Isaiah 22:19-23 + Psalm 138 + Romans 11: 33-36, 29-32 + Matthew 16:13-20
The Golden Jubilee Celebration for Father Jack Feehily
August 27, 2023 at Saint Andrew Parish in Moore Oklahoma
When Father Jack called me and invited me to stand here today, the first thing I did was look up the Gospel for the day, and I shuddered thinking, “I should have said I can’t make it.” Why couldn’t it have been a text where Jesus says, “Pick up your mat or your walker and come follow me.” But no, it has to be this one about keys for a man who no longer has any.
You have to wonder, and I suppose that’s the whole idea of the Gospel, to lead us to wonder over what in the world God is thinking. I mean after all, he seems to be building the foundation of his Church. You would think he would be looking for people with law degrees from Yale or Harvard, with business or economics degree from Stanford, or an engineer or architect from MIT. But no. He goes wandering around the seashore and calls a simple fisherman who was neither wealthy nor educated. He calls someone who over and over again puts his foot in his mouth, keeps thinking he’s in charge, is full of doubts, and not perfectly loyal nor obedient. This is the guy who gets out of the boat and sinks. This is the guy who impulsively wants to build three tents on the mountain of the Transfiguration, and then falls asleep after dinner when asked to stay awake and watch. He’s nowhere to be found during the crucifixion even after declaring that he would die for his friend.
When we see him in today’s Gospel, he is beginning to perceive the long expected and the decisive intervention and presence God in the world. That revelation he began to receive about Jesus also brought a revelation about himself, who he was and what place was to be his in a new world of the redeemed that is about to be established.
His first meeting with Jesus stirred something in him, and he wanted to know more about what Jesus had to offer, and when Jesus gave him the opportunity to do so, he acted upon it. I like to think that Jesus saw the best in him. So, we watch Peter throughout the Gospels struggle with himself, stumble, love his Lord and deny him, speak rashly and act impetuously. His life reminds us that our Lord did not come to save the virtuous and strong but to save the weak and the sinful. Simon, that simple fisherman was transformed by the Holy Spirit, becoming one of the first witnesses of the risen Lord and herald of the Gospel. He becomes aware of the need to open the Church to the Gentiles.
Peter’s story is about the extraordinary way in which God uses ordinary people to bring healing, forgiveness, hope, and joy to a lost and troubled world. God does not seem to care about how worthy we are, how adequate, or what skills we have. God seems to simply look into our hearts. When we are broken, feel ashamed and guilty, despair of ourselves and believe that we cannot possibly be loved by God, Peter reminds us that we always get a second chance.
We are here today with a man who has been broken, ashamed and guilty. We celebrate with a man who without a degree in economics or engineering has seen some debts paid off and buildings raised up probably to the surprise and relief of several contractors and architects. This is a man who has been a herald of the Gospel and been aware of the need to open the church to all of God’s children.
Some of us, as old as he is, have watched him struggle with himself, stumble, speak rashly and act impetuously. I’ve seen him sink, but I’ve also seen him reach out his hand to the Lord and be pulled up out of the chaos, because his story is the story of God’s love, grace, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
This thing called priesthood is a great and powerful mystery full of surprises, twists and turn, ups and downs. Sometimes I think of it like rides at the State Fair when you get into a little car and ride around in the dark jerking, and being startled by things that ought to scare you, but instead leave you laughing. It is such a curious thing and such a wonder at what God can do with a piece of clay and little breath. Always leaving me to wonder what’s next and grateful for what has been.
We join this man today in expressing his gratitude to God for the 50 years of jerking around and being startled by the unexpected. In those fifty years, he has become more wise than smart. The evidence that wisdom has taken hold is calmness and perseverance.
Father, my brother, if Father Francis has not taken away your keys, he should have. The only keys you now need are the keys you have had for a long time. You can open hearts with forgiveness. You can open minds with the truth of love, and you can open the kingdom of heaven by the gentleness of your words. As a much-loved Archbishop said to you fifty years ago, “May God complete the good work he has begun in you.” Congratulations.