Homily: Bishop Stephen D. Parkes
June 5, 2021 – Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist
Receive the oblation of the holy people, the gifts to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your lives to the mystery of the Lord's Cross.
My brothers, in just a few moments, Christopher, Emmanuel, and Nathanael, you will hear those words. You'll place your hands and embrace a chalice and paten that is holding simple wine, a drop of water, and a host, but which has the incredible ability, through the gift of God's grace, to be the body and blood of Our Lord.
You place your hands on that chalice on this day. The first of many times, for every day you're asked to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. To pray to God not only for yourselves and for your family, but for all of his people.
What is an oblation? It's not a word that is part of our normal vocabulary. It means a sacrifice that is given to God. Today you receive that oblation with hands outstretched to receive a gift and to be able to then offer it to God as a sacrifice, as we hear in our second reading today from Hebrews chapter 5. That you are appointed as a high Priest to be a beloved son. You have been chosen to be a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. You're being asked to offer a sacrifice. What does that mean? To sacrifice something? It's part of our faith and it has been for centuries. It's giving of self. And really, there is no greater sacrifice than what the Lord himself gave. Because he gave us his best. God himself, the Father, sent his son into this world and he doesn't cheat us, and he's not cheap. When God sent his only son into the world, he gave us his best.
So by receiving that sacrifice and offering it to the people of God, we give our best.
Understand what you do. That is knowing who you are, knowing your gifts and your talents. It is for all of us as Priests and ministers, as disciples, to have an understanding of what we are about.
Our first reading today from chapter 61 of Isaiah should be a familiar reading because it occurs again in Luke chapter 4, verses 16 through 20, where we hear Jesus open the scroll in the temple at the beginning of his ministry to say who he was and what he was about. He understood that.
We also are called to understand in ministry that we are able to heal the broken hearted, give liberty to captives, to comfort those who are in mourning, to help those in need, to seek always favor from the Lord and bring that to others.
Imitate what you celebrate. What do we celebrate in the gift of the Eucharist? It is an office of immense love, to cradle those simple elements of bread and wine, bless and consecrate them so that the people of God may be fed and nourished with the Real Presence of the Eucharist. It is an office of immense love that we are called to be conduits and instruments of his grace and to imitate that in the best way that we can, even with our weaknesses. With what we bring to the altar ourselves – God loves us in our weaknesses. He knows that we are frail, but that gives him a chance to place his grace in those nooks and crannies of fault even more.
Before you receive Communion, as you receive the host, as you look into the chalice, you will look into that precious metal there that is lining your chalice when you celebrate Mass. You will see your reflection but it will be different than when you look in a mirror. It's different than when you look in the mirror, because when you look into the chalice with the consecrated Precious Blood you are looking at yourself through Christ, seeing your own reflection through his Precious Blood. What will you see?
And finally, conform or model your lives on the mystery of the Lord's Cross. Nobody wants to take up a cross. It's not really fashionable in our secular world, but as Christians, as people of faith, we do embrace a cross. Parents want to shield their children, they want to protect them so that they won't have harm, hurt, or pain. But those are crosses that we take up so that we can grow, so that we are able to become the people that God calls and needs us to be. And to remember, Jesus did not stay on a cross with nails in his hands and his feet and a sword in his side. He did not stay there in pain or in the darkness of a cold tomb: He rose from it. So conforming our lives on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, on the Paschal mystery, is also to bring hope and healing to the people of God. There’s great mystery in the Cross. There's great mystery in your vocation – in our vocation. And we have to recognize it as mystery. It is unexplainable my friends.
When I look back it was about 30 years ago that I was discerning going to the seminary. I remember looking in various places for some sort of confirmation, some sort of sign. I’m sure, you know the feeling. And you look and say, well, is this right? Should I go? Should I not? And I will never forget a quote that I found and it is anonymous. I can't remember where I found it, but I've never forgotten it because it really was that little push that I needed.
Very simply, it was saying to me: If not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not you, then who? And if not for the Kingdom, then why?
Here in this time, here in this place, you have been chosen. God has brought you here through the gift of the mystery of our vocation.
We join together and join with your guests who are here, those of our Catholic tradition, those of other faith traditions: today we are one family. We join together with people from around the world. In a special way I greet your families in Ghana. In a special way, I greet your family and friends, Nate, who may not be able to be here today but who are praying for you.
So we’re grateful. You have a lot of support: just look around. And there is that gift of mystery that has brought you here.
For you, Emmanuel and Christopher, you are from a part of the world that we maybe not know a lot about. The country of Ghana is on the western side of Africa, kind of on the south coast. You come from the Ashanti region. It's well known for two things: it is one of the top ten producers of gold in the world, and also the number 2 producer of cocoa in the world.
So folks, when you have your hot chocolate on those cold winter nights, you can think of the Ashanti region. It's a beautiful area. It is one of the more populated areas of Ghana – I believe it is a population in the millions. Your diocese is Obuasi, and was created in 1995. Your Bishop is the third Bishop of Obuasi, Bishop John Yaw Afoakwa. We greet him today and we're so grateful for the relationship that was really planted by Father Godfred, Archbishop Hartmayer, Bishop John, and now myself to help nurture.
It is an area in your diocese that may have some similarities to us here in Savannah. In terms of numbers, there are about 93,000 Catholics. It's not quite as large, but there's not many dioceses that are as large as the Diocese of Savannah and is vast. However, about 10% of the population are Catholic. And I know that the faith there is very, very strong. And so we join together in that faith for you, Emmanuel.
Your family is in the village of [ ]. Your mother Cecilia, whom we greet today, is watching with you, today watching over you. Your father is also with us. He passed away May the 6th of 2016. He's with us through our prayers. He has the best seat in the house I think. But he's praying for you and for your brothers, you have three older brothers. You felt a call to the Priesthood early on. Went to Saint James Minor Seminary, St Gregory the Great Major seminary. You have a beautiful spirit and gentleness. I think that comes because you're the youngest child, like I am as well. And I think there's something beautiful about that spirit. You've been adopted by us here at Resurrection, by Father Chaney and the wonderful people of the Parish of Resurrection.
For you, Christopher, you are from the village of Pomposo. And your parents, Joseph and Augustina, are also watching with us. You are the oldest of 6 – four boys and two girls in the family – so you had to take on a lot of responsibility. Your path to the Priesthood was a little bit different. You had a few stops along the way: studying, teaching, actually, math and science in a junior high school. You took the opportunity to go to Kumasi Polytechnic. You're a numbers guy, from what I understand, you love statistics. That’s great. I love that – we could use that here in the Diocese of Savannah. We’ll look to you for all of that information, so get it stored up.
You went to Saint Michael Seminary for your spiritual year of formation and then also Saint Gregory the Great. You were adopted, Christopher, by Father Gabe and the community of St. Frances Cabrini here in Savannah. And both of you bring to us incredible talents here to our mission diocese. You are missionaries. That is what the Church is all about. If we ever lose that mission spirit, we will not be able to flourish. You bring it to us as an inspiration.
Nate, you were born in Delaware. Smallest state here in our country, I believe, along with Rhode Island. And then you moved when you were about 8 years old to Virginia Beach. You are the oldest in your family – your twin Corey is younger by just two minutes, and I don't think you ever let him forget that, either. You had a path to the Priesthood that took you to Virginia Wesleyan University, to Virginia Tech. You came to work at Mercer, that’s what brought you here to the Diocese of Savannah. You enjoy education and students and young people. What I understand Nathanael, which is what your mother likes to call you – not only when you're in trouble, but always, I believe – you always have been kind of a leader and organizer. I believe that when you were little and younger, when the kids in the neighborhood would come by to play in the front yard, you organized them all and gave them responsibilities – one to mow the yard, one to rake the leaves, one to pull the weeds. So I have really no doubt that as a shepherd you will care for people and give them the gift of organization.
I find it interesting that there is a beautiful link in this year of Saint Joseph for the three of you, not only in names but also places. Nate, it was Saint Joseph's in Macon where you experienced great conversion. Christopher, your first assignment will be to be loved by the people of God in Saint Joseph in Augusta. And for you Emmanuel, it is going to Macon where you celebrated your pastoral year, returning there. I pray that Saint Joseph may guard, guide and protect you. And that you may also have a special relationship with Mary as the mother of the Church. May she wrap her mantle of protection around each of you. To really ask the Blessed Mother for her help, that you can be guardians of the Church. That you can love as Jesus loved, imitating that love. That you may be able to realize that love is a wonderful thing and we have to share that with others. But I do remind you that love without truth is mere sentimentality. Truth without love is brutality. So I ask you to remember that in your own pastoral ministry, and for all of us as brother Priests, that we may look to the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph always for assistance and for help.
This morning, as I was thinking about each of you. I kind of had a thought and what came to my mind was how Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple. Not sure why that came to me today, but I think about it, and perhaps because you have found us. You each come from different places, you found the Lord here. But more so he found his way into your hearts. May you conform those hearts to God's will.
Today I ask you to reflect upon Philippians chapter 4: To rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice. Your kindness shall be known to all. The Lord is near.
I hope for you that you will find great joy and fulfillment in your Priesthood. I have no doubts that you will have an effective Priesthood. I pray it is a joyful one. And it will be, my sons, if you find that gift of rejoicing. Of receiving. Of understanding. Of imitating. And of conforming. When you do that, you'll be on the road to something very special. We look forward to seeing what God has in store for you, for the Kingdom.