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‘We thank God for the gift of one another’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

May 25, 2016

In the first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher’s Stone, Harry finds himself at one point in a room with a mirror.  When he looks into the mirror he sees not just himself but his parents standing behind him.  They are smiling at him with great love in their eyes.

As you remember, Harry is an orphan whose both parents were killed by the evil wizard at the very beginning of the story, when Harry was only four. Harry is entranced with the mirror and keeps on returning to the room at every possible opportunity.  

Then one day the mirror was gone, and Harry is distraught.  Out of the shadows, steps his wise and kindly headmaster, who explains to Harry that the mirror shows what a person most deeply desires.  Its danger is, as with Harry, that it encourages people to lose themselves in fantasy rather than reality.  So, the headmaster arranged for the mirror to be removed to another room where it would not be so easily accessible. 

He wants Harry to return to reality but not in any way embittered because of his sense of loss or the impossibility of his dreams.  It is more that he wants the experience to prepare Harry for the trials ahead, for at the end of the book the evil wizard will tempt Harry with the offer of his parents’ return, if only Harry will hand over the philosopher’s stone.  Harry must have both the wisdom and the courage to resist the temptation.

God’s presence among us is ultimately mysterious.  It can certainly not be confined to any one human Bishop LaValleyexplanation or idea.  Jesus uses the parables in the gospels to offer us hints or illustrations as to some of the important but differing aspects of His presence. 

Sometimes we would like God’s presence to be much more cut and dried.  God would appear to us, show us the way through life and make all our problems and anxieties disappear.  Boy, wouldn’t we sometimes like Him to be in that mirror where we can gain some reassurance and certainty from Him?

The difficulty with such a desire is that it does not allow us to grow.  It is as though, like Harry in front of the mirror, we want to step out of life and just hold on to an image of comfort.  In our mirrors we envision dreams of what the perfect parish would be like.  Perhaps, we long for how it used to be. 

We have our wishes for how the Church, the Diocese of Ogdensburg should be.  If only God cooperated more, or even the Bishop!  But God, my brothers, wants us to win our spurs in the messiness and marvels of ministry.

We are to live out the unique gift of the life given to each one of us, and through that living to come into our own special and personal relationship with God.  Our road to holiness and fulfillment is through our lived priestly ministry.   We are challenged not to become discouraged, distraught or disillusioned because, perhaps that image in our mirror seems, more and more, an unrealizable fantasy, a fleeting illusion. No, we embrace the chaos and contradictions of life in all its challenging mixture of good and evil, proclaiming the truth of our faith.
And, on occasions such as tonight, we have men who we honor whose priestly lives challenge each of us not to be afraid or hesitant to make such proclamation.  Let me give you one example.  I hadn’t been ordained very long at all when I heard about this man called the Carny Priest.  Everybody said that he had traveled to Burbank or somewhere in that area of southern California to be on a television show:  To Tell the Truth.  Such TV personalities as Orson Bean, Peggy Cast, Harry Morgan, Kitty Carlysle, and Bill Cullen would quiz and then try to determine which of the three contestants was actually the Carny Priest.

Well, as you well remember, Msgr. McCarthy could fool no one.  Truth be told--He was the Carny priest through and through.  There was no hiding it!

You know that we exude who and whose we are through our presence to people.  Truth be told, each of us happily reveals who we are - priest of God - through and through.  There is no hiding it!  That’s why our pastoral approachability is so important as we seek to welcome our neighbor to worship with us.  Yes, we labor and struggle, but, as St. Paul reminds the Colossians, it is God’s power that we exercise within us.

As Cardinal Dolan reminded us, we must be self-possessed, Christ-possessed.  It is His Spirit that encourages and challenges us in our ministry, particularly when our pastoral vision seems an impossible dream.  Sometimes we feel like the lamb among wolves in a society that seems increasingly hostile to the Church and Christ’s teachings. 

I’m so very proud and humbled to minister with you because the pastoral pastures, they are a changing, and you are determined to smell of your sheep however they come or go.

Despite our occasional fears to the contrary, we are not alone.  We have the presence of God living in and through us.  Even when we lose our way we are reassured that God is there, turning everything to our good.  It is as we grow in our awareness of this happening, we can enlighten the lives and ministries of our brother priests as well as the lives of all the folks with whom we live and minister.  Life is truly a journey to be lived, a gift to be unwrapped.  Yes, the road is filled with many challenges, heartaches and joys.  Through it all we, as individuals, grow to learn more and more about ourselves and our God.  We thank God for the gift of one another.  As companions on this journey called life, we thank God we have one another along the way. Tonight, we especially express gratitude to these Jubilarians whose lives of service and holiness cause us to rejoice and spur us on in our ministry to God’s holy people.  And we thank God for holy men such as Cardinal Dolan whose inspiring leadership instills such hope, courage and joy within our priestly hearts. May God be praised…forever may God be praised!

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