Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Pete Iorio
For those of you who are visiting or new to the parish or maybe those who just have been away for the summer or folks who just aren’t paying attention why is there a huge tent in front of the school? No, it’s not a set of extra classrooms. It was the site last night of the reception for the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination as a priest. I’m so grateful to God for this gift because in serving you all as priest, I give myself in love and the amazing divine alchemy is receiving your abundant love in return.
You can just imagine how many people were necessary to bring about such an event. Many of you were part of the giving teams and ministries. I am forever grateful. And can you believe that 600 to 700 people at a huge mass and a big dinner reception put all of that on without any problems grumbling or complaining or conflict? If you believe that, I have a piece of property I want to sell you in the North Pole. Of course, there was lots of grumbling and complaining and problems along the way. We are human beings.
In the first reading today, the Israelites are on a journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses is their leader and did not take them on the most direct route. It was long and it was hard. They were free from the Egyptians; however, one of the things that they faced was hunger in the desert. They complained that they had it better in Egypt even in slavery because there, they had bread to eat. Scripture says that God hears their grumbling and provides for them quail and bread from heaven to eat. This is bread from heaven is called manna. In receiving this gift, the Israelites are satisfied and transformed in attitude. They keep going on their journey to the Promised Land. It took them 40 years of “wandering in the desert” and God sustained them along the way.
In our lives as Christians, we use the image of a journey. We are people on the move towards the Promised Land of Heaven. One of the symbolic ways in which we recall that is through ritual procession. We have a procession at the beginning of Mass as the cross leads the ministers and God’s holy people to the holy of holies/the sanctuary. We are together as a people of faith singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. There is a procession with the Book of the Gospels. During communion you walk in procession to receive the bread from heaven, the holy Eucharist. At the end of mass, there is a procession out into the world as we have been fed with the bread from heaven and the holy word of God and are strengthened to live the challenges of our daily lives.
I want to reflect with you my spiritual experience that I had in preparation for my Jubilee. You know I’ve been gone for three weeks on vacation. I went to my roots. The first week I spent in New Jersey with my family for a reunion. This was where I was born and grew up and my family made many special memories. My family keeps me real and grounded. Then I went to Ireland where I feel that God solidified my yes to his call to be a priest. I hiked up a few mountains while I was on the Emerald Isle. One time I was on my own and especially reflecting on 25 years of priesthood.
On my own up a mountain- praying. Reflecting brought me not what I expected which was happy highlights from the last 25 years: Special Masses, sacramental celebrations, pastoral “successes” NO!
God brought to my mind the challenges and difficulties including conflicts other priests, bishops, my own family, diocesan and parish staffs.
I recalled the very painful experiences of ministering to victims of emotional, physical spiritual and sexual abuse…even from priests.
I thought about the time I left active ministry and did a lot of soul searching.
I remembered the times I had to surrender my will to the will and the desire of three different bishops who gave me assignments I either did not want or did not feel qualified for.
I thought about painful experiences of having to fire parish staff members as a pastor.
Security and peanut allergies. Threats of lawsuits.
I recalled the unexpected death of my mother 13 months ago.
I was falsely accused and denounced.
God said to me as he said throughout my life: “Be not afraid. By your trust in me through all of these trials, you have not been disfigured but transfigured.” And then I said a prayer of thanksgiving that Bishop O’Connell ordained me a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville on Friday. August 6, 1993, the feast of the Transfiguration. The place was my home parish at the time on Signal Mountain.
My life as a priest and the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination is not just about me. It is about me and you in some kind of relationship…even if you’ve never met me before. We are connected by blood, by family, by friendship, by parish connections, by the Eucharist, by ministry, and in so many ways.
Human relationships are so important…so vital to thriving human life. God so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus….to be in relationship with humanity, to show us how to thrive in our humanity…
He showed us that to live and relate in this world means that we make mistakes. When we do make mistakes and when others make mistakes and hurt us, and when we hurt others, thriving human relationships require something called forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to learning growth and change. And sometimes the invitation is to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong.
As a priest of Jesus Christ for 25 years now, God has given me a particular way of relating in human relationships. One of my principal responsibilities is to celebrate the sacraments-to make Jesus Christ present to others. In the Gospel, John chapter 6, Jesus calls himself “The bread of life.” Bread, in order to fulfill its purpose, must be eaten to nourish the person who consumes it. This eaten bread gives and sustains life. A priest is in the person of Christ/in persona Christi. He confects the Eucharist. He not only gives the faithful (who sometimes grumble) the bread from heaven, he becomes the bread from heaven. A priest must allow himself to be eaten by others like Christ is eaten. During the mountain hike, God was showing me how I was eaten by my life’s trials.
Jesus says: whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst. I wonder why he doesn’t say whoever eats this bread and is satisfied will never grumble? Probably, because it will never be true.
Spiritual maturity really demands that we move beyond the grumbling to a deeper reflection on the presence of God with us and among us as a community. As I reflected on my journey and realize God’s presence, God’s power working through the challenges of life, so I invite you to do the same. Our growth in the Lord is to become more like him who is love, compassion, mercy, patience and is able to love even our enemies.
May Jesus the bread of life be our sustenance for life’s journey and our companion. A life’s journey is never a solo trip as a Christian but one in which we break bread together and pour out our lives in love as Christ has done for us on the cross and as he does now in us.
Eucharist come from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. The first person singular is Eucharisteo which means: I give thanks… To God to all of you who are God’s holy people. I want you to make the connection that we are a Eucharistic people. For most of us Catholics that means a connection to holy communion/the body and blood/soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are a Eucharistic people who always give thanks to God, hopefully without grumbling, even for the challenges that are part of our life’s journey. The transfigure us to be more like Christ.