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‘Please, thank you and I’m sorry’

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

By popular demand, the following is the text of Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk’s homily for the 50th anniversary of his priesthood on Dec. 20:

What do you say to the Lord and His flock when you are celebrating 50 years of ministry as priest and bishop?

Maybe you revert to words that you were taught as children, when your parents were trying to bring you up to be civil human beings.

It seems to me that there are five such words that each of us needs to learn to use as we grow up, and that each of us needs to have handy as adults in our relationship with the Lord and with one another. They’re appropriate on an occasion like this, too. The five words are these: please, thank you, I’m sorry. In the context of these five words I’d like to reflect with the Lord and with you upon the fifty years that we celebrate this afternoon.

We’ll begin with “I’m sorry.”

I suspect that some have come here this afternoon wondering whether I was going to say anything about the sex abuse scandal that brought so much pain to so many of us. I am. Before the Lord and His people I want to say that I regret what happened. I made some inadequate decisions and people got hurt and I’m sorry.

In addition to that, there are other things that I’m sorry for. I’m not going to list them, nor ask you to list them. After all, our time here this afternoon is limited. However, I do want to acknowledge that, as I look back over these last 50 years, I perceive more sorrow, more regret for the things that I have not done than for things that I have. Opportunities were lost, chances to do good were overlooked. The Lord’s gifts were not always used wisely, or were used not at all. I suspect I am not alone in this experience and that all of us, as we grow older, find that we have not made the best use of what God has given us. There has been too much omission in our lives, in my life and in the lives of us all. I’m sorry for that.

Next comes “Thank you,” acknowledging the benefits and the blessings that God has bestowed on the jubilarian, and indeed on us all. There are fundamental blessings like grace and love from the Lord. There are the blessings that constitute our human personality. We call them talents and they are gifts of God that we cannot earn but can only respond to and be grateful for. There are the people who have shaped us: our parents and our friends, our teachers and our superiors. There are what we might call existential gifts that we end to take for granted: living in a place of peace and opportunity, in a land where starvation is relatively rare and where medical treatment is relatively accessible. All this clamors for gratitude.

Those of us who have been gifted with a vocation to church ministry have special things to be grateful for: for the call to preach God’s word, to lead people into the life of the risen Lord, to help them deepen their grasp of the Lord’s goodness.

I suspect that if we were making lists, the list of things to be grateful for would be much longer than the list of things to be sorry for.
Whether that be true or not, I am grateful to have this opportunity to express in the presence of the Lord and of all of you how grateful I am for it all. Thank you, Lord. Thank you all.

Finally, “Please.” Please is a word of hope. It expresses the dignity and the worth of the one being addressed. It expresses the conviction that there is good to be expected from the one we address. We all say “please” to God with some frequency. It’s known as the prayer of petition. We know we are in need and we know that our loving Father wants to respond to our need. The “please” of our prayer expresses our hope in God’s care for us. “Please” is always appropriate because we are always in need and because God always wants to reach out to us in blessing. Please, Lord, be with us and make us what you want us to be. Bring fulfillment to the hope that you put into our hearts.

So after 50 years, what’s the bottom line? What’s the bottom line for the jubilarian and, for that matter, what’s the bottom line for those who jubilate with him? I think the bottom line is simply: “It’s good.” It’s good to be sorry for the wrong we have done. It’s good to be grateful for the multitudinous good gifts we have received. It’s good to look forward in hope for God’s ongoing plans for us.

And it’s good to have jubilees which give people a chance to get together and say: “It’s good.”

Most Rev. Daniel E. Pilarczyk
Archbishop of Cincinnati

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