“…go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Mt. 28:7)
These words spoken to the women by the angel at the empty tomb of Jesus have been echoing in my heart these first days of the Easter season.
I believe that the message of the angel has added weight for me this Easter because this coming July 1st I will be moving to Chattanooga to begin a new chapter in my ministry as a priest and I will be bringing to an end my six years as chaplain to the Catholic Center at East Tennessee State University.
In the life of Christian discipleship the risen Lord always goes before us and he awaits us just as he awaited his first disciples in Galilee. Six years ago the Lord awaited me here at the Catholic Center after five years of serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens, TN. I am grateful to God for these six years at the Center just as I was for my time in Athens.
I am grateful to God for the ministry that has been built at the Catholic Center these years. I am grateful that we have built a ministry that is solid in our Catholic faith, in community and in service to the poor. I am grateful that the ministry that we have operated out of at the Center is a ministry that is respectful of the dignity and worth of people and that does not need to manipulate people nor ridicule the cherished beliefs of others nor engage in rumors even as so often seems to be the case in our world today. My experience on campus is that despite all the talk about respecting differing viewpoints; people and groups on college campuses are extremely eager to form other people in their own image. I take pride in saying that at the Catholic Center we have sought to respect the image of God found in the person rather than seeking to form the other in our image. Some people might view this deference to the image of God found in the other person a form of weakness worthy of ridicule. I disagree, it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength, a confident humility, that in the long run shows true respect and care for the other person as a human being.
I am grateful for the students who have made the Catholic Center their spiritual home these past six years. I am grateful for and inspired by your willingness to live, wrestle with and witness to your Catholic faith. I honestly believe and hope that you will be leaders in your faith communities one day. To the students who have been committed to the Center and who strive to live your faith while on campus; please know that I will always be willing to help you in any way and at any point that I can.
I am grateful for the friends that I have made both within the university community and in the larger Johnson City and St. Mary Parish community. Friendship is a blessing and a source of joy and comfort. I thank God for each of my friends.
I am grateful for the years I had with my mother as her caregiver. The last five years of her life were not easy for her or for me to watch and I cannot count the number of times I left Colonial Hills and the local hospital emergency room with tears in my eyes and in my heart but I am grateful that I was able to walk these years with her. Rest in peace Mom.
I am grateful to the Community of Sant’Egidio who continually teaches me to find Christ in the Gospel and in the poor. I am grateful to my friends at the John Sevier Center. Over and over again I have seen Christ in their faces and they have taught me about faith, trust, hope and friendship. I look forward to living the charism of Sant’Egidio in Chattanooga and to friendship with the poor there.
I am grateful for Fr. Christian Mathis. He is a good friend and good priest and I know that he will bring an energy, enthusiasm and love to this ministry of the Catholic Center. I am hopeful that he will take the Center ministry to the next level.
I am grateful to Bishop Richard Stika who is now calling me to Chattanooga and I am grateful to the gift of obedience. Eighteen years ago on my ordination day I promised obedience to the Bishop of Knoxville and ever since then I have experienced again and again that obedience is a font of unexpected graces and growth in life. I am hopeful for this new call to serve.
Six years ago, Christ awaited me at the Catholic Center at ETSU. Now, Christ awaits me in Chattanooga. The joy of discipleship is found in following Christ wherever he might lead.