May 08, 2022 – Six More Years!

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

On the occasion of my being named Pastor of Assumption

Pastoral Plan Letter and Outline: English || Spanish

Readings || Lecturas

Previous Years: 2019

Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA

English Recording & Transcript

[00:00:01] I have not done the research necessary to know if this was true before the Second Vatican Council, but certainly since the revised lectionary following the council, the fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. And the reason is because whether we’re in Year A, Year B or Year C, we always get a selection from the 10th chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus’s long dialogue about being the good shepherd. So Year A we get about ten verses, Year B, we get about ten verses, and then this year we get sort of the final verses of that chapter. Well, it’s providential then that it should be on this Sunday that I get to confirm for you that the diocese has confirmed for me that on July 1st I will be named pastor of Assumption, ideally with another six year term. [Applause] I’m very excited about it. I’ve been telling people. I’ve never been in a place this long. My parents divorced when I was nine, so the first four years don’t count. I can’t remember those. And so I did K through 4 in Texas and then 5th through 8th in South Seattle and then I switched to high school. So that was a big change. Then I went to Boston for four years. Then Renton for a year, Portland for two years, Chicago for four years, two years in the Skagit Valley, and now three years here. I’ve never been in a place longer than four years as long as I can remember. So the fact that I would be here for nine years is really exciting and also really scary. I don’t know what to do with stability. You’re going to have to teach me.

[00:01:51] I also find it is just a change in title. I mean, I’ve been approaching this role since I got here with the same love that I will always have for you. But the change in title matters because Priest Administrator in Canon Law is a temporary designation. They’re just supposed to administer. They’re just supposed to make sure that the bills get paid and the doors get opened. But a pastor that word is the Latin word for shepherd. A pastor is supposed to shepherd, and that image is used all throughout the Bible on purpose.

[00:02:24] What does a shepherd do for the flock to which he is entrusted? Well, for me, a shepherd always has his eyes on the horizon for two things. First, he is always looking for the place where there is going to be nourishment for the flock. He’s looking for where are they going to eat? Where are they going to find good pasture? They have to constantly – the way sheep work – they need to move around. They need to find new places. And so the pastor is looking for that place. Where are we going to find nourishment and fulfillment? And the second thing the pastor is scanning the horizon for is danger. It is the pastor’s job to make sure that there are no wolves or foxes or mercenaries that are going to do any damage to the sheep in his care.

[00:03:14] I approach my job in the same way. I am constantly looking for the things that are going to threaten our faith or threaten our community. We’ve already talked, for example, about the idea of financial problems, you know, paying off our debt, making sure that gets taken care of so that we aren’t strapped with bills we can’t pay in a few years. That’s a threat. But it’s also always the threats to our faith, the spiritual threats, constantly looking out for those and asking, what do we have to do now to protect ourselves against those, to prepare ourselves for what’s coming?

[00:03:48] Well, I’ve been praying about this for a while. I’ve been discussing with the Pastoral Council for about a year and a half about what the future of our parish might look like. And for various and sundry reasons that I explain in the letter, we decided whatever we do should be paired with my being named pastor. If I were going to be moved, it wouldn’t make sense to start something I couldn’t finish. But if I’m going to be here for another six years, it would be nice to have a foundation for those six years. To talk about what are we going to do for the next six years as a community? What’s that going to look like?

[00:04:23] What we came up with you have in your hands, it was handed out as you came in. So if you didn’t get one on your way in, please get one on your way out. I explain it in the first three pages, but the back page is this thing called an annual discipleship commitment. It’s structured off of the pastoral plan of the Archbishop, but it’s  basically putting flesh on the bones of the Archbishop’s pastoral plan. The question we have to ask is, again, where are we going to find fulfillment? Where are we going to find nourishment? And also how do we protect ourselves from external threats? In both cases, we want the answer to be something flashy. We want it to be a big experience, this huge event, some sort of watershed moment that we can write home about. But my experience of the Christian life, my study of the saints, suggests that the true nourishment, true Christian fulfillment is found in the day to day. And our spiritual protection – the walls we build around the spiritual city that we are trusted with – those also come from the day to day. And so the most important thing we can do for our community, the most important thing we can do for ourselves and our faith is to ensure that we are really, really strong on the fundamentals of the Christian life, to make sure we know what it looks like to live a well lived Catholic life day to day.

[00:05:54] And so this list you have in front of you is simply trying to define that, based on the categories that the Archbishop gave us. And his categories are excellent because the first category, the first thing that we have to do to find fulfillment is to love God and, specifically, to love Jesus. We are Christians, after all; Christ is the beginning and end of everything that we do. Anything that we do that does not begin and end with Christ is peripheral and meaningless. We have to start and end with the love of Jesus. And so how do we do that? How do we love Jesus day in and day out? Well, we go to Mass every Sunday. We try to go to confession twice a year. We pray daily, at least 15 minutes. We try to grow in our faith, trying to read at least one book or have one study of some kind each year. That’s how we grow in love with Jesus is how we maintain our relationship with him. And again, that’s number one. First, we love Jesus.

[00:05:54] Then, after we’ve loved Jesus, Number two is to love the family of faith. Our relationship with Jesus is the relationship that we would have with our family. God the Father is called a father for a reason. Christ is considered our brother for a reason. It doesn’t make sense for me to love my parents and ignore my siblings. That doesn’t make sense. We share the same parents. Our parents love both of us, so it doesn’t make sense for me to exclude or ignore the same people that my parents love. The same is true in the family of faith. I love God. God loves me. But He also loves all of those who are part of his family of faith. So I am called to enter into a relationship with our parish, with our community, with my fellow Christians.

[00:07:51] How do I do that? How do I accompany others on this journey of discipleship? Well, I talk to them about Jesus. If I were to get together with my siblings and the only thing we talked about was the weather, that would be a really boring and shallow family. We’ve got to talk about stuff that’s more important than that. The same is true in our family of faith. We are here together because all of us love Jesus. If we can’t talk to each other about Jesus, what are we doing? We love each other, first and foremost, by sharing our faith with each other, by experiencing our love of God together, mutually as a family. And so we should all have opportunities to speak about our faith with each other, at least every other week, if not every week.

[00:08:39] We also need to help each other shoulder our burdens. Being a human being is difficult, but being part of a family is helpful because a good family, a functional family, they help and support each other, in good times and in bad. We have to make sure that we as a family of faith support each other, shoulder each other’s burdens. And then the parish, our whole job is to support the family of faith. And so we have to support the parish with either our income or our time or both. But it’s important that we make sure we are contributing to the needs of our faith community.

[00:09:21] Now, these are the two great commandments of Jesus. Love, God, love each other. We have to get those down first. Those are fundamental. They are part of the day to day Christian life. But if we become inward focused, if we become self referential, that love has nowhere to go. God is always looking outward. On the cross, he was looking outward, giving up himself for us. We as Christians also look outward. We love God, we love each other, and then we live out the gospel in the world.

[00:09:56] How do we do that? Well, the most loving thing we can ever do for anybody is to talk to them about Jesus. Jesus is the greatest gift we will ever receive. And so to bring that gift to the world is essential and important. All of these things on this list, these are what are called smart goals, which means that you can evaluate them, you know, whether you’ve achieved them or not. And they’re phrased in that way. Here, I’ve put that we should each talk to one new person about Jesus every year. And it doesn’t have to be a pagan, doesn’t have to be a heathen, could be somebody who already believes in Jesus. But it has to be somebody that we’ve not talked about Jesus with before. We need to expand our ability, our community, our network of people with whom we can share the faith so that ultimately, eventually, the entire world is united by our love for Jesus. We also need to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Jesus went to the cross, not expecting anything back. So when we perform these works of mercy, especially for those outside of the Christian faith, we are like Jesus, sacrificing ourselves for those who may not give us anything in return. And then finally, we need to have that attitude of self sacrificial love. We need to make sure we do one thing every year that we know we will not be acknowledged for or repaid for some hidden act of love and service, something that allows us to reflect the cross through our own life and our own actions. These are the foundations of a well-lived Christian life.

[00:11:39] The diocese, the Archbishop, also gives us four core values that help check us. Sometimes we have a misguided view of what love means or a misguided view of what these things mean. So he gives us faith in action, hope in the resurrection, truth in love, and unity in diversity. Everything that we do should be marked by those core values.

[00:12:01] Now, I’ve been praying about this for at least two years. It certainly started pretty early in COVID. And I’ve been talking to the Pastoral Council about it for a year and a half at every stage. It’s been clear to me that this is something that is guided by the Holy Spirit. I recognize the voice of God normally by knowing it’s not an idea I had myself. The voice of God for me is always challenging me, always calling me to something deeper or different or more loving. And so at every stage of trying to develop this, there was always a challenge, always something that I needed to modify or rethink. This has gone through so many versions, I can’t even tell you. And it’s been very helpful to talk it out with the Pastoral Council. But at the end of the day, when we finalized this in December and I looked at it and I said, this is going to be the next six years of my life and the next six years of our parish life, I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed because it seemed kind of boring.

[00:12:58] I mean, I know the foundations of the Christian life are essential. That’s why they’re a foundation. But it’s like, all right, you know, day in and day out doing the stuff, it doesn’t seem flashy. It doesn’t seem exciting. Well, the Lord has told me two things about that. One, the well-lived Catholic life is lived day by day. It really isn’t flashy, but it is incredibly fulfilling. Two, this is both a goal, but also a beginning. What do I mean? Well, you might look at this list and you might say, I’m not doing well. There are things on this that I’m not doing every year. I’m not sure if I could sign my name to this. That’s okay. The Lord – and because the Lord does it, we at this parish do it – the Lord meets us where we’re at. He says, Wherever you are, that’s where you are, right? We’re just going to start there. And we always work towards stuff. If you struggle with things on this list, maybe what you do is you pick one bullet point a year and you say, You know what? This year I’m really going to focus on this one. I’ve never been able to do this. I’m going to start trying to work on this this year. The responsibility of the parish is to help you achieve these things. You shouldn’t look on this and say, Oh, I’m disappointed because I can’t do it and I don’t know where to start. That’s our job. And when I say “our” I mean the pastor and the parish staff and the parishioners. We are all in the parish, but that is our job to support each other and make sure that we have everything we need to live out the things on this list. You don’t know how to live out the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. Well, gosh, we’d better have a class on that so you know what those works of mercy are. We’d better have programs you can join so that all you have to do is sign your name and show up. We’d better support you if the Holy Spirit is leading you to live those out in a different way. We’ll find a way to support you in doing that. It’s essential that our community be oriented toward helping people live these out. Everybody should be able to achieve everything on this list, and it is our job to help them. That’s where our parish needs to go in the next six years. We’re already there. I’m not saying we’re not there. We’ve got a lot of things that we’re doing well already. But it’s important to be deliberate, to ask, is there things that we can do better to take each of these bullet points and say, what is the parish doing? Are there things that we can focus more on? So it’s a goal.

[00:15:30] It’s something we’re all working toward, but it’s also only the beginning. Imagine we have 1600 families on our parish rolls. Most of them don’t go to church, but we have 1600 families on the parish rolls. That’s about 5000 people. Imagine if 5000 people in Bellingham went to Mass every Sunday, went to confession twice a year, prayed daily, grew in their faith every year, helped each other with their burdens, shared about the relationship with Jesus every week, looked after the needs of this parish. We would never hurt for money or time ever again. Talked to other people outside of their parish about Jesus. Practiced the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Made an example of self sacrifice every year. 5000 people doing that consistently in Bellingham. That wouldn’t just transform our parish. It would transform our city, and it might very well transform our state. It’s not a boring thing to live a well-lived Catholic life, because when we do it together as a group, it’s beautiful and incredible and dynamic and you can see the Lord working powerfully. It is a goal that we’re working toward, but it’s also a beginning.

[00:16:43] As transformative as those 5000 people would be, I also know that this is not an expansive vision. When I say it’s boring, I mean it. Like it’s really commonplace. The Lord is not boring. If anyone gets to this place, if they can sign this discipleship commitment and say, I am working on these things, I am living these out every year, they have made space in their life for the Holy Spirit to take them the rest of the way. This is what’s necessary to make space for the Lord. But then the Lord will take you places. You don’t know where He’s going to go. You have no idea what he has in store for you. If our parish lives this out, if every one of us lives this out, then we have made so much space for the Holy Spirit. I know I need to focus on this for the next six years. This is achievable by a bureaucratic institution. That’s what I have control over, is sort of the day to day of the parish. And we can work toward a list of goals. But I also know I have no idea where we’re going to be in six years, because if we do this well, the Holy Spirit has so much more in store for us and it’s exciting to me to know that I have no idea what that is. I don’t know where Jesus is leading us, but Jesus is the ultimate pastor. I have to get us through this stuff. I have to do this. You have to do this with me. But Jesus is the pastor. He can see a much broader horizon than I will ever be capable of. He can see where we as a community are going to find nourishment, where we are going to find fulfillment. He can see the threats that I haven’t even thought of, and he is going to prepare us to endure that with his grace and power and protection. I don’t know where our parish is headed, but I know that if we do this, we’re going to give the Lord all of the freedom He needs to take us there. And that’s incredibly exciting.

[00:18:42] Now, again, I only have control over the details. He has control over the big stuff. So what are the immediate details? First, below this is a place to put your name and sign your name. I don’t expect you to do that today. This is something that’s a conversation. We have to be a team on this. We have to be working together for a common goal. I’ve laid out what I think that common goal should be. This is my vision for the parish over the next six years. But I still do need your feedback. I’ve got excellent feedback from the Pastoral Council. We’ve talked through a lot of the language, but if you’re looking at this and you’re saying I can’t sign this for some reason, I need to know what that reason is, right? It is my job to challenge you. I’m not going to lighten the burdens of a Catholic life well-lived, but if there’s some articulation that’s wrong, some way to rephrase  that would help you, I need to know that, because what I’d like to do is to get to a place where everybody can sign this come November. It’s aspirational. You don’t have to be perfect before you sign this, but you have to desire to try.

[00:19:44] Well, in November we do our annual parish stewardship talk, right? Sign up to give the parish money. What I want to do every November is this. Instead, there’s a line about stewardship on there. You’re not off the hook for the stewardship stuff. But I’d like us every year to recommit ourselves to discipleship. And I want to get this to a place where all of us can sign it this November. The Pastoral Council and I have also talked about how to be deliberate about what’s on this list. The first two bullet points, we’re going to focus on personal prayer. As the pastoral counsel reminded me, nothing on this list matters if we don’t pray, because that is the foundation for everything else that follows. So we need to talk about prayer. I’m bad about talking about prayer. I’m not good at it. I’ve had to start reading books on prayer because I need to figure out what I’m going to do about this. So I will struggle as best as I can to be a pastor on prayer. But I also found a great program that we’re going to roll out in September. So, you know, “both/and.” But in September, we’re going to talk a lot about the habits of discipleship, what it looks like to pray, what our prayer life might look like.

[00:20:55] We’re also going to talk about small groups. For a year and a half, we’ve been running a small group training program behind the scenes. We’re going to bring that to the foreground. We’re going to talk a lot more about the importance of small groups, how they solidify our life in Christ, how they assist us to grow in our faith, how they help us care for each other. As a community of faith, I’m going to invite everybody to find a small group, to be part of a small group. I think that’s incredibly important for our spiritual growth. We’re going to focus on those two things until we feel like we’ve done a good job, until we feel like people have the foundation they need to move forward. And then we’re going to look at this list and say, What’s next? What’s the next bullet point? What’s the next thing we need to shore up and strengthen in our parish?

[00:21:41] A final note for this 25 minute homily. Our first reading talks about Paul and Barnabas preaching to the people they were comfortable with. They preached to the Jews. They were Jews themselves. They knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish faith. And so it made sense for them to preach to the synagogues. But then they ran into speed bumps, barriers, dams that they couldn’t get past. The leaders of the people weren’t listening. The people were were riled up against them. They were kicked out of town. So what did Paul and Barnabas do? They could have stayed in that place and said, you know what? This is what I think I’m supposed to be doing. I’m going to keep spinning my wheels and getting angrier and angrier that it’s not working and the gospel doesn’t get preached. But the most important thing in our lives, the most important thing in this world is that the gospel of Jesus Christ be preached to the nations. And so the gospel is like a river, right? You have a landslide. The river just redirects itself because it’s going to keep flowing. We will continue to preach the gospel always and everywhere, but we can’t be afraid, like Paul and Barnabas, to do something radically different. They didn’t know they were supposed to preach to the Gentiles. That was a crazy thing. The early apostles never thought that the Gentiles were supposed to receive the Gospel Jesus preach the gospel to the Jews. So they continued that. But Paul and Barnabas and then Peter in a different way, when they realize that there was a deeper call or that they being redirected, they weren’t afraid. They followed the call of God. I don’t know where the Lord is leading our parish. I know the steps that I have to take to make freedom for him to lead us.

[00:23:22] I don’t know where he’s leading us. The invitation I would make to you today, though, is to not be afraid of where he is leading us. We might run into things where we say this isn’t working anymore and have to radically change something that we do. We might find programs that have been around for decades and say this is no longer effective in preaching the gospel. I want to invite you into the adventure of saying That’s okay. It’s okay for us to redirect. It’s okay for us to go somewhere else so that we can preach the gospel. You’ve already picked up on it. Some of you thought it was just because of COVID. It’s not. My personality is such that I am always looking for the next necessary thing. I don’t like complacency and I don’t like comfort. The gospel to me is uncomfortable and I know it’s been hard for folks. I know that comfort is really easy. I can’t tell you the next six years are going to be more stable. I can’t make that promise because I know myself. The only thing I can do is invite you into the adventure. It is an incredible joy to preach the gospel. It is an incredible blessing to follow the will of the Holy Spirit wherever He leads, especially where we don’t know where that is.


Estoy muy feliz de anunciar que, el primero de julio, el arzobispo me nombrará párroco de la Asunción, lo que significa que estaré aquí por lo menos otros seis años. Ha sido y seguirá siendo una gran bendición estar con todos ustedes en este viaje de fe.

Un pastor de ovejas hace dos cosas: se asegura de que las ovejas estén siempre bien alimentadas, que siempre se les dé alimento. También se asegura de que las ovejas estén protegidas de amenazas como lobos, zorros o mercenarios. Un párroco de una parroquia hace lo mismo: es mi trabajo asegurarme de que estés nutrido espiritualmente y que estés protegido de las amenazas espirituales.

Para hacer eso durante los próximos seis años, he creado el plan pastoral que se les dio cuando entraron a la iglesia hoy. Es un plan muy simple pero también un plan muy poderoso.

Primero, debemos amar a Dios, y específicamente debemos amar a Jesús quien nos muestra el camino hacia su Padre. ¿Cómo amamos a Jesús? Vamos a Misa cada semana. Nos confesamos dos veces al año. Oramos durante 15 minutos cada día. Y aprendemos sobre nuestra fe a través de videos y clases.

Una vez que amamos a Dios, debemos amar a la familia de Dios. No tiene sentido que amemos a nuestros padres e ignoremos a nuestros hermanos. También debemos amar a aquellos a quienes nuestros padres aman. Lo mismo es cierto en la fe. No tiene sentido amar a Dios e ignorar a las personas que Dios ama, es decir, su familia de fe. ¿Cómo amamos a nuestra familia de fe? Primero, hablamos entre nosotros acerca de Jesús. Si solo hablas con tus hermanos sobre el clima, tienes una familia muy aburrida. En cambio, debemos hablar con nuestros hermanos y hermanas en la familia de la fe acerca de lo más importante en nuestra vida: Jesús. Creo que todos deberían tener un pequeño grupo de oración para que puedan hablar de Jesús al menos una vez cada dos semanas, si no cada semana. También debemos asumir las cargas de los demás. Una familia cuida de los suyos, y lo mismo es cierto en nuestra familia de fe. Finalmente, debemos cuidar nuestra parroquia, con dinero y con tiempo, porque nuestra parroquia es donde se reúne nuestra familia.

Tercero, una vez que amamos a Dios y amamos a nuestra familia de fe, debemos tomar ese amor y traerlo al mundo. Lo más amoroso que podemos hacer por otra persona es llevarla a la fe en Jesús, por lo que debemos hablar con otras personas acerca de Jesús. Deberíamos hablar con al menos una persona nueva acerca de Jesús cada año. También debemos realizar las obras de misericordia corporales y espirituales en el mundo. Y debemos hacer sacrificios por los demás que sabemos que no serán devueltos ni recompensados.

Todas estas cosas son el fundamento más básico de una vida católica bien vivida. Estos puntos deben ser la meta para todos nosotros. Si aún no eres perfecto en esta lista, está bien. Elija un elemento de la lista y trabaje en él hasta que sea bueno en él. Todos nosotros deberíamos esforzarnos por alcanzar estos objetivos, pero todos nos esforzamos en nuestro propio tiempo a nuestro propio ritmo.

Sin embargo, lo que es realmente emocionante de este plan es que, aunque estos son los requisitos básicos para ser católicos, si podemos cumplir con estos requisitos básicos, entonces hemos hecho espacio para que el Espíritu Santo nos lleve mucho más lejos. Aquellas personas que ya están haciendo las cosas de esta lista, están siendo llamadas por el Espíritu Santo a ir más profundo, a hacer algo realmente especial con sus vidas. Quiero que todos le demos a Dios el espacio y la libertad para llamarnos a algo más profundo. Quiero que nuestra parroquia le dé a Dios la libertad de profundizar.

Entonces, prácticamente, ¿qué vamos a hacer con todo esto?

Aun no estoy seguro. Sé que comenzaremos hablando de la oración y de los pequeños grupos. No estoy seguro de adónde iremos después de eso. Pero sé que quiero concentrarme en esto durante los próximos seis años, y estoy emocionado de ver qué hará el Espíritu Santo con este enfoque.

No tiene que firmar esto hoy. Quiero que oren por ello y piensen en ello. Quiero que me digas si hay cosas que se pueden mejorar al respecto. Para que, con suerte, en noviembre podamos firmarlo juntos. Por lo general, en noviembre les pido a todos que nos digan cuánto dinero nos van a dar el próximo año. Ese dinero sigue siendo importante, pero me gustaría pasar cada mes de noviembre pidiéndoles a todos que renueven su compromiso con el discipulado. Quiero saber qué tenemos que hacer para que usted pueda firmar este documento en seis meses.

Mientras tanto, y durante el resto de mi tiempo como párroco, continuaremos observando nuestra parroquia y preguntando si nuestra parroquia y sus programas están ayudando a las personas a lograr las metas de esta lista. Nunca debe sentirse solo al tratar de llevarlas a cabo. Si hay algo en esta lista que cree que es demasiado difícil, es responsabilidad de la parroquia ayudarlo a hacerlo más fácil para usted, brindando clases, programas y comunidad.

Mis amigos, estoy muy emocionado por los próximos seis años. Estoy tan emocionada de ver a dónde nos lleva el Espíritu Santo.

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