Father Maher delivered the commencement address at Christ the King Seminary on Friday, May 8, 2015. In addition, Father Maher received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of his commitment to the Catholic faith and Catholic education.
Some years ago, I was asked by the leadership of our province to be part of a global project within the Vincentian community. The province had decided to take $12 million from its endowment and gift it to the six poorest provinces within the global Vincentian community. The notion was to help those provinces set up works for the poor, provide education of the clergy and laity, and foster the renewal of the Church.
I was asked to visit the Province of Indonesia, one of the six provinces gifted, to view the works of the Vincentian community and family as well as the Church of Java, Indonesia. It was a phenomenal experience.
I was met and guided by the Provincial at the time, Father Sad Budianto, C.M. Throughout my time on the island of Java, I was never alone. Every site I visited found me accompanied by some person related to the Vincentians and the Church.
Upon departing Indonesia through the city of Surabaya, I was accompanied by Father Budianto. He drove me to the airport, walked me to the ticket counter, and escorted me through security and right to the gate from where my plane was departing.
At each point, I would say, “Budi, I am fine, I know you have other things to do.” He would simply smile gently and say, “I will accompany you.”
When we discussed it further, he told me, “Jim, in the Church of Indonesia, we believe deeply in the ministry of accompaniment. That is why we would never leave you alone.” We as Vincentians accompany our people on the journey of faith and life.
Very interestingly, in some of Pope Francis’s writings, he challenges priests to accompany people, particularly the poor, marginalized and those who live in isolation. I do not speak for Pope Francis in any way but I do believe in his call for us, as priests, to promote lay ecclesial ministry and to evangelize through a theology and ministry of accompaniment, in truth, by our very baptism in Christ.
So, on this wonderful occasion in which this assembly, the Church and the Church of Buffalo celebrate your accomplishment, I offer some thoughts that emerge from my 25 years of priestly ministry in the Congregation in the Mission.
First, build pastoral and professional competency. At the heart of those competencies must lay your faith in Christ and your commitment to accompany people as ministers of the Gospel in their journey of faith and life.
Second, be ministers who have the spirit of Kenosis breathed into every fiber of your body and spirit. It is that spirit of Christ that we read about in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, Christ emptied himself, being born in the likeness of a slave, humbling himself, becoming obedient to death on the cross.” Look toward the model of Pope Francis; follow his example of selfless, joyous and abundant love.
Third, minister out of your own conversion. We must know the reality of sin in our own lives, our frailty and weakness, and call upon the grace and mercy of Christ. That is what will lead people to our ministry and the Gospel of Christ. Our words, deeds and behaviors need to point to the redemptive salvation offered in Christ. We are on that journey of salvation.
Fourth, be committed to grow in your call to a prophetic vocation in Christ, in faith and in integrity. Become a voice for the voiceless. Call others to prayer, reflection and action on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, the lonely and isolated. As we look upon the unsettling events in Ferguson and Baltimore, we see the role ministers of the gospel can play in promoting and planting the seeds of justice, charity and healing.
Fifth, be people who see yourselves as servants of the Church of Buffalo. You now hold an ecclesial degree. Work for the mission of the universal church. In your ministry, build up the body and community of the Church in Buffalo with your fellow ministers, priests and the Bishop of Buffalo. You have such a wonderful opportunity to do so. Do not waste it.
Finally, as ministers who are evangelizers of the Gospel of Christ, be people of deep faith who unify others around a vision of the Gospel. I offer you the example of St. Vincent de Paul. The author Bernard Pujo writes, “What is the secret of Vincent’s remarkable influence? He left us neither a learned treatise nor a body of doctrine on the little volume of his Rule, a brief synthesis of his spirituality. He opened the doors of the Church, teaching the clergy to work with the laity, the first who dared to value the contribution of women. He was an initiator of assistance to abandoned children, to prisoners, victims of catastrophe, refugees, and housebound invalids. He was a precursor, showing the way that is followed today by institutions and governmental departments of social services.” (Pujo, pp 251)
Pujo also writes of the death of St. Vincent, “On September 26, he received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, he assisted at Mass and died in the morning. He remained seated, handsome as ever, majestic and venerable. He died in his chair, completely dressed, near the fire. It was about 4 a.m., an hour when he had been accustomed to rise and begin the day filled with prayer and charity.” (Pujo, pp. 247)
May we be blessed with such a wonderful death, which is united with how we lived and accompanied others on their journey of faith and life. Congratulations.