Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily at Our Lady of Lourdes parish

I am Father Greg Shaffer, the chaplain of the Newman Center (the Catholic Student Center) at George Washington University. I grew up in this parish. It is an honor and privilege to preach here tonight; I am grateful to Monsignor Filardi for inviting me. We are here to celebrate the end of the Year of the Priest. We priests are eternally grateful for all of the letters, prayers, support, and encouragement from the lay faithful this past year. Please keep them coming! We also celebrate the priesthood of two priests who served so faithfully here at Lourdes: Monsignor Louis Quinn and Monsignor Thomas Wells. They were stationed here together back in the 90s. They were here with two other priests and I remember many stories coming out of the rectory; these were four characters! My favorite story involved these four men having breakfast together. Father Wells told me that he and Msgr Quinn enjoyed quiet at breakfast as they read the newspaper. Well, the other two priests liked to talk at the breakfast table…at a really HIGH volume. So, Msgr Quinn and Fr Wells would raise the newspapers over their heads to seek shelter from the conversations.

We have had so many good priests here at Lourdes over the years. It’s no coincidence that we’ve had several men become priests: 5 men have been ordained from this parish in the past seven years, thanks be to God. Priests like Msgr Quinn, Fr Wells, Fr Dorsonville, and our current priests have been great examples to so many of us; their holiness and joy make priesthood attractive. We also have a vocations society here that supports men studying to be priests. The Msgr Thomas Wells Society has done such great work for the past ten years in providing personal, spiritual, and financial support for seminarians. I am grateful to the members of the Wells Society for all that they do.

St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, once said, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”. This is what Msgr Quinn, Fr Wells, and the other priests were getting ready for each day at the breakfast table: to love the heart of Jesus. That was their life. We get a glimpse into the heart of Jesus in today’s Gospel. He forgives the sinful woman at the home of the Pharisee. The Pharisee can’t understand why Jesus would forgive her; he doesn’t know Jesus. We know Jesus, and we can’t understand His heart. We constantly go to Him in Confession and He continuously forgives us. His heart is full of love and mercy; His heart has infinite love for us.

This is what a priest is called to live: the heart of Jesus. Pope Benedict recently said the priesthood is the “audacity of God”. God calls certain men to be Him to His people…to be alter Christus (another Christ). Priests are to live the heart of Jesus…to offer the same love and mercy that He offers. Msgr Quinn lived this for 65 years. For 65 years, he was alter Christus! He loved the heart of Jesus and showed it to his people. Msgr Quinn was Tom Wells’ pastor growing up at Blessed Sacrament. When Tom went into the seminary in New York, Msgr Quinn visited him. That is a haul! I’m sure it made a big impression on Tom Wells as it would any man whose pastor visited him to offer love and support.

Msgr Quinn inspired men to become priests as did Fr Wells. He inspired, encouraged, even forced men to enter the seminary (in a good way!). When I first went to speak to Fr Wells about the priesthood back in 1993, I said, “I don’t know, Father, I think I’m sorta, kinda, having a few thoughts here and there about the priesthood”. He interrupted by saying, “can you hold on for a second?” I said, “yeah, what’s up?” He picked up the phone and called the Vocations Director! He said, “Mark, hey it’s Tom. Yeah, we got one”. I was like, “Noooo…we’re just talking here.” I entered the seminary a year later.

Another man from the parish, Andrew Royals, called me up as he was graduating from college, about a year after Fr Wells died. He said that he had a dilemma: he was offered a contract to be an actor for a year but felt called to be a priest. He didn’t know what to do. I told him what Fr Wells would have said: “Drew, if you feel that God is calling you to be a priest, go into the seminary. It’s the best place for you to discern your vocation”. Drew agreed that’s what Fr Wells would say. He dusted off his seminary application and entered that fall. I asked him years later if it was the right move and he said, “absolutely”. He is now a happy priest of four years.

In his life and in his death, Fr Wells inspired vocations to the priesthood. His nephew, Dave, is scheduled to be ordained a priest this Saturday. Dave has said that it was when Fr Wells died that he realized he was called to be a priest. And Dave is not alone. Other men have come forward to answer the call in the wake of Fr Wells’ death.

We need priests! St John Vianney also said, “without the priest, the Death and Passion of our Lord would be of no avail”. Without priests, we wouldn’t have all this (access to the Cross, altar, etc.). Using the language of St. Paul in the second reading, we can say that without priests, “Christ died for nothing”. Priests make the Death and Resurrection of Christ…salvation…God’s Grace…Christ’s heart available to us. St John Vianney made God’s Mercy available to his people by hearing confessions for about 15 hours a day. Msgr Quinn and Fr Wells made God’s Grace available to people for almost 100 years. 100 years! We need generous priests who will make Christ’s Death and Passion available to us.

Finally, all of our efforts to promote vocations are centered on the Eucharist. Fr Wells knew the importance of the Eucharist when it came to vocations. He once said as pastor here, “as long as we are a people centered on the Eucharistic sacrifice, there will never be a shortage of those willing to give their lives in service of the Church”. This parish has gotten that. We get that down at the Newman Center as we have had 9 men and women enter seminary and religious life in the past 9 years. We are centered on the Eucharist. When we center our lives and efforts on the Eucharist, so much good happens: an increase in vocations, fruitful marriages, fruitful families, fruitful parishes and schools. This is where it all happens: in the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, may the Lord grant our petition that more men come forward to answer the Call to bring the love, mercy, and the sacraments of Christ to the next generation.

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