In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he stresses a very important truth. Because of our baptism there can be no distinctions in the Christian community. Our baptism makes us sons and daughters of God, by God’s grace we have clothed ourselves in Christ, or as Paul puts it in another of his letters “we have put on Christ” and we are meant to grow to full maturity in Christ. Because of baptism there is to be no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Last week I celebrated my 54th anniversary as a priest. Of those 54 years 43 of them have been here at St. Gabriel’s. This parish family has been the most constant reality in my years at a priest. I first came here in 1960 as an assistant to Fr. Edward Hennessy. St. Gabriel’s was a far different parish than it is today. This area was mostly farm land and we had about 400 families. We were all squeaky clean white Anglo-Saxons with a few Italian families. Look at us today. We come from every corner of the world, every continent. Here there is no distinction between white, black or brown. No distinction between male and female although I wonder where our parish would be were it not for the many ministries run by the women of our parish. Here we have no distinctions between married or single families. No distinction between straight and gay. No distinction between haves and have nots.
Our parish motto is belonging, believing, becoming. It is so important for people to have a sense of belonging, knowing they are welcome and are an important part of this parish family. When Cardinal Ambrozic dedicated our new church in November of 2006 the opening hymn for that Mass was ‘All are Welcome in this Place.’ Knowing we belong then we can grow in our faith and become more like Christ and have our own answer for Christ’s important question in today’s gospel: “who do you say I am – who am I to you?” That’s why Paul’s description of the Christian community of Galatia is so important – we all belong, we all believe in Christ the Son of God and we all strive to become faithful followers of Christ.
As you all know as of July 3rd Father Brando will be the new pastor of St. Gabriel’s. Brando has been with us, in one way or another for almost five years. You all know what a wonderful priest he is and I know you will support and assist him in the years ahead. He does have one weakness – he can’t sing and some of his jokes are terrible.
I’ve used this quote before; many of you may remember it. It’s from a novel titled A Complicated Kindness and it’s about a young woman growing up in the prairies. She belongs to a totally dysfunctional family and belongs to a totally dysfunctional old German Mennonite church. In the midst of all the messes in her life she makes this remarkable statement: “my life has been an embarrassment of blessings.” I had to read that a couple of times to make sure I read correctly. My life has been an embarrassment of blessings – these words best sum up my experience here at St. Gabriel’s. I have been blessed in so many ways by you good people
I couldn’t dare write thank you notes because I owe so many of you thanks for your friendship, your support and guidance in pastoring our parish. This parish would not be the parish family it is without you good people.
I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stay in our residence and help Brando when I can. I’m thinking of getting a job as a ranger on a golf course because, as golfers know, nobody listens to rangers – and nobody listens to priests, so nothing will change in my life.
I just want to say a sincere thank you to all of you for making my life and ministry here at St. Gabriel’s an embarrassment of blessings.