First Homily at Our Lady of Mercy as New Pastor

Father Bernard A. Healey August 5, 2012

Today’s Gospel from St John is part of the lengthy Bread of Life discourse. The crowd in the Gospel has many expectations of Jesus and is curious about him. The questions from the crowd in the Gospel are what drive the discourse. They have an expectation already in mind and so they wish to question Jesus to see if it’s correct.

Managing people's expectations is one of the challenges of successful living. This is true no matter whether it happens within a marriage, at work, or, indeed, in a parish. All sorts of people put expectations upon us; expectations that we may not have the slightest clue are a condition for their relationship to us. When we don't measure up to what they want or need from us, even if we are completely unaware of it, then we are in for trouble.

So it occurred to me that the crowd at OLM today like the crowd in the Gospel might be curious about who this man is before them. After all I am the new priest on the block; even Fr. Shemek has been here longer than me! I’m sure you have lots questions for me and about me: questions about who I am, what I might do, if I am likeable and approachable, and even questions like when did I lose all my hair?

The crowd in the Gospel wasn’t really all that different than the congregation here in East Greenwich this morning/this evening. Their first question posed to Jesus is: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Interestingly enough Jesus chooses not to answer, but you too might be wondering, “Father, when did you get here?” It is no mystery, late Friday night!

However, I have been to OLM many times during my seventeen years of priesthood. And over the last month I have visited here frequently, spent time with Fr. Shemek and getting to know the staff, and received a warm welcome by all (it helps that they’re all Red Sox fans, although I’m not sure about Sister Rose!).

I’ve met a few parishioners and have known a few already, but I am looking forward to meeting all of you and learning your names! Give me a week or so for that.

I’ve been listening about what makes OLM the great parish it is and I’ve seen firsthand the dedication and pride in being part of this parish family. It is a distinct privilege and a great joy to be here and serve as your pastor. I am excited and truly look forward to sharing in your pride and dedication of this parish family.

In the Gospel crowd then asked Jesus: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus, challenged his listeners to set their minds and hearts on one work only: that of believing in him.

You might ask the same question of me, “Father, what can we do to undertake the works of God in East Greenwich?” The answer remains the same, that of believing in him, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

With this belief as our firm foundation, I pray and hope that together we all might wade deep into the waters of faith, deep into the life of God, deep into our call to Christian discipleship, and deeper into the sacramental life of the Church.

Together, with the help of God, we can continue to expand and improve the services offered by the parish, maintain this beautiful church in its all its splendor, further educate ourselves and our children in the rich teaching of our Church and strive always to serve our brothers and sisters in creative and compassionate ways so that by our actions we may witness to believing in him.

Finally, the crowd asks Jesus, “So what can you do?” It might be the very question on your mind as well. “So Father Healey what can you do?”  Well, I can do nothing without your help. I can accomplish little without your support. I can achieve even less without your firm faith in Jesus Christ and His mission.

But just as it was the wrong question 2000 years ago, it remains the wrong question today.  We should rather ask: “Father Healey, What can we do together for the Lord?”

It is a question for both priest and parishioner, it is a question for both parent and child, and it is a question for all of us! Whether we are 80 or 8 years old, we must ask that question every day of our lives. How can we serve the Lord and serve our neighbor today more than we did yesterday?

Our work is cut out for us, as it is and has always been for every disciple of Christ. Jesus invites us today as he did the crowd 2000 years ago to be taught, to be fed, and to be one with him, the Bread of Life.

Each time we gather as a parish family around this altar of sacrifice to remember and to give thanks for all that God has given us in Jesus, our faith is strengthened but also challenged anew. To remember Christ in this way is more than a ritual act of worship, it is to accept living under the sign of the cross and in the hope of the resurrection. It is to accept the meaning of a life that was given over to death for the sake of others.

Once it is accepted. Each of us are called to proclaim it at every Eucharist and to live it every day by committing to loving and serving every member of the Body of Christ. Christ reminds us of this call in the Gospel today: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Receiving the Bread of Life is a commitment to the life. When we come to communion we are bound by the Presence within us to live the life of the Lord in a way that bears witness to His Life in our world. For the committed Catholic disciple, religion is not a sometimes affair, not just a once a week happening.

For us religion means being bound to Christ. The very word religion comes from the Latin word ligare which means to be bound. Our faith is who we are, people bound to Christ. This is what it means to be a priest and this is what it means to be a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy Parish.

As we strive to grow in the Life of the Lord every day, we are reminded of what St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote shortly before his death: “A Christian is not their own master. Our time is God’s.”  My time here, our time together is truly God’s time.

My friends, there is a part of us that knows in the core of our very being that this is true. It is the part of us that cries out with the people in today’s Gospel, “Lord, give us this bread always.”