50 Years as Passionist Priests: 1946-1996homily by Victor Hoagland, C. P.,
for the celebration at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica , New York on April 29, 1996
Today we celebrate with our brothers here Colman, Gerard, Martin, Angelo, Malachy, Richard, and Kilian and those who have gone into the world beyond us, Paul, Edward, Gabriel, Jude, and Anselm , their 50th anniversary as priests and Passionists. We celebrate in this Easter season, the fifty day celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. These were the days when Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples in many places instead of one, to many people instead of a few, and they rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. These were the days when Jesus called his disciples to make a harvest of the whole world. These were the days when, in the words of St. Leo the Great "what was visible in our Lord's life passed over into his mysteries," into his sacraments, into the ongoing life of his church, into the dimensions of our own lives.
We believe that our own Passionist community, with St. Paul of the Cross as its founder, is part of the mystery these days celebrate. It is part of the life that flowed from the open side of Jesus on Calvary to be, in its time, an Easter blessing for the world. We believe that the Passionist charism is one of the Easter gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to those whom the Spirit wills, to complete the Lord's work on earth.
And so in the light of this Easter mystery, we celebrate the Easter fruitfulness of the Passionist community and the Passionist charism in these, our brothers. We celebrate the Easter fruitfulness of Jesus in men we know.
The Easter mystery of Jesus in men we know. How important it is to celebrate the mystery of our Lord in men we know, to celebrate our Passionist life in brothers we see.
Yes, the Scriptures speak of Jesus, we know the Lord in the sacraments, in the Breaking of the Bread. Yes, we have church documents and congregational statements that speak eloquently of our Passionist life. We have pronouncements of chapters and inspiring books about our Holy Founder and our saints. But there's a source close by, a source we may use too little because it is so familiar. That source is our own brothers who live the mystery of the Lord's resurrection and the charism of Passionist life.
Here are seven who for fifty years have lived as Passionist priests.
Let's look at them today, not with the eyes of Thomas the Apostle, with hard unbelieving eyes, but with eyes of faith. Let's look at them close by, where the potter works in mud, where the Spirit leads by winding roads. Let's look at them as we know them and learn from them.
Each one is a story in himself. And that story could go on and on. But since all the living members of this class, almost miraculously, are here together this morning, let's look at them together, and perhaps we can see standing beside them the others whom we do not see, but surely celebrate this day too.
From the beginning this was a unique group of men. They came in every size and shape, from Malachy to Jude. They came from the great ethnic groups, the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, who dominated our immigrant church. They came with a work ethic, an optimism, an energy and a faith that marked those groups. They came from every area of our province, from New England, the Middle Atlantic States, Canada. They came with surprisingly varied talents, and once they were ordained there was no stopping them. They became part of the government of our province and its formation program. They were our consultors and rectors and lectors and directors. They became an energetic part of the ministry of the province here and abroad. They were preachers and pastors, writers and missionaries and military chaplains. They were into everything. And none of them was alike.
None of them is alike. Knowing them, you know how unlike each other these men are. How strongly unlike each other they are. And yet there's a bond that's more than just human tolerance uniting them.
One of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems, The Kingfisher, speaks of the mystery of difference and oneness I think we find in them:
"As each tucked string tells,
each hung bells, bow swung finds tongue,
to fling out broad its name.
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same.
Cries out that being indoors each one dwells,
selves goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
crying what I do is me,
for that I came. "
Our jubilarians are strong individuals who have always spelled out the being within themselves. We can't mistake it. Gerard is Gerard, Martin is Martin, Malachy is Malachy, Angelo is Angelo, Coleman is Coleman, Richard is Richard, Kilian is Kilian. And it was so with the others. And yet there is something that makes them one.
Hopkins continues in his poem.
"I say more,
the just man's justices, who keeps all his goings graces,
acts in God's eyes what in God eyes he is, Christ,
for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
lovely in limb and lovely in eyes not his,
to the Father, through the features of men's faces."
The powerful grace of the Risen Christ plays in ten thousand places, in limb and eyes not his, in Gerard, and Martin, and Malachy, and Angelo, and Coleman, and Richard and Kilian. It's more than a strong individualism that has caused these men to be who they are. More than their own zeal that has led them to care for the old, to search into the mystery of God, to pursue a missionary life away from their own land and all the other things they have done so well. It's the grace of the Risen Christ living in them. And today we rejoice in that grace.
A celebration like ours today is at its best a contemplative act. Sure we'll have good food and good company as we celebrate this 50th anniversary of priesthood. Old memories will be stirred. But celebration is more than warmly recalling the past. It's a revitalizing grace for the present. This celebration can cause our hearts to burn within; it can raise us up as individuals and as a community; it can strengthen us to continue our journey together. By celebrating in faith with these men this morning the charism of the Passion can grow within us more and more.
And these are men who can touch us and teach us.
In them we see some humble, homely truths about our Passionist vocation and our Passionist charism. Look at them and all their differences. What a wonderful example they are of the reach of our Passionist charism, its ability to attract so many unique personalities from so many different backgrounds. Think of their many accomplishments. What an example of the fruitfulness of our Passionist life and its ability to enliven so many areas of life.
These men are not men who think small; they have believed there is a great harvest to be gathered in. How can we doubt, as we celebrate their lives, the vitality of our Passionist charism and its ability to be fruitful? How can we say there is no harvest waiting for us anymore?
It's true we are an aging community, a diminishing community. We have a ten year window open for us to make necessary adaptations to survive, some sociologists say. But should we let aging and diminishment take away our hope? We may, like the Emmaus disciples, walk downcast along a dark road, grieving over our expectations. But is there an Easter grace waiting for us too?
Maybe we have a hint of it in our brothers here. Look at them. They are old men still exploring. Planted in the house of the Lord, " they still bear fruit, they are still full of sap, still green." In them we see power in old age.
Do not say you are a child, God says to the young Jeremiah. Does God says to us: "Do not say you are too old. I am with you" ?
In this Easter time, we celebrate Easter graces. Easter graces are given. On their fiftieth anniversary of priesthood, as we celebrate with our brothers "the breaking of the bread," may they be filled with graces of the Risen Lord and rejoice. And as we celebrate with them may the graces of the Risen Lord fill us too.
© 1996, 2007 - all rights reserved - Passionist Missionaries of Union City, NJ USA