Seven years after Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on the feast of Corpus Christi June 6, 2010 at St. Joseph Church in Conway, a new parish building is named in the honor of the Spiritans.
These last three Sundays we have been celebrating three of the central mysteries of our faith: 1) the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, 2) the gift of union with the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit on Trinity Sunday, and now 3) the gift of Jesus’ real and abiding presence in the Eucharist, in which we call down the Holy Spirit to change bread and wine into Jesus’ true body and blood, the food of eternal life which produces in us communion with God and with each other.
And the one constant is God’s transforming, life-changing Holy Spirit present throughout: transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, transforming frightened disciples into courageous witnesses for Christ, transforming you and me into brothers and sisters in Christ.
Throughout the last 132 years, these and all the mysteries of our faith have been celebrated here in Conway under the care of the Spiritan Fathers. Today as they move on to other mission fields, we gather to thank God for the gift that so many Spiritan priests over the years have been to St. Joseph Parish and the Diocese of Little Rock. And just as the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit is a constant in the central mysteries of our faith, so also has the presence of the Spiritans been a constant in the life of this parish. They have truly been a gift to us, a labor of love that we can never fully repay — the same as we can never fully repay any of the gifts God gives us. But isn’t it true that whenever we receive a gift — be it even something as simple as a birthday gift — we feel the need and have the desire to do two things: 1) to say “thank you,” and 2) to look for ways to reciprocate — say, when their birthday comes around.
Thanking is easy. The word Eucharist itself actually means “thanksgiving” in Greek and so during Mass we thank the Father for sending us a Savior, we thank Jesus for giving up his life to take away our sins, and we thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit. And today we thank all the Spiritans — living and deceased — who have served here for their more-than-a-century-long labor of love in our midst. But here too, as with other gifts, saying thanks is just the first step.
Reciprocating is a lot harder. Reciprocating the gifts that the Spiritans have been for us is complicated by the fact that so many of those who have served here in the past are dead. In these cases, the most we can do is pray for them and thank God for them.
And reciprocating God’s gifts is even harder than that because his gifts are huge and we have no equivalent gifts to give him in return. Indeed, in the case of God, all we can do is try to reciprocate, give him in return the best that we do have, knowing that it’s the thought that matters and since God knows our hearts, he can see our good intentions and that’s all he really expects. But on the other hand, he also knows when we’re not giving him the best that we have. And when we hold back on God, that’s where we start to get into trouble.
On this feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we thank Jesus for his total gift of himself to us, a gift we can only truly reciprocate by giving ourselves totally to him in return. We thank God for the Spiritans and we pray for them: for those who will soon be serving in Eastern Arkansas and for Father George as he begins a new assignment. We pray for vocations, including vocations to the Spiritan Fathers and we pray for Father John Marconi and Msgr. Richard Oswald who will arrive this week as the first diocesan priests ever to serve St. Joseph’s.
This will be a new beginning for your parish, but they don’t start from scratch. They’ll be building on a solid foundation: you, the faithful, solid Catholics of Conway — thanks to the Spiritan Fathers to whom we say farewell today.
Rising 7 years later , the St. Joseph Spiritan Center, Conway, Arkansas