I was ordained a priest on Saturday; yesterday, I celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at my home parish – the place where I was baptized, received my first Holy Communion, and Confirmation. These are the notes for homily.
By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.
On a random Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, on a date and season long lost to history, the door that separates the front office of Assumption friary from the rest of the building opened. I would have been in the fourth or fifth grade, likely working on long division homework, waiting on my mom to bring me dinner before I locked up the church. In the doorway stood Fr. Jim Czerwinski. I turned, looked at him, slightly irritated by the interruption. He said simply, “God is calling you to be a friar.” With that, he let the door close. I thought him crazy. He thought I ought be a friar. We were both right in a sense. It’s beyond my understanding – quite crazy, in fact – that God has called me to be a friar and a priest. Any of my teachers at Assumption, any one who shared a baseball diamond with me, anyone who grew up with me, whether it be twenty years ago – or just within the last year or two – knows this. God hasn’t called me because I’m perfect (and I’m thankful for that!): thankfully, God hasn’t called me to be successful either, but rather, as Mother Theresa is said to have quipped, God has simply asked me to be faithful. It’s all God really asks of any of us: simply to faithful to the love God has given us, by being faithful to the ones God has given us to love.
So often in our lives, the roads we travel contain joys and sorrows, successes and failures, doubts and beliefs, that we can’t begin to understand when they take place: and yet, looking back, we realize that the entire God has been holding us in the palm of his hand, not making our lives perfect, but loving us more than we could have dared imagined.
Yet, what we do here today is not just about you and me: it’s not about me and God, or you and God. No: it’s something much more than that. What we come here today for, into this holy place, where so many of us have been baptized, received communion, been confirmed, been married, have buried those we love, and spent a hundred forgotten Sundays, is to commemorate that the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are no less true than when he first spoke them. What really happens here today is that we recall that our faith is not just about what God has done for each of us in the past, but rather to make present what God does for all of us – together as a family – here today in this very moment.
This morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles seems so simple: “When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying…all of these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”
We do the same thing today. Just as Jesus’ disciples gathered together as one – a community of mutual support – so do we. Just as the earliest followers of Christ gathered around the table to break bread and make present what Jesus did in his life, death, and, resurrection from the dead, so do we. And just as the first friends of Jesus went out from this place to proclaim that Good News: that God is still up to something in the world and lives in each of us, so do we!
And God is up to something – yes, indeed, he is up to something in each of our lives, no matter where we find ourselves. Whether we think we have wandered far from God, or we think that it is the Church who has wandered far from us: God is indeed present in our lives and constantly calling us to a relationship that breathes new life into all our interactions.
And so, when the friars of this parish went about with their daily lives, preaching and teaching, healing and encouraging: they brought God into my life. When Neal Patten baptized me in this church on December 23, 1984, the Feast of Saint John Kanty, God was up to something.
Fathers Patrick Morris, John Pierce, Jim Czerwinski, Brian Cullinae, Robert Norton, Gene Pistacchio, Richard Trezza, Paul Sinema, Tom Kelly, Richard Mukowski, Paul Keenan, and Father Allan: all of them, by their simple faithfulness, made me think that God was up to something.
When my grandmother allowed me to use the piano at 181 Highland Avenue as an altar and sat through my interminable homilies as a seven-year old about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, God was up to something. When she, along with my grandfather, provided me a witness of faith, God was up to something.
When I served in this very place as an altar server, Sunday after Sunday at the 7:30 am mass, when I lectored after I made my Confirmation, when I was baptized here and received my First Communion, when a month and a half after my birth, I played the part of the Christ child on Christmas Eve, 1984, God was up to something.
When I was a sponsor for one of my brothers in this church and read at the Confirmation of another – when I bought my brother an icon of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux because he chose the name Bernard as his Confirmation name (in honor of Mets left fielder, Bernard Gilkey), God was up to something.
When I watched my parents raise my two brothers and me, take serious illness in stride, love their aging parents, contribute to their parish, and love each other with a love that I only believe existed in the movies, God was up to something.
Whenever I came back to Jersey on vacation and so many people in this church would offer me words of encouragement, whenever my father would tell me that he met one of you at the post office and you promised prayers for me, God was up to something.
When I happened upon role models of Christian life at Assumption Grammar School God was up to something. (This began with Sister Francis Joseph and my yearly attendance at the May Crowning of Mary because I didn’t want to write a fifty word essay on what the Blessed Mother Means to me, if I didn’t go!)
When I graduated and met faithful priests and religious men and women at Queen of Peace High School, the Catholic University of America, Boston College, South Boston, and Jamaica Plain, God was up to something.
When I made lifelong friends in Washington, DC on Flather 4 and 5, and then at so many different apartments and houses in Brighton the past three years, God was most certainly up to something.
When I joined the Capuchins, and gained a whole series of new brothers – and for the first time in my life had older brothers in Christ – God was up to something.
The list could continue for some time – but my father always told “Kid, when you stand well, stand silent,” so that is what I will do.
But before I do, I should like to say one more thing: whenever God was up to something in my life, God was also up to something in yours too. A vocation – whether it is a call to be a mom or a dad, a single person devoted to the Kingdom, or a brother or a priest, – this neither starts nor ends with the person being called. No: it begins with an all-loving God who gave himself to world in the person of Christ. A vocation continues to grow through the countless good deeds, words, and prayers of God’s Holy People: all of you. And so, thank you, thank you, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart. God has indeed been up to something in my life – and that something has been all of you. Yesterday I said something to my friends and I’ll say it again: there is an old saying that behind every good man stands a strong woman: in my case, I’m a decent man with a lot of wonderful people behind him. God love you all.