Given on the Feast of Sts. Alypius and Possidius by Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians
A man goes around the world searching for what he needs and returns home to find it!
I believe that God writes straight with crooked lines in the lives of St. Augustine, and his friends, Alypius and Possidius, in the life of St. Rita of Cascia, in the life of Fr. Rich Young, and in ours.
Fr. Rich was a Franciscan, Diocesan, and now is an Augustinian. It has been a journey of a lifetime, or at least 50 years! A journey of faith and family and friendship. A journey back home to St. Rita High School where he graduated from in 1982!
A journey that led him to complete his doctorate in ministry degree at Catholic Theological Union where he was hooded last night, as Dr. Young! A title that indicates not that you are superior, but that you have a responsibility to share with us the knowledge and wisdom you gained in this process! Many people nudged you along the way to complete this doctorate, and I am happy that your director, Fr. Ed Foley is here with us tonight to celebrate your solemn profession. We are all grateful for his patience and friendship over the years!
A journey that took Fr. Rich for the last four months to the Augustinian Spirituality Institute in Rome where he was able to see the shrines of Sts. Francis and Clare in Assisi and St. Rita in Cascia and Roccoporena. What better way to understand more fully the lives of these special saints in his life than by walking where they walked! He also traveled to England, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Germany to experience the Augustinian community and hospitality!
On Fr. Rich’s blog he wrote:
"Here is the prayer that is being put in the wall near the image of Maria Eich: God of life and love, you always walk with us on our earthly pilgrimage. I ask you to bless with your healing presence those who are with me in body and spirit, those I know and those I do not. We are companions on this journey—together. Let them know, deep in their hearts, that they are never alone, and they only need to open the doors of their hearts, to find that you yourself, are our journey! At this special shrine to Mary, I pray to her, as one who has been a pilgrim herself, that she may pray for us as well, pointing us in the right direction on our way…THE WAY!"
This is a powerful prayer and one for tonight for Fr. Rich and for us! We are indeed companions on the journey, called before all else, to live together in harmony, one in mind and heart on the way to God! Friends on the way! As the prayer indicates, we are never alone, God is always with us even when we are not with him. St. Augustine is one of the early church teachers who was so preoccupied with the nature of human relationships…friendships!
This feast of Augustine’s friends, Alypius and Possidius, on which Fr. Rich specifically chose to make his solemn profession and even had one of our Augustinians, Fr. Rich Cannuli, write a special icon of Augustine, Alypius and Possidius, showing them in a similar pose of the famous icon of the Trinity…the ultimate union of relationship!
Augustine wrote this about friendship:
"The consolation of friends did the most to repair the damage and give me strength after the death of my friend. The interchange between us captured my mind; conversation and joking, doing favors for each other, reading together good books, being foolish and being serious together, disagreeing without hatred almost as though I was debating with myself, sometimes falling into disagreement, but thereby remembering on how many things we agreed, teaching, and learning from each other, waiting impatiently for the absent friend to return and rejoicing when they did. These and so many other like signs coming from hearts of friends are shown through their eyes and mouths and speech and a thousand little gestures. All of these expressions of friendship brought our hearts together, making one out of many."
In the first reading, St. Paul tells the Colossians and us, that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…all of us, by our baptism and Fr. Rich today by his solemn profession as an Augustinian. He basically describes friendship as seen in family and community life, as heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and throw in a little forgiveness, because we are not perfect but human! He tells us to put on love (God) over all these things, and to be thankful…to share our experiences, life, love…to teach, correct, to celebrate with songs hymns, and inspired songs…and in Fr. Rich’s case perhaps a Broadway tune or two!
In Les Mis, we hear “the truth that once was spoken that to love another person is to see the face of God!” And in Wicked we hear, “that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return...who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good!”
Our relationships shape us/change us…hopefully for the good! Our parents are the first ones to show us this love, to sacrifice for us. It is our first relationship. St. Augustine says, “The first thing a baby sees when opening its eyes are its parents, and life begins with their friendship.” And so we say ‘thank you’ to Barb and Rich Young, Fr. Rich’s parents for giving us this special gift of friendship. We will recognize you a little later for being such a special part of Fr. Rich’s life and now our Augustinian Community. We are also grateful for Fr. Rich’s brother, and my classmate Steve. Being a brother so close in age is a very special friendship. And also with his family, and all who have shaped Fr. Rich for the good!
And changed indeed was St. Rita’s husband for good…by her prayers, patience and affection, indeed by her friendship and love! Even in the midst of conflict, strain and feuds, Rita was able to produce the results of friendship and he was calmer, less abrasive, closer to her, closer to God.
Isn’t this what family life and community life is all about: helping each other on the journey towards God? Towards wholeness and healing and holiness? To share experiences, to understand each other and to love each other and, to build each other up!
And our Gospel says to do it all with Joy! Jesus has come to give us life and life in abundance and to give us a joy that is complete! Christians, professed religious, priests should be joyful, (doesn’t mean we don’t have a bad day or that we will be doing cartwheels down the hall) but we should have a deep and profound joy that we are companions on the journey with each other on the way to God…with God! Pope Francis has used the words, ‘mercy, compassion and joy’ as sort of his tag lines or banners for the Christian life and in particular for Christian Leaders…”no sourpusses” he told the seminarians! Jesus tells us we are no longer slaves, but friends! And friends share their joys and their struggles, and friends are willing to lay down their life and sacrifice, and friends are willing to bear one another’s burdens! Jesus tells us to remain in his love...remain means we already have it! And this is echoed in St. Rita’s last exhortation before she died, “Remain in the holy love of Jesus, remain in obedience to the Holy Roman Church, remain in peace and fraternal charity!”
And so, Fr. Rich, the Lord invites you, indeed summons you, to follow him more closely in friendship, in community and in joy! And so the Lord asks you:
"Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known, Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?"
And by your profession today you say to us and to the world:
"Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name, Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go, where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me!"
And Rich, we will be with you every step of the way…one in mind and heart on the way to God! We are delighted to welcome you fully into the Order of St. Augustine, we love you and we are proud of you and your accomplishments thus far, and we look forward to living in harmony with you...AS FRIENDS!