|Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?
The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-18.
• Psalm 34: 2-3, 16-21.
• Ephesians 5: 21-32.
• John 6: 60-69.
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Galatians 3: 16-22.
• Psalm 73: 20, 19, 22.
• Luke 17: 11-19.
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; the Otdanije (Leave-Taking) of the Dormition; the Feast of the Holy Martyr Lupus; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyr Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• I Corinthians 16: 13-24.
• Matthew 21: 33-42.
8:18 AM 8/23/2015 — I want, first of all, to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Haffert's family and friends who are joining us for Holy Mass today. It is a great privilege to have you here with us today. For those who are here for our regular Sunday Mass, I should explain that today we are remembering the late Mr. John Haffert on the anniversary of his birth; and, if you don't know who John Haffert is, you should, because he built this very place in which we are blessed to be offering Holy Mass today. Along with Monsignor Colgan, he founded the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, and donated this land, on which was his home, for the construction of this wonderful place that has become so much a part of our spiritual lives. And just so everyone's on the same page, here is the program for today:
Today's Mass is being broadcast world-wide on the Internet by means of our web cam—so be on your best behavior and watch your language. Immediately after the conclusion of Holy Mass, the Executive Director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, Mr. David Carollo, will make some remarks, and will introduce to you the custodian of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue, which we are blessed to have with us here today, to tell you a bit about this particularly significant image of Our Lady of Fatima. Following that, I would ask those who wish to further honor the memory of Mr. Haffert to mosey on up the cemetery, where he and Msgr. Colgan are buried—exactly how one moseys I'm not sure, but find your way up there anyway—where we will pray together the Fatima prayers;—so you will need to bring your song sheets with you—following these prayers, Mr. Carollo will say a few more words about Mr. Haffert; perhaps a few remarks from John's wife, Pat; then, I will offer a traditional prayer for the deceased, and we will conclude at the cemetery by singing together the Salve Regina, which was Mr. Haffert's favorite hymn.
When I first landed here a little over a year ago, having been assigned here by the bishop of our diocese, I'm sure a lot of people were wondering, “Who is this guy?” But my assignment here was not totally out of the blue. When health concerns required me to give up the two parishes where I had been pastor for many years, our bishop, unsure himself what I was able or willing to do, simply asked me, “What do you want to do?” And I immediately told him that I wanted to come here. It served two purposes: not only was it something that was within my abilities after many years of service as a parish priest, but it also filled the need of someone to take the load off of Father Paul, who had been serving here alone for some years and was no longer able to continue alone. I'm not sure which one of us takes care of the other, but together we seem to survive well enough. But my request to come here was not for those reasons alone.
As a child I had enrolled as a member of the Blue Army, and had taken the Fatima Pledge. Years later, after I had entered the seminary, I made a point of visiting this place for the first time. It was a particularly difficult and confusing time in my life, as it is for many young men going into the seminary. I was never a very good seminarian, which I later found out was a good thing. After all, no one is called by God to be a seminarian; one is called to be a priest, and the two are not the same thing. In any case, I came here and found here a haven of prayer and love for the Mother of God which, over the long years of seminary formation, gave me the strength I needed to press on and persevere. It was during this time that I met Mr. Haffert for the first time.
After I had been ordained and was assigned here in our diocese, I maintained my connection with this place and with Mr. Haffert. By that time, the Handmaids of Mary Immaculate—remembered by many of you, I'm sure—arrived, and I was privileged, during my time as a parish priest, to come here every week for a couple of years, to provide the sisters with spiritual and theological formation on behalf of the diocese. Many times I gave conferences and offered Holy Mass in the Holy House Chapel for the sisters, and Mr. Haffert was often in attendance.
Then, an opportunity came to serve outside my diocese, in a diocese that had a particular need for priests, and so I went away to another state and another series of assignments, lasting for eighteen years. And the needs of that diocese were great indeed: first I had one parish, then two; then, just when I thought things would calm down, another assignment of two parishes, not at all close together. There was a lot of driving involved, a lot of juggling of schedules. A lot of disgruntled parishioners who couldn't understand why they all couldn't have a Saturday evening service, or a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Two of my churches were over a hundred years old, and they were all parishes in the midst of extreme poverty, so there was very little money for repairs, or even for the salary of the priest. After a while it catches up with you; and, after having labored there for some years, my health showed the effects. Unable to walk, recovering from a couple of surgeries, the bishop of that place was forced to relieve me of my parishes; and, with no resources to care for a priest in my condition at the time, sent me back from whence I came. So, when my own bishop, whom I had never met—since there had been three bishops of Metuchen while I was away—met me for the first time and asked me what I wanted to do, it wasn't hard for me to simply say, “Send me home.” This is home.
Of course, it's quite different now. All things are different after time. Mr. Haffert is gone. The sisters are gone. But the Shrine is always the same. It has always been and always will be a place to honor the Mother of God, to remember and remind us of what She asked us at Fatima to do; a place where people who, like myself, weary from the journey, can come and find the peace and consolation that only the love of Mary and Her Divine Son can offer.
I could have spent our time together here recounting for you the story of how it all happened, the joys and the sorrows, the triumphs, trials and tribulations of Mr. Haffert and this place he made for us; but, that's not the real story of Mr. Haffert and the Shrine. The story of this Shrine, and the legacy of Mr. Haffert and the Blue Army, is not to be found in a listing of events, good and bad, and there were both; the real story of this place is written not in any book, nor found in any list of history. The real story of this place has been written in the hearts of every soul who has, over the years, past through those gates, prayed in the Rosary Garden, walked with our Lord through the Stations of the Cross, prayed before our Blessed Lord in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, offered Holy Mass and honored the Mother of God here in this Shrine, or waved at her as her statue passed by in procession. It is as different for each one as is the number of souls who have prayed here, and will continue to pray here for many years to come.
We live today in a particularly difficult time; a difficult time for our country, a difficult time for our Church. The requests of Our Lady of Fatima are more prescient today then they have been at any other time. And many of us, I know—because I hear confessions here every day—are tempted to despair. Our Gospel lesson today tells the tale of just such people who, when confronted by our Lord with the reality of what sufferings would be theirs if they followed Him to the end—as the good Saint John so poetically puts it—“Many who had followed him, followed him no longer” (John 6: 66).* But just as this place served to provide the fuel I needed to persevere in my vocation, so it can serve for all of us, as a place where we can meet our Blessed Lord through his Most Holy Mother, and find the peace that only prayer can bring. Here is where we can find, in the arms of a loving Mother, the Son She bore to bring us eternal salvation, so that we can say to Him, along with Saint Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68 RSV).
* My own free translation.