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When God Has Other Plans

After 14 years as director of Campus Ministry, God called Father Rick Wilkinson, CSC, to a new role within Holy Cross this summer. Here are two homilies from his final summer at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel.

July 1, 2012
Father Rick announces his departure to the St. Edward’s University community.
Father Rick

“Do not be afraid. Just have faith.” These words of Jesus are sometimes the only thing we can hang on to. Fear and faith met this past week in rain-drenched Florida and scorched land from too many forest fires the count. Fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable forces of nature once again exposed our human vulnerability. Fire and water uncovered our false sense of security and reminded us that we are not as in control as much as we think we are.

“Be not afraid. Just have faith,” has been my mantra these past 10 days. As many of you have heard, I will be leaving St. Edward’s early in August. From June 11–21, the United States Province of Holy Cross Priests and Brothers had what we call a “chapter.” The chapter was made up of 60 Holy Cross Priests and Brothers who were elected to represent more than 475 members here in the United States, East Africa, Chile, Peru and Mexico. The chapter is the highest authority of a province. One of its responsibilities is to select new leadership for the next six years. One of the first decisions of the new provincial superior was to ask me to be his vicar (which means vice provincial). I accepted. My primary responsibility is personnel issues. I started this new ministry of service to my brothers in Holy Cross at the close of the chapter — June 21 at 11:48 a.m., Pacific Time.

This was a difficult decision. I am honored by the trust placed in me, but the change also leaves me in fear and trembling. It is the sort of challenge that forces one to do his very best and then just have faith.

I have been here for 14 great years. I love Austin, and St. Edward’s has won my heart. I had hoped to be here for a few more years, or at least until the chapel was renovated. God has other plans. I hope I have served you well, and you need to know that you have ministered to me in many, many ways.

These have been difficult and confusing years to be a Catholic — difficult for those of us on both sides of the altar. Like the woman in [today’s] Gospel, both our beloved church, as well as our great nation, are hemorrhaging badly. The equality Paul spoke of does not reflect our reality in the church or in our nation. Those who have much, whether it be money or power (and they usually go together) have more, and those have little have less. Reaching out to the poor has somehow gotten buried by scandal, abuse of power and narcissistic entitlement.

The woman in the Gospel is a model of what our Church and nation desperately need. She had always lived with little and now had nothing. She had heard of Jesus’ power to heal, his compassion for the outcast. Maybe she had heard of his sensitivity to women. Perhaps she had been told that he was not a stickler to the Judaic law, which would declare her unclean and impure. But she had to take that leap of faith and reach out for Jesus. And she did, with a touch of faith and the hope for healing. Jesus felt her touch and he realized his healing power was being shared.

There is a similar power of Jesus when we gather around the altar, just as the crowds gathered around Jesus. We come as believers. A few might come out of a sense of obligation; some come in desperation and some in gratitude. We all come with who we are. We all come to touch Jesus, to reach out and be healed and nurtured, strengthened by the very core of our faith: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In reaching out for Christ we are reminded that we, too — all of us — are the Body and Blood of Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only breaks down the barrier of gender, but he also teaches us to never stop reaching out to God and one another.

Reaching out is often the best we can do. These Gospel stories teach us that no matter who we are or what condition our life is in, Jesus remains the great healer, the consoler who offers new life even when everyone else sees darkness and fear. This will be my ministry to my brothers in Holy Cross. Please pray that I grow in compassion and wisdom always ready to reach out to those in need.

Following the model of Jesus, we find that when we practice compassion to others, we not only lift up the fallen, but we lift up our own spirits. When we bring healing to the suffering, we find healing for our own brokenness. We not only restore dignity and hope to the dying, but we restore a sense of hope and purpose to our own lives. By our baptism, we are christened to be men and women with hope to bring, for in it is in our practice of compassion and healing of others that we find wholeness, compassion and healing ourselves.

And Jesus is there, always urging us, “Do not be afraid. Just have faith.”

 

July 29, 2012
Father Rick gives his last homily at St. Edward’s.

Earlier this month, I had a chance to spend a couple of days with my dad in New Hampshire. Saturday night he asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner or stay in and have lobster. I am not sure why he even asks that question anymore. My response was, as it always is, “Dad, that is a no brainer.” By the way, my dad is doing great. He turned 89 on July 1. His project this summer was to scrape, sand and paint the garage. When I asked why he did not simply hire someone, he answered, “Then what would I have to do?”

Father Rick Last Homily

But back to the lobster: The seafood market only had two-pounders. That’s a lot of lobster meat but really not a problem if you are a Wilkinson. And you would never think of sharing them; no, each person has to have his own. Halfway through, though, we decided we had eaten enough. The leftovers would be lobster rolls the next day. Growing up, we always had leftovers in the refrigerator.  My family even put in a second refrigerator in the garage. Leftovers can be either a feast, like the lobster, or rather unpleasant, like the pecan roll that nana would bring from Florida every spring that sat [in the fridge] as a reminder until we threw it out the next winter.

Did you realize that leftovers have a theological meaning? During my [recent] retreat, I reflected on the past 14 years here at St. Edward’s. As I reflected on my transition and read the readings for today, I returned again and again to the words of gratitude and abundance. The leftovers in the readings are a sign of the abundance, which is to say there is more than enough. And if God provides the food, the meal becomes a sign of God’s kingdom.

Abundance is part of our normal situation of life; we are used to leftover foods, too many clothes and, for me, too many books. Abundance may be normal for us, but it is extremely abnormal. Most of humanity throughout history has lived at a bare level of subsistence. There are still vast populations where there is rarely enough to eat, let alone to have leftovers. Food is scarce, and life is precarious.  For many it has not changed much at all from the time of Jesus.

For this reason, food in abundance symbolized the gift of God. To have more than what was needed, to have extra, was a grace, a gift of overwhelming generosity. In my own life, I consider myself to be extremely graced by abundance — not so much of material things but by people like you who have both nurtured and challenged me to be a deeper man of faith and a grateful priest.

I once described my life as “ordinary with extraordinary moments.” I have been extraordinarily blessed throughout my ministry to be a part of communities that have made me feel at home in the church. Maybe that is why I try to do the same with everyone who joins us at Eucharist. Being Church today is not easy for the thoughtful, prayerfully discerning and committed Christian. The lack of ease has nothing to do with one’s theology and where one stands in relationship to Church teaching. It has everything to do with people who are made to feel like leftovers, rather than the main entrée of God’s abundant kingdom.

Jesus is recognized in the act of feeding the crowd, and there is no mention of anyone being excluded.  The Gospel says Jesus was testing Phillip, but Jesus fed the crowd because that is the only thing he could do. You feed the food-hungry with bread and you feed the God-hungry by making them part of God’s kingdom, especially in the Eucharist.

Father Rick's Mass

I have been and always will be grateful for the community of faith here at St. Ed’s for our welcoming presence at Eucharist. That is not always easy in a Church that has increasingly closed the windows that opened in Vatican II. I share your frustration with our Church that invests 25 years on liturgical reforms and even longer trying to cover-up its own moral lapses and abuse. You have been empowering at times to preach from the Gospel the respectful truth that sin pervades our Church, as much from an institutional disconnect and fracture as to the modernism that seems so threatening to the hierarchy. This community is a nurturing one in that when we gather for Eucharist on Sunday morning, we bring our desire for God to the altar and to one another. This Eucharistic community is challenging in that we dare stride into the difficult tensions of faith and reason, and even the mucky waters of faith and religion.

Many of you have been very affirming of my ministry and presence at St. Edward’s. I would be remiss not to also recognize, affirm and express my gratitude for your ministry and presence in my life. I end with my prayer for you all. It is what I have to constantly remind myself of:

  • Pray. In prayer be truthful, gently, with yourself and with God. Let God be truthful, gently, with you. Seek God in everything you find.
  • Believe, even when it feels the fire of faith is going out. Like any relationship, faith takes hard work and lots of forgiveness and trust.
  • Don’t give up on the Church, please. For you dissenters out there, the Church needs you. Like any body, the Body of Christ is complex and sometimes ill.
  • Trust. Believe in divine providence because at the end of the day, when we have done our best, we can only give it over to God.
  • Practice humility because God is God and we — you and I — are not. Anyone who claims to know the will of God with certainty will be humbled by their own foolishness.

This has been a wonderful gig, and I am richer for having been a part of your lives. You have fed me well, and I have tasted the goodness of God in your witness to the Gospel. I leave with an abundance of blessings for having shared life and faith with you. I am grateful for your goodness, kindness, support and for many extraordinary graces you have given me, which I trust will give me strength and much needed faith in the times ahead.