First Mass Sacred Heart
I am in love. Deeply, madly, shamelessly in love.
I recognize the symptoms because I have fallen in love before. I have loved a woman. I was married for 37 years to Cynthia and we have six children. We lost Cynthia a few years ago to Cancer.
I’m not the only person here who has experienced love. Many of you know what it feels like to be deeply, hopelessly in love, and you know the joys, the demands and consequences of that love.
For fifteen years prior to my ordination to the priesthood I was a permanent deacon. A year after Cynthia’s death I was accepted to the seminary and ordained a priest two years ago. A few weeks prior to my recent ordination to the priesthood, I had an interview with our bishop, an interview that is required of all seminarian deacons about to be ordained as priests. The bishop must ask us about our beliefs regarding obedience, celibacy and simplicity of life (how we will live with money and possessions). This is just as important a discussion between a bishop and those whom he is about to ordain as between fiancés before they marry. Those who are engaged to be married need to have serious, honest, intimate conversations about fidelity, chastity and with how much simplicity they will live their lives together. These are necessary topics of conversation for people who are deeply in love, and who are preparing to make their commitment permanent and public.
For me the answers to the Bishop’s questions come from my heart, naturally, much as they did when I fell in love with Cynthia. I was in love then. I am in love now. My reply to Bishop Vasquez was — that I am hopelessly in love with God and His Church. When you are in love, you place the one you love ahead of everything else in your life. You learn to love the other as you love yourself. And you become somewhat fearless in the face of obstacles.
God has given me the time, the health and the opportunity to continue to live my life in love, as a priest. For the past two years I served at St. John Catholic Church in San Marcos. Now I am here at Sacred Heart Parish to fall in love with you.
It is not clear to me how to go about that. I know from experience that it takes time. I am learning that this is a strong parish, a good parish. But I must learn how to love you.
This is what priestly vocation and marriage are all about, learning to share God’s transforming love between us, and to allow ourselves to grow ever more committed in that love. When we share openly our deepest love for, and commitment to one another, without conditions, without reservations, without fear, we imitate Jesus and draw near to the Father in Him through the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit of God, we speak Truth to one another. Love doesn’t permit anything else.
We will come to know each other’s faith in this journey. And we will experience misunderstandings. The people of Nazareth could not see the hand of God on Jesus because they could not see past his human roots. He was too human for them. God could not be human, not this human for the neighbors and relatives of Jesus.
There is a common misunderstanding in this text that must be explained. Jesus did not have brothers and sisters as we understand the words today. Both Greek and Hebrew used the same words for brother and sister as for cousins. That is not so strange. We also see that in Hispanic cultures and others as well. Each of these people named, James, Joses, Judas and Simon had other mothers, not Mary. The Evangelist names the other mother later in the Gospel.
As we get to know one another, will encounter each other’s weaknesses, like St. Paul confessed his “thorn in the flesh” to God. That is inevitable between lovers. But God will perfect our love through our weakness, and give us Grace and power, as he told Paul. We will get through it.
We fail in our love when we attempt to choose with whom and when we will love. You and I have entered into a form of “arranged” marriage here. We didn’t choose one another; the choice was made by our bishop. However we will learn to love one another.
And, when we fail in love, we know it, if we are honest with ourselves. That is when we confess our sins, ask for forgiveness from one another and from God, and return to loving one another.
Today I am deeply thankful for this opportunity to live my life in love with you. I am thankful for all the fruit love has provided me. I cannot imagine life outside of this love, and outside our faith. I long to share this love with whomever I meet. That is what is happening here, today. This is how I will serve you, alongside our Associate Pastor, Fr. Uche.
And as we are learning to fall in love with one another, we will gradually lose our fear and hesitancy to have those conversations which lovers must have as we grow in intimacy and common purpose. We will speak earnestly about how to inherit eternal life. And we will speak about fidelity and obedience to Mother Church and to one another, chastity and the way we will respect life and one another, and about the simplicity of life with which we will live our lives together, sharing our gifts for the common good. Together we will continue to learn to be “Good Samaritans” to one another. In love we will lead one another to heaven. I feel so blessed to be here with you.
Fr. Mark Hamlet