The Life We Intentionally Share & Pass On
This month I complete my 12thyear as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Waynesboro. I’ve lived here longer now than I’ve lived anywhere, including at home with my family. We’ve also had quite a few pastors in our relatively short 86 year history. I am pastor number 16, surpassing Fr. Bill O’Brien who was here 11 years; Fr. Eugene Walsh, our founding pastor, 9 years; Fr. Jim Kauffman, 7 years; Fr. Louis Berry, 5 years. The remaining 11, Frs. Hammond, Gormley, Cilinski—Julius & John, Browne, Quirin, Malabad, Noto, Foster, Ruoff, and Hickman, were here 4 years or less apiece. It made me wonder then, when I first learned I was being sent here, why they stayed only a short time and left in such a hurry. It sounded like Dateline should have been called to investigate. I concluded that at the time, Waynesboro was for some priests a springboard to bigger parishes in Northern Virginia. But Northern Virginia now belongs to Arlington. So I guess you’ll have to put up with me a while longer. Besides, the list of new parish assignments is out, and I’m not in it.
I have thought about the time I’ve been here. And one of the things that have truly made an impression on me is each passing year watching young people grow up, move away, and accomplish awesome and amazing things, but only if they send word back to let us know. And there are also those who once sat in these very pews, who have gone to take their place at the eternal wedding banquet. I noticed that when I first arrived, I would celebrate funerals for parishioners I didn’t know well. Nowadays, I know most of them. And it still creeps me out when some of you actually try to get me to promise I would celebrate your funeral, which I sincerely hope and pray is a long ways away. I wish for you all a long and happy life. But I take the opportunity to say that when that time arrives, whoever your pastor is here still gets first dibs. I could be somewhere else with other responsibilities, and regardless of your dying wish, I will still need to check my calendar. You may even threaten to haunt me. But I serve at the pleasure of the bishop. He makes the rules. I recommend you threaten to haunt him.
As pastor, I have a front row seat to the life of the parish. I love to celebrate weddings with young couples and send them off on their exciting adventure, that is, if getting married in church is still important to them. I love to see children brought to baptism and raised in the faith, eventually receiving their first communion, and then confirmation, although over the years the numbers have dwindled. I am most grateful that parents do an excellent job raising their children into upstanding citizens and faithful Christians. They typically fade from memory once they move away. Yet I have watched from the sidelines as your children have grown up during my time here. Like a teacher who follows former students from afar after they leave school, I will rejoice when young people I once knew succeed, and I will grieve when they stumble. My bond with parishioners, young and old, is built on the life we share. I tell you about my family every once in a while. You’ve met some of them. And I’ve met some of yours. But most people are reluctant to share, and I am just as reluctant to impose. So we bridge that gap from both ends, but only to the extent that we choose.
From where I stand, I see our parish community here at St. John as that mustard seed in the gospel, planted some 86 years ago, a tiny seed of a few families, today a thriving massive tree of more than 800 families spread out across the valley, ever joyful and vibrant in our liturgy, ever dedicated in many ministries to serving our neighbor, still attentive to the Holy Spirit in discerning God’s will, still open to the transforming power of God’s Word, still sharing God’s joy with those we meet, God’s welcome with those who have wandered, God’s healing with those who hurt. Much has already been going on long before I arrived. And I know it will continue long after you and I are gone. But we still play an important role while we are here. It is a task shared with us when we chose to be part of this parish family, allowing us to claim the parish as ours, allowing the parish to claim us back. We are reminded of this gift and responsibility every time we welcome a new member at the waters of baptism, every time we send a loved one home to God, every time we celebrate a milestone sacrament, every time we gather to listen to God’s Word, every time we are nourished at the Eucharistic table.
The growth of our faith community is ultimately God’s doing. As the seed is first scattered on the land, sprouts and breaks the soil, first sending out the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear to ripen and mature for harvest, so the seed of faith is first planted in our hearts by God, nurtured by family life, sprouting and ripening as we learn from others the way of Gospel living, then raising the next generation—your own children as well as those of neighbors and other parishioners, contributing to our shared life and mission, bearing fruit in good example and compassionate outreach, extending God’s life and mission further out into the world. We can’t always know how growth will happen, but we can provide what we believe it needs. We sleep and rise night and day through it all, we know not how life unfolds. But we rejoice to see that wonderful growth. And hopefully we will do our part to lay the groundwork for future growth.
As much as we rely on God to bring about that wonderful growth, God relies on us as well to contribute willingly and intentionally to that growth. Like plants, people will respond to their environment regardless of whether or not that environment is provided intentionally. But we cannot rely on random chance to produce a bountiful harvest of faithful, joyful, and committed Christians intent on living the values of the Gospel and furthering the growth of God’s kingdom. The faith we received is not meant to sit on a shelf, or worn on special occasions, or put away in some attic or basement. It is a life we are entrusted to live, to nurture, to prosper, and to pass on.
On this Father’s Day weekend, we remember our dads and those who have been dad to us in other ways. But a father’s legacy extends beyond passing on his DNA, or his rabid devotion toward some barbecue sauce or football team. Our dads would be proud to know that some part of them lives on in us, in the values we live, and in the people we love. The more intentional we are about it, the better. We honor our dads not just this one day, but every day we intentionally choose to live to make them proud.
So our God and Father has entrusted to us a living faith to carry forward into each waking hour, when we speak, when we welcome, when we serve, when we love. The more intentional we are about it, the better. The growth of faith will always be a mystery. But we are called to live it intentionally, to contribute to it, to nurture it, and to pass it on.
Rolo B Castillo © 2018