There are certain occasions in life that give us the opportunity to look back and reflect upon the goals we have set out to achieve and the mission that we have embarked upon. My transfer to St Catherine of Siena in Petersburg and St Rose of Lima in Wrangell effective 17 September 2010, where I served as interim pastor for a year before serving here as Cathedral Rector for the last five years is one of those occasions. I write to you my beloved parishioners one last time as Rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Qoheleth teaches “There is an appointed time for everything, a time for every affair under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Trusting humbly in the Holy Spirit I move on to my next assignment, serving the people of the Diocese of Juneau as their priest.
For some of you I have been with you and your family at your birth and baptism. I have been able to watch your faith grow as you received your First Reconciliation and First Communion. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit come upon you as you were confirmed. With great joy we have celebrated your coming together in the Sacrament of Marriage. I have been at your bedside when you were sick and for a few I celebrated a loved one’s funeral Mass, confident that we would see our beloved again in Heaven.
Yet it has been in the regular cycle of the Liturgical Year, Sunday after Sunday, where we have gathered for worship of our great God, that healing and new life has come to all of us. As the Second Vatican Council continues to teach us: Christ is truly present in the Gathered Assembly, the Word Proclaimed, in the priest as head of the assembly, and most beautifully in the His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity offered to us in the Eucharist. Take heart, only one of these four is being changed. God is good and all will be well. All will be well.
I have attempted to teach you some theology, church history, scripture, and how to laugh in church. You have taught me how to be a priest for you and with you and together we have truly celebrated the Liturgy—the work of the people. I have been invited into your homes, schools and places of work which has broadened my experience and helped me become more fully human. We have worked to alleviate the suffering of those in need who could not care for themselves and have learned together how to live simply and more efficiently in this complex world while staying close to Jesus.
For many of you I have taught you how to “rest in God” in contemplation deepening your relationship with Christ through the discipline of Centering Prayer.* For others we have explored by land and sea and air the fifth Gospel: God’s Creation. Here in SE Alaska creation shouts so loudly of God’s presence and action in the world that is stirs our souls to joy just being out in the snow, rain, fog, mist and full sunshine—often all in the same day. We have learned together how to proclaim to our local and universal communities God’s amazing love for every one of us.
St Paul acknowledges throughout his writings that his mission is larger than himself. That he only plays a small role in God’s plan. It was given to him by the Lord, and it is God who has equipped him with the strength to carry it out. Because Paul’s mission is larger than himself, he addresses Timothy as a co-worker, one who shares the same mission, given to both of them by God. While my transfer away from the Cathedral ends my active ministry here in Juneau there is an underlying awareness that the mission to evangelize will continue where ever we are. Getting the word out about God’s love, here in Juneau and at the Cathedral will continue because you have been such able co-workers with me these last five years. Now under the leadership of our new Rector Fr. Pat Casey O.M.I. you together will continue to build the Kingdom of God.
The Gospels tell us that what is important is our willingness to remain a member of Christ’s company of disciples, knowing full well that it leads to suffering and death, yet confident that it promises resurrection and new life. In the last decade we have experienced the Pascal Mystery in the Church universal and here at the Cathedral. We have learned to proclaim this message of hope by the very integrity of our lives—even when surrounded by darkness. We are called as Catholic-Christians to live radically different lives witnessing to the treasure that we posses in our relationship with Jesus—our intimate communion with God. We are often the only witness to God’s love that many people will ever meet. Let us be a joyful one.
To help our hearts grow strong in the faith let us take care of ourselves. Make time to pray, reflect, and retreat in the midst of all the distractions this world throws at us. In the silence we will find that God is at the very deepest center of our being, and that God is deliriously in love with each of us. Trust in the Holy Spirit that our community has all the gifts it needs to accomplish the mission given to it by God. Fall in love with God’s Word to us in Scripture and in Creation, studying it as if our life depended on it—because it does.
By God’s grace I have been given an ability to preach with passion, humor, and my odd imagination that gabs us all (myself included) by our very bones and rattles us to pay attention to God’s word. Because I have allowed God’s word to shake my own spirit the Gospel message of Love and Shalom is taking hold in our lives and moving us to action. The Shalom of God calls us to be in right relationship with God, ourselves, our neighbor, and all of creation. It is in surrendering to God’s love for us, that God can take away our stony hearts, loosening our bonds of sin, and letting God’s love shine out of our brokenness. Let us all remember our baptismal promises to turn away from sin and believe in our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many of you have shared with me in different ways that the Cathedral Parish and Juneau are just not going to be the same after my move south. That is true, and I will not be the same without you. I have grown tremendously as a priest and human being over the last five years. For that gift I am grateful. My prayer for you and for me is that our best years are yet ahead of us.
Fr. Peter’s frequent return visits to Juneau are a good indication that I too will be back to Juneau often throughout the year. I look forward to bumping into you around town and you are certainly welcome to visit me in Petersburg and Wrangell. I will continue to record the homilies I preach and post them at my new blog titled Semper Gumby—Always Flexible: Reflections on the life of a missionary priest in SE Alaska.
Love, Shalom, and Thank you,
*Editor’s note: If you are interested in learning Centering Prayer or refreshing your practice by repeating the class, Fr Thomas is coming up to teach an Introductory Workshop on Saturday 9 October 2010, 9am to 4pm in St Ann’s Cathedral Parish Hall. Please let Heidi know that you will be coming so materials and lunch can be ready. (907)586-1513