Dear Sisters & Brothers in Christ,
Well this is it. My final Sunday and final letter. It has been an honor and a blessing being your pastor. I am sure that if my dad, his mother and sisters, were still alive, they would have gotten a kick out of this. My grandmother’s family joined The Rock just after she was baptized, in 1887, and my aunts went to Rock High, of course. Although I think things have changed a bit since then.
I pray that you will continue to show Fr. Steve and Fr. Rodney, as well as all the Redemptorists that come after me, the same love and support you have shown me over the years. While we Redemptorists struggle to maintain all of our current commitments, Fr. Rodney’s arrival signals that The Rock is important enough that our leadership sought help from outside of our province. After all, she is the home of the shrine where the Perpetual Help novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help first began in 1922.
The Rock is truly a special place. And while the people of God are at the core of it, we are very blessed with a beautiful church, a long and vibrant history, and a wonderful reputation amongst Catholics and non-Catholics, amongst the faithful and the secular. And I believe we have tried our best to share those blessings with the community. My prayer is that this will continue. I’m confident that you will continue to joyfully preach, teach and live the Good News of Jesus Christ. That you will remain a welcoming community. That you will always work for justice, as you continue to build the kingdom of God on the corner of Cook (Haller “Ed” Nutt) & Grand.
Today is the Feast of The Most Holy Redeemer, the namesake of our Redemptorist congregation. Of all the possibilities St. Alphonsus chose redemption & mercy as the focus for himself and his new band of brothers. There are many things to focus on in our faith. There are thousands of commandments and teachings, rules and regulations, precepts and tiny letters of The Law. However, the most important thing, that which overrides all else is MERCY. On several occasions Jesus reminds us of the words of His Father, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice!” It is unfortunate that so many Christians are so judgmental. For some bishops, priest and ministers it seems as if it is all they do. But Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it. We all sin. We all make mistakes. We all fall short of the mark Jesus set for us.
Whenever we end a chapter, whether electing new leadership or setting policy, we always end with a motion to cover any mistakes that might have happened along the way. Well I know I have fallen short at times, and so, I ask your forgiveness. And I hope that instead of looking backwards to what was, or what mistakes were made (no matter who made them), that you fix your eyes forward and set your sight on new horizons, new possibilities. For “whoever sets their hands to the plow and keeps looking backward is not fit for the kingdom of God.”
The past, both the good and bad, is past. Focus your energy and commitments on where God is calling you to be today. Following Jesus leads us to tomorrow, not yesterday. While I do hope you can reach out to some of your sisters & brothers who have left or have become inactive, be sure to put as much energy into evangelizing new members. You know better than most that there are many in the Black community who are unchurched. Go forth and tell them about Jesus’ love and mercy. Tell them about the Jesus you know and love, about the Lord who has blessed you and set you free. Share your joy with those in despair. Open your life to those who see no worth in their own.
One of the groups that our Redemptorist leadership has chosen to focus our energies on is “The broken world.” Well there are a lot of broken people right here in St. Louis, right in our own neighborhood. When our Lord sent His disciples forth into the world, He commanded them not only to preach the Good News, but also to heal the sick. Church, you have the best medicine there is, your faith & joy, your belief in mercy & New Life. There have been Sunday mornings when I didn’t want to get out bed, mornings when I wasn’t feeling well, but walking into the church and receiving your warm welcome, then hearing the choir and stepping down that aisle was the best medicine I could have received. By the time I got to the altar my troubles had been washed away and my spirit had been renewed.
So “keep on keeping on” Rock Church. As Sr. Antona would tell you, “Just keep doing what the Spirit say do!” And your God will continue to shower you with blessings. Just keep on praising your God, and let your little lights shine bright for all of St. Louis and beyond to see. Let the Light of Christ burn through you, that all those in darkness may be led into The Light. May God continue to bless and protect each and every one of you.
In The Redeemer,
P.S. If you’re ever in the Grand Rapids neighborhood be sure to stop in and say, “Hi!”