So, if you had to choose a word/phrase, what would it be? When I shared this gospel question with my brother Joe, (the nice priest in the Kempf family), he too quickly suggested the word “Interminable.”
I decided at that point not to ask the rest of my siblings…
(Full disclosure, I chose two words.) The first word I chose is the obvious word. GRATEFUL. I am so grateful for having been able to live over half of my priesthood among you. I am so grateful to have been shaped and formed by you; to have been invited to be a part of your lives; to be able to share in family celebrations and weddings and funerals and all the stages in between. I am so grateful for your generous welcome. I am grateful for your forgiveness when I was less than I could be and what you needed me to be for you. And I am so grateful for the faith which I see in your hearts and lives. What a gift you are! What a gift you are!
The not so obvious choice, though, that bubbled up in me is HAUNTED. Living here for 16 years, I can tell you with certainty that St. Ann parish is haunted.
Some of the ghosts who haunt this place have names.
• Ann Lucas Hunt, Fr. Peter DeSmet, Fr. Adrian Van Hulst – the ‘trinity’ of believers who set the course for this parish 160 years ago.
• Msgr. Fred Sprenke – who hated soccer, but whose tournament continues some 55 years later…
• And then there are the more recent graduates into that cadre of spirits: Mike Britt, Pat Boul, Betty and now Don Muckermann, Mary Ann and now Gerry Quinlisk, Norm Jacob, Joan Russell, Emma Jane Philipp, David O’Keeffe – and so many of our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest – and yet who’s spirits still fill this church with their love.
Some of the “spirits” are still living. And they haunt us by their faithful, but often unseen ministry among us. The members of the Vincent de Paul Society; the Scout leaders and heavenly dusters and grass cutters and cemetery workers and flower keepers and choir members and table setter uppers and prayer pals and daily mass attendees and children’s liturgy of the word leaders and dedicated faculty and staff at our school and preschool and rectory, and ACA workers and finance council members and the 5 and 11 am choirs and the floor-moppers and bartenders and … (you get the idea) We are so wonderfully haunted by their love and service.
As I take my leave of this place – I hope my ‘spirit’ will be around to haunt you as well – so that you will know the God:
• of high fives and “head bonkings” (as one of the kids called it)
• of laughter and lightheartedness, of singing and praying
• of surprises and calls to serve God – not on our terms, but on his,
• and who is so incredibly faithful to us.
That is what allowed St. Paul to be so often on the road, so often leaving to proclaim the good news in new places. Because he knew Jesus’ presence in concrete ways, he could say with great confidence: I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me. And I can say: I live by Faith in the son of God who has loved me so well through you!
And finally, I hope you are haunted, as I have been, by this one last little story…
It was a sleepy Saturday morning in the vale. There was a man sitting on his front porch whittling. His dog was lounging lazily at his feet. Suddenly, he became completely alert as he caught first the scent, and then the sight of a fox way down at the end of the meadow. With a nod from his master, like a shot, he’s off. Baying and barking. Following the scent of the fox, now long disappeared from view. One by one, other dogs began to join in the noise and the baying and barking. They ran through forests and trees and streams and puddles. Ran on and on as a pack until their paws were sore and their tongues were hanging out from exhaustion. And one by one the other dogs dropped out. Finally, it was just the first dog, still on the trail, still barking. A neighbor stopped by. Wasn’t that your dog at the head of the pack. “Yup.” How come he is the only one left? “I reckon it is because he is the only one who saw the fox…”
“…he is the only one who saw the fox…”
I trust you know that I have never been anything but a barking dog. But I hope that you would come to believe in what I have seen –a Savior’s unconditional love. I hope you have come to know a bit of our Lord’s love for you through me. Don’t stop on that journey just because this barking dog is hunting in other fields. Make sure that you too, become people who have seen the fox…