deacon) is semi-retired and still works at OMGC on weekends. In early April of this year I was very pleased to learn that my next assignment would be to go to Bryn Mawr as Father Jack’s assistant pastor.  I was thrilled that Jack and Bill and I would be working together again.

Then, just four days after that, we all received news that Jack was diagnosed with cancer of the liver that was rather advanced. My assignment was changed from “assistant pastor” to “administrator pro tem.”  During this last week other organ systems started to fail.

When I walked into his hospital room on Saturday, I knew that he was very weak and that I shouldn’t stay long.  Jack received me with a smile. He spoke slowly. I told him that I had been looking forward to working with him again, but that I considered it a privilege to be able to continue the work that he was doing in the Parish. I asked him for his blessing and almost immediately he raised his right hand and began the words: “May the blessing of Almighty God...” I quickly knelt beside his bed to receive that blessing. Then I thanked him for all the kindness and warmth that he and Brother Bill had shown me in Maggie Valley and said good-bye.

Jack also is 58 years of age.  Joe is beginning his priesthood.  Jack might soon be coming to the end of his active ministry.
And every day Jesus continues to say to Jack:
“But who do you say that I am?”   Please pray that Jack may respond to that question in a way that pleases the Lord, every day of his priesthood.    However long or short that might be...for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

And then there’s that priest Fr. Jack Denny blessed yesterday afternoon. 

This priest, Liam O’Doherty, standing here in front of you.    
The Lord has made me a better priest in the 6 years I have been here among you at Our Lady of Good Counsel. At least I think and believe so.  Thanks to your patience with me, I think I have become a more patient pastor.  A pastor who listens better.  A more relaxed priest. 

Working here among you these past 6 years has helped me to realize that the most important thing for a priest to do is to help his people fall more deeply in love with Jesus Christ. 
I thank God for that.  I thank you, the people of OLGC for that. 

And of course every day Jesus is asking me:
“But who do you say that I am?”   Please pray that I may respond to that question in the way the Lord wants to hear, every day of my priesthood - for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.   

And then there’s Fr. Ambrose Madu - the priest who will come after Fr. Liam.
I . really . like . Father . Ambrose.  
He spent an afternoon with us here at the beginning of the month.
In the next 12 days until he becomes your pastor I plan to spend 2 more days with him.  I like him.  I believe he will be good for this parish.  But you, the people of OLGC, have a very big part to play in that. 

You, the people of OLGC supported me in many ways. 
I pray that you welcome and support Father Ambrose even more. 
He will need it even more than I did.     
Let me talk to you from MY Experience:
I know what it is like to be a pastor in a country that is not your own. 

My first pastorate was at St. Monica’s in the city of Nagoya in Central Japan, between Tokyo and Osaka.  There I was, like Father Andrew - a priest from a faraway country, a priest of different racial background. 
Not only did the people support me and the wider parish community through their participation in ministries and activities, they also invited me into their homes to break bread with them (actually the main staple food there is rice rather than bread – but you get the idea.) 
Their warmth and acceptance made a huge difference for me. 

Please! Befriend Fr. Ambrose with your warmth, your smile, your acceptance.  
Father Ambrose will need that same kind of help and support. 
And please pray for him. 

And of course every day, in some way or another Jesus will be asking him every day:
“But who do you say that I am?”   Pray that Ambrose answers that question in the way fits what God expects of him every day of his priesthood.  
For the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.
So you have these 4 priests: 
  • Joe, who at 58 is beginning his priesthood.
  • Jack, who at 58 is possibly coming to the end of his. 
  • Liam, who is moving on to a new Good Counsel
  • Ambrose, who will be your new pastor in less than 2 weeks.
Please pray for them and for all priests:
That they may answer that question:
“But who do you say that I am?”  
in the way it needs to be answered every day of their priesthood.  
For the glory of God and the salvation of souls. 

[Note: Father Jack went home to the Lord less than 24 hours after this homily was delivered.]

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