Twenty-three pentecosts ago, I celebrated my first mass. Vestments made by one parishioner, vessels made by another, at St. Joan of Arc in Yorktown. As much as that first mass meant to me as a priest, celebrating mass in my two parishes today, and attending the confirmation of 17 young people from the parish means even more.
A lot has happened in the Church and in the world since then. In 1989 there were no parish clusters, we weren't on the verge of 25% of our priests being international priests. We didn't even have the term in our vocabulary. There was talk of a shortage of priests but it was off in the distant future. Pedofilia wasn't even talked about and mass in Spanish was a once a month novelty item in the diocese.
By now you're probably thinking, "Those two paragraphs don't seem to go together." But they do. In times of struggle we can react one of two ways, we can run away, or we can hunker down. I chose the latter. As the demands placed on us as priests have increased, I have come to truly understand the gift that priesthood is and the importance of prayer and the spiritual life. I look back now and realize that the 28 year old priest celebrated his first mass at Yorktown had only a superficial understanding of the priesthood and the Eucharist. I could recite all the theology, but only then regular celebration of sacraments and ministering to the people of God has moved that understanding from my head the center of my heart.
Over these two decades many Catholics have chosen the other path, to run away from the church. On this day when we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for those of us who remain both clergy and laity, it is time for us to dig deep and remember why God gave us the gifts of the spirit, to build up his church. We no longer have the luxury of thinking that evangelization is something the Protestants do.
"As the Father has sent me, so I send you."