Maybe by my accent, you can tell that I have come to you from a far away place! That faraway place is Oceanside!!!
After serving 20 years as the pastor there, at St. Margaret’s Parish, near Mission San Luis Rey, I travelled down El Camino Real, swung by Mission San Diego and arrived here on July 1st, the feast day of St. Junipero Serra, the great missionary of these parts.
His ancient footprints are everywhere around here. Except, Lake Murray. That was named after an Irishman!
I’m not going to tell you about myself too much. There is an “interesting” write up about me in the Sunday bulletin, color photographs included. After reading it, I don’t know if you’d be impressed, or terrified!
But it’s not about me. Even though the title of the article introduces me as the “new pastor and servant” (and of course I am), the most important description has to be also written in, and with blood.
It is the word “priest”. Fundamentally, that’s not just what I am, it’s who I am for you. Pastors come and go, but there will always be a priest.
Yes, I am grateful that you pray for your priests. But more importantly, as your pastor, but especially as your priest, I give you my assurance that as your Shepherd I will lay down my life for you, and take your prayers, your joys and sorrows, your hopes and your fears and offer them to our Heavenly Father on your behalf, at this altar of sacrifice.
That’s why, every priest must make the words of the Mass, Christ’s words, and make them his own: “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you.”
Whether you realize it or not, or regardless if you consider yourself worthy or not, you are worth the sacrifice, not only Christ’s, but also my own. And I pray that God will give me the strength and the courage to do so.
To that end, I am very grateful to my brother priests here in the parish who have joined me for Mass. To Father Bill, the elder statesman, who wears his beard well, so full of wisdom and insight. I am not there yet.
And to Father Lenin for his kindness and hospitality. I have taken comfort in his gentle and happy spirit (Smoother than any Jameson!)
And what is a Shepherd without a faithful sheepdog (man’s best friend), to round up the flock and to “go, get this or go do that”? Deacon Jeff. Thank you. Know that you’re going to be put to work, and for that I am grateful.
And of course, the Sisters have been an institution here for so long, giving witness through their consecration as spiritual mothers with tender hearts to all in need - the picture of a work of love.
Yes, I know that there is much work to be done. Particularly, healing. We have all been through an incredibly difficult year and I know that many are anxious to get back to the way parish life was before. But a word of caution.
Something I will never forget. 20 years ago, in 2001 when I first arrived at my previous parish in Oceanside, I arrived with all the zeal of a new pastor ready to do this and do that.
But after a few months, something happened that changed everything, everyone, relationships, even ministries. That was 911. And as a pastor of a church that served many US Marines, veterans and their families, the whole parish and all our ways of doing things had to change, and it did, overnight. Why?
Because we had changed, our whole way of life, our relationships, even our parish as we knew it changed in a heartbeat and we had to redraw the map.
Now, what we have all been through this past year, I liken it to a 911 in slow motion.
There is always that muscle memory, wanting to go back to the way we did things in the past (almost like complaining to Moses, that we want to go back to Egypt). There can not be any going back.
Whether we know it or not, we have changed, and our way of doing things, whether we like it or not, will change. This is missionary territory once again. We are entering into a new world, new relationships, a new way of being a parish, a church and a community.
That’s why my duty as your pastor is, first and foremost, to lead you to heaven, even if I have to pull you through the narrow gate kicking and screaming.
That means, I am under a solemn obligation to protect you, even at the cost of my own life, which I pledge to you today. Yes, we all will have to get used to a changed world and sacrifices, myself included. It will not be easy, and it’s not meant to be. But that’s married life. And what are the three rings - the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering!
We have been through it all, this past year. And I am very conscious that, although there is much excitement being back inside the church, there is also the need to keep this simple and slowly build ourselves up again from ground zero. That will allow me to particularly reach out tenderly to the sick, the elderly who are homebound, the neglected or those afraid. A good shepherd cannot ignore the most vulnerable members of his flock, wherever they are.
So finally, how do I intend to do this as your pastor, your parish priest?
In preparation for my being here, I started a novena to St. Therese. And I think she has provided me with the answer - it’s her little way and the little crosses and roses here and there, that we will all have to pick up and learn to love, with simplicity and gentleness.
But we can’t do that, without prayer. We all desperately need, myself included, a quiet place, a sacred place, far removed from all the storms and craziness of this turbulent world we live in.
And that starts here, at this altar and from no other place. It doesn’t start with programs or ministries, or from the parish office, the social center or the school. It begins here at the altar of sacrifice. For there is only one thing in this parish that will not and cannot change. And that is Christ himself. He alone is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He alone is the one and only cornerstone we must depend on.
Pray that I, as his priest, will imitate him as a good Shepherd and willing, never reluctantly, lay down my life for the flock entrusted to me, this day and for as long as it takes. So I have said it, and I will remind you again and again and again, “The Lord be with you.”
Father Cávana Wallace