Pastor’s Message April 17th, 2016

   THANK YOU!! Hats off to all the wonderful people who brought the very beautiful and successful 75th anniversary celebration of our parish to a lovely conclusion last Sunday. We couldn’t have asked for anything better! Bishop Barbarito led us in an inspirational Mass. The liturgy was uplifting, with the combined children and adult choirs rendering a fitting musical tribute for the occasion. It was great having present among us several of the priests who have had an ongoing involvement in our parish. The reception and luncheon following the Mass was a happy occasion to enjoy some outstanding food and camaraderie, and to listen to our guest speaker, a true SVF success story, alumna Sheila Snow-Hopkins, who serves now as national President of the National Council of Catholic Women. She journeyed from her home in Tallahassee just to be with us. The state officers as well as local members of the Knights of Columbus added – as they always do – a nice touch to the occasion. We thank Our Lord, above all, for bestowing upon us His blessings, and giving us such a beautiful day for the celebration. Special thanks to our Director of Stewardship & Development, Julie Ott, who organized this gala and all the other events of the past year that marked the conclusion of a year full of activity that showcased our parish.

We bid a fond “farewell” this Sunday afternoon at 12:30 to Father Jay Haskin, our part-time assistant for the past several years, who is moving to his new assignment in Rome as Director of Pastoral Formation at the North American College in Rome. He will leave this mid-week for Vermont, and then to Nebraska, to begin a summer program of study to prepare him for his new position. We offer him our prayerful support as he sets his sights on assisting in preparing the best of young men for the priesthood. You and I will miss him. Addio! May God bless him and watch over him!

This Sunday focuses again on the Good Shepherd. I’m aware that it may be hard for us in the modern world to understand the incredibly close connection between a shepherd and his sheep, and because we often lack that experience, we might miss the power of what Jesus is telling us in this Sunday’s Gospel. In Jesus’ time, and still in some parts of the world today, shepherds know the personality of each of their sheep. Isolated for days at a time with his herd, the shepherd would talk to the animals, sing to them and sleep among them. When he took them to a stream to water them, he also might come across other shepherds and their flocks, affording them a chance to socialize as the sheep mingled together at the water. There was no worry about which sheep belonged to which flock, and when it was time to leave, the shepherds would call to their own sheep, which untangled themselves from the mix and followed the caring and familiar voice of their own shepherd. It’s a wonderful and loving image of care and protection, but something about it may cause us to hesitate. Do we really want a shepherd? We’re drawn to the image it presents, but may chafe at the idea of not being independent. Like a three year-old child we may want to say, “I can do it myself!”

Our stiff-necked stubbornness to do things our own way is what led Israel, God’s chosen people, to forget who they were and why they had been chosen. They began to lose sight of the One who had offered them this special relationship. In today’s 1st Reading, we see that when, on the one hand, the Chosen People drifted away, the Gentiles, on the other hand, were “delighted” to accept such a submissive role.

Pope Francis says, “Many try to put themselves forward as ‘shepherds’ of our lives; but only the Risen One is the true Shepherd, who gives us life in abundance.” These false shepherds are ingrained in the culture in which our life is immersed, with so many promises of love, happiness, safety and security, if only we follow their path. The choice is there, only we don’t always listen to the true voice.

Pope Francis says, “Jesus’ voice is unique. If we learn to distinguish it, he guides us on the path of life, a path that goes beyond even the abyss of death.” It is that path that our heart longs to follow, to listen to the voice of Jesus calling to us. When we come to realize we have lost our way and wandered off the path, we need to listen carefully in order to follow that voice again, to be safe and secure.      Msgr. Tom