Fr. Charles Polifka, O.F.M. Cap delivers Homily at Farewell Mass
Homily – Thanksgiving/Appreciation Mass at St. Joseph’s Parish
St. Joseph’s Church - Hays, Kansas
June 10, 2013
I thought I was “off the hook” after I agreed to write the final Capuchin article for the Parish Newsletter, “The Carpenter.” Well, not so. Father Christopher Popravak, our new Provincial Minister, shortly after he asked me to write that article, called me and said, “By the way”… and asked me to preach at this thanksgiving mass. Obediently and willingly, I said, “Yes.”
So, for the past two weeks, I have been stewing over the right thing to say. I concluded that there is no “right” thing to say, other than the truth. So I want to speak “truth.” And, as Pilate asked Jesus who stood before him awaiting his death sentence, “What is truth?”
Truth is, in the words of the New Oxford American Dictionary, “that which is true in accordance with fact or reality.” In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, truth is that which sets us free. Jesus is truth. Doing what Jesus would do is truth. After all, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
It would be wrong for me to avoid recognizing the pain of this evening. It is a pain that I along with many friars and many present and former parishioners have felt for more than a year. It was reflected in an email from Kevin Rupp that I received shortly after our Capuchin Assembly during Easter Week of 2012. That email simply said, “Say it isn’t so.” It is a pain felt by friars who, while they knew something major had to happen in our province if we were to have a future, if we were finally to get out of the gridlock that comes from fitting personal to ministries, if we wanted to move ahead… Many friars, however, didn’t want THIS to happen. It was a pain that was felt, too, by parishioners of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Denver who didn’t want to lose the friars even after less than a decade of service. It is a pain that was felt by parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Colorado Springs. It was a pain felt in 1986 by the people of Atwood and parishes in Northwest Kansas; it was felt years ago by parishioners in Scott City, Marienthal and parishes in Southwest Kansas, by parishioners at Good Shepherd in Shawnee, by parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Thornton, CO; by people in St. Louis from the Alverne to Immaculate Conception to St. Patrick’s to St. Matthias and St. John’s. It was a pain felt by people in other provinces, too: in Herman, Pennsylvania; Wheeling, West Virginia; Hendersonville, North Carolina; Bend, Oregon; Marathon, Wisconsin; Huntington, Indiana; Metamora, Illinois…and others.
It is a pain that is part of Capuchin life. It’s source is our desire to honestly and sincerely live the Rule of St. Francis and the Constitutions of the Friars Minor Capuchin. It comes from continually assessing personnel, needs of the Church, and most of all, faithful living of our life. We would be useless and superfluous to the Church if we did not continually call ourselves back to living more deeply the values which make us Capuchin. Without opportunities for good fraternity, prayer, and detachment, our ministry would be empty and lifeless. We would not be the men you have come to love.
It is the experience of this pain that led me to suggest that we not choose special readings for this evening’s mass, but that we see in the weekday readings what God wants us to hear. The first reading for this Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, which this year falls on June 10 (today), said: “Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” (2 Cor. 1)
The Gospel reading, the Beatitudes, is also an appropriate reading for this Mass of Thanksgiving and Appreciation. In just eleven verses, Jesus sums up what the people of St. Joseph’s Parish, together with the Capuchin friars, have worked to achieve: a blessedness and happiness that comes from living and facing truth in life – truth that may not always be pleasant or what we would pray for.
All of us know that something which is alive has movement. I remember so well the dedication of the statue of the Sister of St. Agnes at what used to be St. Anthony’s Hospital on Canterbury Road. It’s now a “half-sister” in the garden at Hays Medical Center (I believe it was broken in a fall). But Sister Judith Schmidt, C.S.A., who was then the Superior General of the Sisters of St. Agnes, commented during the dedication of the stature on how the habit was sculpted by Pete Felton to signify “movement.” The skirt of the habit seemed to be flowing forward. I can’t remember her exact words, but Sr. Judith remarked that religious are always on the move. It is part of their call. Sometimes we don’t know where God is leading or pushing us, but we are on the move. Her words impacted me to this present day.
The Catholic Church is not a stagnant institution, nor is this parish, nor is the Capuchin Province of Mid-America. We are “alive.” The preaching of the Gospel enlivens us. We are on the move. We are following the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, ever in search of the Spirit. We are alive with a faith that sets us free from the tyranny of stagnation. And that means we must embrace the future, even if we don’t know exactly what that future is. We embrace it with a living faith and a hopeful trust. We must not abort that future in favor of death, stagnation, and immobility. We must protect it, nurture it, and love it. For when that future is born, the pain of the present will be forgotten because of the joy that comes from doing God’s work and accomplishing what God wills…the salvation of the all people.
This is a Mass of Thanksgiving and a Mass of appreciation. Christians are grateful people. And tonight we express that gratefulness. We appreciate one another. The Capuchins are grateful for the people of St. Joseph’s Parish. You have bonded with us and will continue to bond with us. We are and will always be family. We are grateful tonight for the new opportunities, possibilities, and hopes that are waiting to be born. For some who have been friars for many years, and for whom St. Joseph’s has been a pillar in our province, there is a desire to “let things the way they are” and not look for opportunities, possibilities, and new hopes and dreams. For the young people who are entering our Capuchin Order (and twenty five of them have joined us tonight); and for the many of us friars who seek to preserve a bright vision for the future; and for the Church who sees us Capuchins as missionaries and evangelizers who need to be faithful to our calling as Capuchins… for these there is an expectation and a confidence that we will accept new challenges and move on into a bright future.
The people of St. Joseph’s Parish are grateful for the Capuchins who have served here for over 130 years. We have ministered as brothers serving brothers and sisters, not as fathers overseeing their children. We are not an order of clerics. We have been close to you, because that is who we are. That is who Capuchins are: we are simple men close to the people we serve. We have been part of your families. You have seen our sins and faults; you have even, on occasion, seen holiness. You are grateful for us; we are grateful for you.
And surely it is our closeness, our transparency, along with our clumsiness and our humanness, our “averageness” (we are not the brightest men on the block) that makes good relationships possible and that makes it painful and difficult to endure changes. What you saw is what you got: that has been the recipe for closeness.
St. Paul, once again, as you heard…and who, by the way, had to experience many times of “moving on” because of his intense love for the Gospel…expressed it so well to the Corinthians, and I echo his words: “Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.”
My brothers and sisters, you are indeed our brothers and sisters, and you will always be so. Together, as a family and keeping the bonds of this family alive far into the future….for our brown robes and white cords and sandals will always be here…on the streets, in the churches, in the fields, in restaurants and libraries, in hospitals and nursing homes and all around…we will continue to be your brothers. And that is the truth.
Let us move forward toward those new hopes, new opportunities, new possibilities, as brothers and sisters, each according to his or her calling and following God’s will. To quote Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations (1953-1961): “For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is to come, Yes.”
Finally, along with Capuchin Servant of God, Solanus Casey, let us not only say “Yes” to what will be, but – and above all – let us “thank God ahead of time” for the blessings that are certainly to come.
God Bless You.
Fr. Charles Polifka, OFM Cap.
Son of St. Joseph’s Parish
Former Provincial of the Capuchins in Mid-America