Saturday, June 23, 2012

Work of Human Hands

The brownies were home-made.
Well, of course, you say.  That’s what brownies are, you say.  I know that, but was pleasantly surprised nonetheless last weekend at the reception for our new priest, Father Patrick Lewis.  There was a huge array of food that was unmistakably home-made.
Mind you, I was running around like a madman with the details of the Mass and the visiting clergy.  The church was beautiful – our church.  The music was stupendous, thanks to Richard Fitzgerald and the combined choirs – our choirs.  The altar servers were zealous, precise, and cheerful – our altar servers. The pews were filled with proud and joyful people – our people, surrounding Father Lewis’ family, friends, and guests.  Everything about the reception in the hall was well done, with no small thanks to Margaret McDermott.  The people of Saint Bernadette had reason to rejoice, and were on top of their game to celebrate it.
I am proud, but I hope not sinfully so.  You see, we had a lot of guests last week, including people active in other parishes, and priests and seminarians from elsewhere in our Archdiocese.  They were impressed.  People said the nicest things to me.  I am glad they had the opportunity to learn what I know – that this is a terrific parish. 
But it is the home-made treats at the reception that caught my eye.  It really showed the level of care and commitment of our people for this great day for Father Lewis, his family, our parish, and the whole Church of Washington.  So many people took time to participate, to make the great day beautiful.
In our service economy, there is almost nothing you cannot purchase, that you cannot pay someone to make or provide for you.  That is one of the reasons we have such an advanced economy – it allows for a very high level of specialization.  Whole enterprises exist even for baking brownies!  So to encounter something hand- and home-made, by someone you know, is a rare and delightful treat, a true sign of the best of human relationship: love.
He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:12-13)
Jesus let us know that there is one thing you cannot buy: a shepherd.  You cannot purchase a priest.  The work of priesthood is love, specifically the love of Christ Himself, and that cannot be outsourced.  This weekend revealed that one priest is the work of the love of many people, beginning with parents and family, including teachers and friends and priests and people who simply pray.  The outpouring of handwork from the parish for Father Lewis was an echo of the outpouring of parish handwork that produced Father Lewis himself, the work of human hands in response to and cooperation with the grace of God.
We could have paid a caterer or baker to make brownies and other treats for the reception, but that would not accurately have reflected the love that Saint Bernadette’s people have for our new priest.  Now let our hands set about what we cannot pay or even ask anyone else to do for us: the work of raising up new priests to shepherd Christ’s flock.  It is the work of love – Christ’s own redeeming, merciful love.
Because priests, too, are home-made.
Monsignor Smith

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