(The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Nov. 27, the First Sunday of Advent, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna in honor of the parish's 50th anniversary.)
As we assemble today in this place of prayer, we are celebrating two distinct yet inter-related realities. First, today begins a new liturgical year. With the beginning of this Advent Season, another year of God's favor, of His grace, dawns for us. Secondly, today marks the 50th anniversary of this parish's life. Yes, this parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna has experienced 50 liturgical years, 50 years of God's favor or grace.
Since almost the very beginning, since 1956, this parish has been entrusted to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, whose members have fostered the practical spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, a spirituality directed specifically to those who are active in the world. At the core of this spirituality is the continuous invitation to “Live Jesus,” that is, to become more and more molded into the image of Jesus, so that more and more each one of us thinks with the Mind of Jesus, loves with the Heart of Jesus, obeys with the Will of Jesus, indeed, lives with the very Life of Jesus. This parish is dedicated to Our Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. What is Mary's counsel or advice to us? “Do whatever He tells you” (cf. Jn 2:5). And Jesus tells us to follow in His footsteps and to live in deep union with Him: “Live on in me, as I do in you” (cf. Jn 15:4).
As we come together to take part in this two-fold celebration, how instructive is the Word of God, which greeted us moments ago in today's first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are the work of your hands.” God's word reveals to us His desire to mold us into the image of His Divine Son Jesus, so that we may truly “Live Jesus.” Indeed, a song still in use puts this so simply yet so beautifully: “Father, You are the Potter; I am the clay, the work of your hands. Mold me and fashion me into the image of Jesus your Son.”
For 50 years, this process of molding people into the image of Jesus has been in evidence here in this parish through the celebration of the sacraments; the education and formation in the Catholic faith of countless parishioners, from the very young to the seniors among you; faithful witness to the Gospel and generous outreach to the poor and the needy. Indeed, the parish structures have as their sole purpose, do they not, the fostering of this process. Parishioners gather in this church and the day chapel to be more closely united with Christ in eucharistic prayer and the celebration of the sacraments; parishioners grow in the Catholic faith as they attend the parish school and religious education programs as well as participate in the RCIA and Youth Ministry; parishioners deepen their relationships within the Body of Christ made tangible by this parish community as they meet one another and collaborate in the parish halls, like the Counsel Room, DeSales Hall; parishioners reach out to the poor and needy, again as they meet here on parish grounds to organize their efforts to reveal Christ's love. I congratulate you on the recent expansion and renovation of parish buildings, under the wise and strong leadership of Father John O'Neill, your former pastor, and of Father William Metzger, your present pastor.
As we recall the process of molding people into Jesus' image this past half-century, we pause to give thanks. We give thanks to the Lord, whose Holy Spirit has guided the growth and directed the development of this parish and the formation of God's people here since 1955. We give thanks to our ancestors in faith, to those who began the building of this parish " some are with us today, thank God! " and to those who built on their initial efforts, including parents, grandparents, relatives and benefactors. We give thanks to all who have served in ministry here since the beginning, some of whom have gone ahead of us, marked with the sign of faith, and others are still with us: to Father Albert Campbell, the founding pastor and to all the Oblates who soon afterward succeeded him. In a special way, we recall Father Edward Corcoran and Father John Gavin, who have gone home to the Lord, Father Francis Donnella, and Father John O'Neill. How grateful we are to the Oblates now serving here: Father William Metzger, your pastor; Father Frank Rinaldi and Father John Dolan, your parochial vicars, and to the Oblates in residence, who also assist so generously: Father Lewis Fiorelli, superior general; Father Mark Mealey, assistant superior general and also vicar general for administration of the Arlington Diocese, and Father Francis Danella. We give thanks to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who formerly staffed the parish school and to the present principal Mr. Austin Poole and the faculty and staff of the school, and to Loyes Spayd, the director of religious education and all the catechists and teachers as well as to the youth ministers, Christie and Chad Bishop. We give thanks as well to all those who serve in positions of responsibility, too many to name individually, including the members of the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Finance Council, the Building Committee, and other parish committees and groups. Finally, we give thanks for the faith-filled parishioners, past and present, and for the richness that various ethnic groups bring to this community of faith. The words of today's second reading come to mind: “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way " .”
Now, the process of being formed into Jesus, of living Jesus, continues into the future. We are reminded of this so tangibly today as we begin another liturgical year, whose purpose is to deepen within us the life of Christ and the reliving of His mysteries within us. So, then, this new year of God's favor must find us growing in Christ's life, so that we may truly “Live Jesus.” In this new year of God's favor, we must remain alert and watchful, as Jesus Himself tells us in today's Gospel account: “Be watchful! Be alert!” Yes, we must daily remain alert for His coming to us in so many ways, alert so that we may eagerly welcome Him as we are more and more molded into His image. In fact, we just asked for this grace in our Opening Prayer: ” " increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming " .”
Sisters and brothers, our hearts are filled with gratitude and hope as we celebrate today two distinct yet inter-related realities: the beginning of a new liturgical year and the golden jubilee of this parish. We turn then to Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking her help in following her timeless advice: “Do whatever He tells you.” We turn too to St. Francis de Sales, seeking to respond ever more deeply to his invitation: “Live Jesus!” Yes, the process of molding people into the image of Jesus has been taking place here for the past 50 years and will, through God's grace, continue into the distant future. “For all that has been, Lord, we thank You! And for all that will be, Lord, yes, let it be! Amen!