Pastoral Letter: Jesus Chooses

Dear Sisters and Brothers –

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend the ordination to the priesthood of then-Deacon Bobby Karle. Now-Father Karle spent his deaconate year with us preaching a few Sundays a month. Sadly, the pandemic prevented his greater involvement, but we came to know his heart, his love for God and his passion for justice through his preaching.

It was a glorious day in Milwaukee. Fr. Bobby was ordained with seven other Jesuits at The Gesu Church on the campus of Marquette University. It was a wonderful experience to process down the main aisle of a very full church with the assembly exuberantly singing the hymn O God Beyond All Praising, one of my favorites. During the ordination Mass, I reflected several times on the generosity of the Jesuits being ordained. And as I reflected on the offering they were making of their lives, I considered some of the context in which they were doing it: The summer before their second year of theological studies, the Pennsylvania grand jury issued a report detailing decades of sexual abuse by priests and its coverup by bishops, and this summer, the United States bishops are engaged in a divisive battle on worthiness to receive the Eucharist at Mass. Either of these could be scandalous enough to lead one to serious reevaluation of why he was choosing to be ordained. I think the key is in the word “choose,” and understanding who does the choosing. The answer is, of course, Jesus. He is the one who chooses and calls, and we respond with generosity. (This begs a conversation on who is called to ordained ministry, a topic for another conversation.) My reflections led me to back to Mary’s trust at the time of the Annunciation and Joseph’s trust in his dreams, to the trust people have in one another when choosing to marry or to start a family. We see this same trust in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jairus seeking out Jesus to heal his daughter and the hemorrhaging woman hoping only to touch Jesus’ cloak. And therein is the fundamental call by Jesus, to come to him no matter the circumstances of our lives or the state of our souls, to trust that his love for us will heal and sustain, guide and ultimately be the source for life and for joy. As Fr. John Whitney, S.J., wrote recently and Fr. James Martin, S.J., reposted on his Facebook page, “The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (‘all you who labor’); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (‘take this all of you … this is my body, this is my blood’). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers.” (For the full quote, click here.)

I will confess to other feelings while at the ordination. As I mentioned above, it was a very full church, with people sitting shoulder to shoulder, pew behind pew, mostly maskless and singing with gusto. While it was an experience I have missed and even longed for throughout the pandemic, it set me on edge and made me somewhat fearful, despite being fully vaccinated and clear about the science behind it. It was a good reminder to me that as we emerge from a year of great caution, people are negotiating “reentry” differently. I know that I’ve been exuberant about having people back in the church, and I fear I may have communicated a disregard for the different ways we are emerging from the trauma of the past 15 months. I want to say clearly here that we honor the decisions about returning to Mass people are making, and the reinstatement of the “Sunday obligation” by bishops should be but one piece of data people use in their discernment about what is best for their physical and emotional health. And be assured that the Table will be set and waiting for you whenever you come back, and we will welcome you with open arms!

Finally, I am very pleased to announce that the Provincial of the Jesuits West Province has missioned Fr. John Whitney (mentioned above) to St. Ignatius Parish as Associate Pastor. Fr. John entered the former Oregon Province the same year I entered the former California Province. We met a few weeks after taking our first vows as we began two years of philosophy studies at Gonzaga University. After working in our respective provinces for three years, we spent another four years together in Berkeley studying theology, and living together for two of those years. After ordination in 1994, Fr. John spent time at Seattle University teaching philosophy and serving as a chaplain, followed by two years as the superior and English teacher at Seattle Prep. In 2002, he was appointed Provincial and served the Oregon Province in that capacity until 2008. In 2009, he became the Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Seattle, Washington, where he served until last year, after which he has enjoyed a well-deserved sabbatical. I am very happy to welcome him to our community! Fr. John is a magnificent preacher and speaker, and he has a deep passion for teaching. He will join our parish in mid-August. In the meantime, let us pray for him as he prepares to join us. And, as always,

oreumus pro invicem.

Fr. Greg