Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Aug. 2.
Forty years ago today, I was ordained a priest for the service of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, in which I ministered for 28 years before being called to serve the Lord here in the Diocese of Little Rock 12 years ago.
These 40 years have been wonderful. I have loved every parish I have ever served in Oklahoma and I have loved my time here in Arkansas. Looking back over these years, many happy memories come to mind.
I remember my first two years as a newly ordained priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Oklahoma City. Father Rother was killed during this time, and I helped resettle in Oklahoma the only eyewitness to his martyrdom, at which point my life became intertwined with that of Blessed Stanley Rother and the people of Santiago Atitlán. Right from the beginning I was involved in Spanish-language ministry, first in Clinton and Hinton, and then for four more years in a 5-county area which included also Elk City, Cheyenne and Sayre, which is where I lived. Those early years formed me for all that would follow.
I remember the two years I spent in New York as a graduate student at Fordham University during which I also served a parish in the Bronx. Living in New York is very different from Sayre, but people are the same everywhere and I remember many funny things that happened there — like the woman who thought Oklahoma was near Baltimore — and the guy who thought the state spelled I-o-w-a was pronounced Ohio.
Returning to Oklahoma, I became the vicar for ministries of the archdiocese. I also served in a series of parishes where there were short-term vacancies. And then I had the privilege of serving as the founding pastor of St. Monica Parish in Edmond, where I served for 10 years. St. Monica was my baby and during my time was a total stewardship parish. Those years were very dear to me and it was hard to leave.
And then for my last assignment in Oklahoma, the Lord returned me to Sacred Heart Parish, the bride of my youth, a much-changed Sacred Heart, nine Masses on the weekend, seven in Spanish; seven choirs, six in Spanish. Lots of needs and talents and lots of good will. During this time Archbishop Beltran chose me to work on the cause of Blessed Stanley Rother, whose memory had already accompanied me throughout my priesthood. I was working quite actively on his cause when the Lord chose me to come to Arkansas.
That call to Little Rock was the most unexpected blessing of my life. We have faced a few challenges together during these last 12 years, but even so, it has been such a joy to serve here. Every step of the way, I have felt the support of our people and our priests when dealing with difficult things, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is precisely through embracing the cross that the Lord forms us. And look at our blessings. Priestly vocations: in the last 12 years I have ordained half of our priests in active ministry and the average age has dropped from 65 to 49. New parishes in Lincoln, Decatur, Cabot and Greenbrier. I go to bishops’ meetings where there is much talk of gloom and doom, and I am reminded repeatedly what a blessing it is to be in Arkansas.
When a priest is ordained it is customary to print a little card to commemorate the event. My ordination card from 40 years ago contains a quote taken from Romans Chapter 8, which by coincidence you just heard in our second reading today. I chose that quote because in these verses St. Paul expresses very well my confidence that God’s love and strength would guide us safely through all the challenges that we face in serving the Lord. It says, “I am thoroughly convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger from heaven nor ruler of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither the highest of walls nor the deepest of chasms, nor anything else in God’s whole creation has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I have experienced God’s guidance, love, protection and strength throughout these 40 years, and I am confident that we will continue to experience his guidance, love, protection and strength in all the years to come.
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