Last Homily At Our Lady Of Lourdes Church By Bishop Dan Miehm, October 22, 2023
Dear friends, it’s a tremendous privilege for me to be with you and celebrate this, the final Mass to be offered in Our Lady of Lourdes Church. I can’t thank Fr. Mark Gatto enough for extending me this great kindness. I served as pastor here from 1998 to 2004, one of eleven priests who was privileged to be the pastor of this very fine faith community: they were some of the best six years of my life and my first time as a pastor, so this parish has always had a special place in my heart.
Many of you have had an association here much longer than six year and so today is a bittersweet day. There may be some excitement at embracing the new – and that is good – but there is also sadness at saying goodbye to a place of worship, a place of service, a place of community that has been important in our lives; a place that holds so many memories for each of us:
These are some of my favourites: the Passion plays we used to have here in the late 90’s and early 2000’s which were always great productions; the active Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus (the Knights council started in my time); the Fall Fiesta, which was always an amazing event; the RCIA – because every priest has fond memories of new Catholics coming into the Church and many did so here at Lourdes; and – if I may say so – Peggy Jones (God rest her soul) who sat at that organ – I called it the judge’s bench – and with her talents, provided music for this parish for nearly 50 years. She saw pastors come and go and didn’t get too excited about any of us!
Those are some of the memories I have and – more to the point – some of the ways God blessed me during my service here. You will have your own memories of blessings received at Our Lady of Lourdes, whether you have been here for two years or fifty-two years.
As a parish, Lourdes ceased to exist formally in 2017, when it was merged with Corpus Christi to form the new St. Catherine of Siena parish. But both churches remained open and so not much changed practically speaking for the two communities these past six years. Life went on as it had, though you never knew which priest would show up on Sunday because they were bouncing back and forth between two sites!
But today, things are changing: with the opening and dedication of St. Catherine of Siena church this afternoon, this church building will cease to function as a place of worship. It will be shuttered, and the property divided and ultimately sold. Significantly, the community will now change. Some people will make the move to the new church building where they will meet many new people as fellow parishioners. Some from here will disperse to other parishes that may be closer – Blessed Sacrament or Saints Peter and Paul or elsewhere.
Today is a day of change and farewell, and with that some sense of loss and grief. We don’t have to pretend otherwise, and we can give that to God, who always blesses our comings and goings and who is with us through the changes of life.
Interestingly, the Jewish people in today’s first reading were also poised for a big change: the prophet Isaiah describes how they were coming to the end of their time of exile in Babylon. And that end came courtesy of the Persian king Cyrus, who defeated the Babylonian empire. It was he who would decide to let the Jews return to Judea. As Isaiah relates it, Cyrus is acting as God’s chosen servant, even though he is a pagan – and that is significant.
Notably, not all the Jews would return – remember they had been in Babylon for fifty years, two or three generations. For many it was the only home they knew. But many others would make the trip to their ancestral homeland and begin the task of rebuilding. In all of this, they maintained the sense that God was with them. The prophets had constantly reassured them that God had not abandoned them during the time of their exile. And they gained a new insight during those years of displacement.
They had always revered the Lord as the God of Israel but, stuck in a foreign country, faced with the alien and materialistic gods of the Babylonians, they came to understand that Israel’s God was the one and only: not just the God of Israel but the whole world and universe, the creator of everyone and everything.
We hear God speak through the prophet saying: “I am the Lord, there is no other.” If no other lessons were learned during their exile, this was a major advance in the Jewish religion. It meant they understood they could worship God and practice their faith, no matter what physical place they were in. God is not bounded by geography or nationality – a good lesson for us, as we say goodbye to this familiar and beloved place.
The Gospel echoes this theme that there are no other Gods than the one God, and certainly not the Roman emperor! We cheer Jesus for shrewdly outwitting his opponents here when they thought they had him trapped, but the lesson goes deeper than that. This story was passed on through the Christian community, not just because of Jesus’ cleverness, but because at a deeper level, it is a question he puts to each one of us.
Where do our loyalties and priorities lie? Money? Respect? Fame? A nice holiday? Comfort? Power? And dare I say it – a building? None of those things can take the place of God, and we must give to God the things that are God’s. Jesus doesn’t provide a list of what those things are; he asks the question and invites us to find our own answer. But the constant here is “Don’t put anything or anyone else in the place of God.”
For sixty-four years, since its completion in 1959, people have gathered in the church of Our Lady of Lourdes to render to God the things that are God’s: worship and thanks and prayerful petition, From this church, people have been sent forth to bear the message of the Good News, to carry out the works of mercy and to strive to make the world just a little better.
Today, we give thanks for that legacy of faith, hope and love And we know that though buildings may close, and communities may change, the mission of the Church will continue tombear fruit in the world. For the faith we have in God, the grace we experience in Jesus Christ, and our unity in the Holy Spirit is not dependent on any one place. Rather, we will rejoice in the blessings we have received here at Our Lady of Lourdes and seek to bring those blessings to new places and people on our various pathways through life.
All the while we will trust that God is equipping us to build up his Church – the Church capital C – one that is founded on the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone.