Provincial's Homily at St. Louis Farewell Mass

St. Louis Farewell Mass - November 1, 2008 - St. Patrick's Church - St. Louis, MO.

Transcript of the homily given by Fr. Charles Polifka, O.F.M.Cap.
Thank you for coming to celebrate this Mass with us. This sacrifice of the Mass is for YOU. It is a foreshadowing, really, of how we will continue to be present to you daily – in the Eucharistic sacrifice and in our prayer…even after we leave here. It is here at the Eucharist that we as Catholics, as Christians, as people of God, are most really united. It is here that we celebrate the most precious gift of God – life itself…life here at this table, which is a foreshadowing of that eternal banquet table in the new and eternal life,

Even those who have gone before us – Father Alfred, Fr. Sylvan, Fr. Dominis, Fr. Herbert, Fr. Aquinas, Fr. Dan, Fr. Joe Adams, Fr. Alvin, Fr. Christian, Mitch Branford, Bernice Hansman, Jerry Webster and countless others…are united with us around this table – wherever and whenever we gather. The Eucharist is a celebration of life. And this afternoon, and at every Eucharist we celebrate, we celebrate life. We celebrate with God’s people living here and living in the new life, the next life.

The buzzword in these days is “change.” It’s on all of our minds. Political change, liturgical change, time change (don’t forget to set your clocks back tonight). This weekend, the Catholic Church focuses our attention on the epitome of change – change from this life to the next life, to NEW life. Today (the calendar day, November 1) is All Saints Day, but since tomorrow (Sunday, November 2) is the Commemoration of All Souls, on this weekend the church celebrates the mass of the Commemoration of All Souls. Whether we focus on All Saints in heaven or All Souls awaiting arrival in heaven, we are focusing on a life after this life.

We believe in the communion of saints, resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We believe in life. And we believe in life that changes until it reaches perfection in the fullness of life in heaven. All along the way, though, life is filled with beginnings. Life begins at conception. Life begins again at baptism. And again at death. And in between these beginnings are hundreds of other beginnings, as we begin grade school, high school, university, a job, a marriage, vows, ordination, retirement… Many, many beginnings.

So the thought and word that is on my mind today, as we celebrate All Saints on the calendar and All Souls in our liturgy, as we gather here to thank God for you and for all the blessings he has given to you and to us Capuchins during these past six decades…the word on my mind and on my tongue is “beginning.”

Something new is beginning, in the Church in St. Louis, in our society, in the Capuchin province of Mid-America. All because we live, because we are alive. For me, and I hope for you and for all of us Capuchins, to celebrate this Mass on a weekend when the Church focuses on new life is rather appropriate.

I believe it is appropriate because the Church calls us to think about and to pray about the new life that begins after this life. The next life. The best that is yet to come.

The Capuchins actually arrived in St. Louis in 1772. The pastor of the very first Catholic parish in St. Louis was – believe it or not – Father Valentine (but not Fr.Valentine Young). It was a Capuchin from France, Father Valentine de Neufchateau. The Capuchins left seven years later in 1789. Then twenty years later a Capuchin from Ireland came here in 1806 and left in 1808. Finally, in 1943, the Capuchins arrived here again. Now in 2008, we move on again. You never know when and where we will show up again.

We are an itinerant bunch, as were Francis’ followers in the 1200’s, as were the friars in the 1700’s and 1800’s and as are the friars today. This is one of our “charisms” – itinerancy. We are not Benedictines who vow stability. We are men on the move who live not in monasteries, but in friaries. We are men who love life and try to follow common sense – a common sense that makes us aware of aging and numbers. We are men who listen to the Holy Spirit who challenges us to live our life in new and challenging ways as we respond to common sense. We are men who profess evangelical vows and commit ourselves to the Capuchin Constitutions which call us to live in fraternity, prayer and simplicity.

Centuries before Fr. Valentine came to St. Louis to be the first Catholic pastor in 1772, Spanish explorers came to this land in search of the “fountain of life.” The stories of Ponce de Leon and other explorers who were certain that somewhere in this new land was the fountain of life always fascinated me. What also fascinated me was that followers of Francis, itinerant friars, always seemed to be included in their expeditions. Of course, these explorers, as all of us will one day, actually did discover the fountain of life, but not in the way they envisioned.

Our faith in the resurrection of Jesus assures us that we are all on an expedition to discover the fountain of life. That is our mission in life, our purpose, our goal. That expedition leads from conception to birth to the waters of baptism, to the Eucharistic table, to each of the sacraments, to death, and finally into eternal life – the real fountain of life.

Jesus, in the Gospels, is constantly on the move. St. Mark’s Gospel really makes that obvious. Jesus does not wait for grass to grow under his feet. He was the first among itinerants. St. Paul, too, was a man on the move. He felt the urgency of sharing Jesus with the world. Francis and his brothers were on the move. So we, too, in following Jesus and Francis, do not stop too long to greet others along the way. We are in a search for that fountain of life.

So again, I believe that it is quite fitting to celebrate our gratitude for the blessings given and received in St. Louis on this special weekend. It was, in a way, made to order for us as we prepare to move on from here at the end of the year.

As Capuchins – as followers of the Gospel in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare – our expedition is leading us forward to new life, closer and closer to the true fountain of life. There is sadness. I feel it acutely. I see the pain of men who have expended so much life, goodness, generosity over these six decades, from Frs. Sylvan and Herbert to Fathers Earl, Canice, Simon and Valentine…friars who have made such good friends…and now must face something new and less certain. They are like Abraham in the Old Testament, who at the age of 75 left his homeland and moved on to a new life and a new land.

There is sadness, too, among our friends, our affiliates, the people we have served and have befriended, because you, too, must face something new and less certain. The sadness is the sadness that comes along with loving. We all love much, and we will continue to love much. We rejoice, too, today with an unspeakable kind joy, a joy that has no words but comes from inside us – because we not only love much but we live much. Living is a source of joy.

And so, it is with grateful hearts, hearts filled with love, hearts that overflow with that love…that we Capuchins continue our expedition for the fountain of life…using common sense, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and our commitment to our Capuchin Way of Life. The Commemoration of All Souls is not a commemoration of death a nd ending; nor is it a celebration of death and ending. It is a celebration of life and of the beginning of something new. We go forth from this mass, sad because we love much, but joyful because we live just as much. Thank you, every one of you, for your love and your support of our Capuchin Franciscan life and ministry.

We will continue to love you and to be with you…in prayer, in every Eucharist that we celebrate, and in the journey toward the fountain of life. We will not be far, no farther than the Eucharistic table. We ask you to stay close to us, too, in your prayers for us, in your continued support of our formation programs and missions and our ministries along the way. We will not forget you. I know you will not forget us.

In the words of St Francis of Assisi, “May the Lord give you peace.”