The apostles must have had a lot of memories. That final scene was the first Christian barbecue – Jesus with the charcoal fire. It’s the same sea where Jesus calmed the storm; it’s the same sea where the disciplines first met Jesus and heard him say, “Come follow me.”
Come follow me. Three days this week I was at a class reunion with those of us who were ordained priests together. It was a little bit like Peter and his pals going out fishing. It was Lake Tahoe instead of the Sea of Galilee. 1963 – Come follow me. Twenty-two of us were ordained to the priesthood; three have since died; eleven have left the ministry of priests, but they are all very active in their parish churches, which leaves eleven of us.
The first thing we realized is that we are getting older. I noticed it first of all because almost everyone is already retired, and then I noticed it when at least two were comparing hearing aids.
Come follow me. In 1963 a lot of people asked us, “Why did you become priests?” My favorite answer comes from Bishop Ken Untener. Ken Untener died a few years ago, but he’s the bishop who developed those little Lenten black books that we use in the introduction before the readings. When he was asked why he became a priest, his answer always was, “Well, it wasn’t my idea.” I really think it’s God’s idea; it’s God’s gift; it’s Gods grace, and it’s God’s mystery.
Come follow me. In 1963 my first assignment was a parish with two full-time associates, an elderly, sick and frail pastor. In those days pastors did not retire, they died with their boots on. Saturday was very often the busiest day of the week because you usually had baptisms and weddings in the morning. You brought in a couple of other priests, usually Redemptorists from nearby, to hear confessions. Four or five of us would hear confessions non-stop all Saturday afternoon and all Saturday evening. Mass was in Latin, but that was not a problem because you had your back to the people, and you were whispering, so you could be in Swahili and they wouldn’t know the difference.
The churches were very crowded but very few people ever went to Communion. A small number had missals and they followed what was going on even though it was in Latin. Sometimes the missals had one side of the page in Latin and the other side in English. Sometimes the whole missal was in English.
A much larger group was saying their rosaries; others were following their private devotions not connected in any way with what was going on at the altar. First Friday was a busy day too, because only the priest could bring communion to the sick and we had to cover several rest homes, the shut-ins, and a small hospital. So what it meant was that people could get communion if they were sick once a month, and it was in a rush. The priest was rushing from one to the next place. We had occasional sick calls. Usually they were for someone dying, for the last rites, not the anointing of the sick or for healing, but very often I arrived at the same time the medical team was doing CPR or electro-shock treatments, because nobody knew about “do not resuscitate” orders in those days.
Forty-seven years later. Come follow me. Things have changed a great deal – almost all for the better. The anointing of the sick now comes at the first sign of sickness when the person can participate, can pray with you, can enjoy and feel the peace and strength of healing.
Mass is marked by participation of everyone. Almost everyone goes to Communion; we have lectors, we have Eucharistic ministers; we have singing; we have responses in our own language. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the ushers and the collection. We decided we would keep that. And parish life is marked by ministry.
Come follow me. Today we have teams with 16 to 20 people bringing Communion once a week to the rest homes with time to pray and visit, and we have some people receiving communion as much as 3 times a week when they are sick.
This brings us to the ministry fair that is going on in the gym. I hope you’ll all go over. We have over 60 active ministries, but we weren’t able to have all of them represented there. There’s not room for all of them. Some of them are brand new, like the job network. In these economic times it’s really a way of reaching out and helping one another. Some are refigured. For example, our 55 and older group, which used to be a singles group, is for everyone who wants to join and they are having a lot of activities and they have been given a new name. Their new name is Encore. So, if you are 55 or older, watch out for Encore.
There are a lot of ways you can help with youth ministry, but one is the way Confirmation has been refigured. It’s not asking someone to teach for a whole year, but really just for 4 weeks, 4 times for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings on some topic of your choosing if you want to be a teacher.
Others are familiar, for example, our Altar Society, our Eucharistic ministers, our lectors, our altar servers, our bereavement ministry to have contact with people after a funeral.
Come follow me. The main way we answer that is in our family, in our work, and in our own neighborhood. That’s where we are called to minister first of all. But sometimes we also have energy and interest to help as part of the ministry of the parish church.
What I would suggest is today after Mass, don’t race to your car. And if you’re leaving early – you don’t know this, especially the people in the front don’t know this, but some people in the back leave early. It’s true. Trust me. If you leave early, don’t leave for your car, but leave for the ministry fair and stop by. There are coffee and donuts over there, a chance to check it out, a chance to show your support and interest for what other people are doing. And maybe a chance to say, “Now is the time for me to change a ministry or get involved in one of these ministries.”
Come follow me. Not a bad idea.