Mass of Thanksgiving: June 13, 2018
Fr. Philip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
Since I made the announcement to the parish that I was being transferred and being made the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Bensalem, many of the parishioners have offered their congratulations and well-wishes and freely shared their thoughts. I’ve been very touched by the many expressions of affection and the promise of prayers. Some of the things people have said have been very funny and at the same time very profound. I’d like to share a few of the comments and reflect on them a bit tonight. I found out on Thursday, May 17 about my new assignment, and I first announced it to the parish at the 6:30 Mass the next day. The first person to come up to me after Mass in the parking lot was a very devout daily mass goer. She held my hands and said, “Father, we are sad to see you go, but we are confident that the Holy Spirit has something better for us in store.” I was speechless for a few moments, smiled, and said, “Yes. I’m sure you are right.” That Sunday, a spry yet elderly woman came up to me and said, “Darn, Father, I was hoping you’d say my funeral Mass.” Just today, one of my communion calls who I’ve seen almost once a month for the last eight years asked me when I was leaving. I told her on Monday. She said without a missing a beat, “I better die quickly then.” (I didn’t know I had that effect on people). But beyond the frequent “Good Luck” and “We’ll miss you”, what I have heard more than a few times in different forms are people telling me how they have noticed over the last 6 months how I’ve grown as a priest, how my homilies have been really hitting the mark, and how I’ve been more confident and really enjoying my ministry at the parish. One woman expressed it this way, “Since you’ve become administrator, we’ve seen more “Fr. Forlano.” What she meant is not that she sees me a lot more than before, but that in these 6 months, I’ve become more myself, more of myself has come out. Despite the obvious challenges and increased work-load, I’ve become more relaxed and certain about what I’m doing. I’m the same person, but this noticeable change is a sign that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing because this work is giving me more life. It is a sign of God’s grace at work, his presence in my life. And I feel it in many ways. If you asked me a year ago if I was ready to be a pastor, I would have said, “I don’t know. How can anyone be ready?” It would be presumptuous to say “I’m ready” when I’ve never had that experience before. I could say, “I’m ready to try being a pastor. I’m willing if asked and needed.” But I couldn’t say, “I was ready.” But after being the administrator for these months, I’ve grown in appreciation for what pastors do – I have a greater appreciation for all that Msgr. Tracy has done in the last 10 years and the demands of the position, but I’m also, because of this experience, not afraid to do what the Lord through the Archbishop is asking me to do as pastor of St. Charles. God prepares us in his way, in his time, and in ways we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
The saint we commemorate today, St. Anthony of Padua, commonly known as the Patron Saint of Lost things, the one we invoke when we lose our keys or misplace something, “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around, something is lost and needs to be found”, was actually an eloquent preacher and teacher of the faith and a close collaborator with St. Francis. But he didn’t start out that way. How did he become St. Anthony, the great Franciscan preacher? How did he discover where God wanted him to be and his gift for preaching? It is good to get to know the story of the saints because they witness for us the way the Lord works, and when we can relate their experience to our own lives, we can see God working in our life as well. Anthony was from Lisbon, Portugal (no he was not Italian), and wanted to be a priest and religious from a young age. At 15 he entered the religious order of St. Augustine, after two years, he was sent to a house of formation for studies for nine years and became ordained a priest. It was around this time when he met the Franciscans at a nearby monastery and was moved when the remains of the first Franciscan martyrs killed in Morocco returned home in solemn procession. He had a desire to become a martyr and join the Franciscans. He was released from the Augustinians, took the Franciscan habit and the religious name Anthony, and went off to Morocco. During his travels to Morocco, he became seriously ill and had to return home just after several months. On the voyage back, the ship ran into storms and high winds and was blown off course and landed in Sicily. The Friars in Sicily nursed him back to health. A few months later, Anthony went to an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. At the meal after the ordination, the provincial asked that one of the friars give a short sermon. Everyone expected one of the Dominicans, known for their preaching, to do it. But the Dominicans expected the Franciscans to provide the preacher. The provincial then asked Anthony to give just something simple, and Anthony also begged off, but the provincial insisted. Under obedience, he stood up, and began to preach. He gave a moving homily and surprised everybody because they thought him to be an uneducated, simple friar. His knowledge was unmistakable, but it was his holiness that impressed everyone. When word got out, St. Francis asked him to preach in northern Italy and entrusted him with the teaching of the friars. His quiet life of prayer and penance at the hermitage was exchanged for that of a public preacher. It wasn’t his words that impressed, but that he preached the Gospel by the way he lived. He didn’t refute the heretics with argument, but preferred to witness to the grandeur of Christianity – its positivity, especially the wonder of reconciliation with a loving Father. It was through obedience – saying yes to what one is asked to do, even if it is not what you would choose, that one is prepared for the mission and can generate the fruits that will benefit the Church – that we serve in the way the Lord desires for our good and the good of the Church. The one account of the life of St. Anthony said that in his life, Anthony “resolved to ask for and to refuse nothing.” This is the attitude of a total openness to God’s will and the circumstances that are given to us. We go where the Lord sends us and rely on his grace. In the Gospel of the sending of the 72 disciples, Jesus tells them to “carry no money bag, no sack, and no sandals.” He is sending them like lambs among wolves. In their weakness and vulnerability and lack of their own resources, they must depend on God, and when they do, when they must ask for his grace, and it is clear that the fruits of the mission do not come from themselves, they are more aware and in fact certain of the Lord’s presence in their midst. He is working in and through them. It is his obvious presence that gives them peace. They are not alone, but the Lord is with them. It is through them, that the Lord visits his people. He intends to work through them. The peace that they announce is the same peace that the heavenly host sang when the birth of the Messiah was announced to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Peace comes when God visits his people – when he comes in the flesh and dwells among us. The peace that we carry, the sign of the Lord’s presence in our flesh, is the sign that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The seventy-two return rejoicing, amazed and surprised at what they were able to accomplish. Jesus recognizes their excitement, but says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” We rejoice not because of “getting the job done successfully” but that what we’ve experienced happening is a sign that we belong to God and our destiny is with Him. This is why rejoice. Because we come to know that with God all things are possible. What we thought impossible is made possible. We become more aware of our belonging to God and that he is with us.
Many people have said to me that my appointment as pastor is “well deserved” and have congratulated me on “getting a promotion” and “getting a parish of my own.” I understand the sentiment of the well-wishers, but it is contrary to the Gospel to look at ministry as something we merit. It is all gift and grace. Seeking advancement and positions of power, and looking at a parish as “my own” possession that I have to manage is not accord with a vocation to the priesthood since we have been called to serve and not to be served. To those who have been given more, more is expected, but we can do the impossible, the unexpected, when we are open to God’s grace and say yes in humility to what we are asked as Mary said yes to the Angel. I am not nervous about my new assignment nor am I anxious. I am eager to see what the Lord will do. It is OK to be sad, to mourn whatever loss we experience in transitions, but together we can be confident that the Holy Spirit has something better for us in store.