Proclaiming that “love has come to Mineola,” Bishop Joseph E. Strickland formally installed Father Lawrence Love as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Mineola March 12.
The bishop also consecrated a new tabernacle, crafted in Italy and purchased with funds given to the parish by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
In his homily, Bishop Strickland recognized Father Efren Naño, who is in residence at St. Peter and has served the parish for many years despite serious health problems.
“As we formally install Father Lawrence Love, we’re blessed to have Father Efren Naño with us,” the bishop said. “And we give thanks for all the priests who have served this community since 1964, when this church was built.”
Father Love, in his remarks after his installation, also paid tribute to Father Naño.
“You were right,” he said to Bishop Strickland, “love is here, and not just me, but lower-case love, because this man over here,” he gestured to Father Naño, “is a sign of the love that has been in this parish. We are so happy to have him still here with us and staying in the parish, and we hope that he will be with us for a long, long time, in many ways.”
Father Love’s formal installation as pastor came seven months after he was assigned to that position on Aug. 1. Prior to that, he was administrator of the parish.
In his homily, Bishop Strickland said the installation of Father Love, the presence of Father Naño, and the blessing of a new tabernacle present “an opportunity to rejoice” in St. Peter’s history of faith “and give thanks for the priests and deacons, and all the wonderful people who have lived their faith journey here, and for all of you who have gathered his this morning to continue that journey.”
That journey, he said, never ends.
“The Lenten season, as we celebrate this second Sunday, really is a beautiful reminder in our Catholic faith that it’s always a journey. We can never say we’ve fully arrived, but we should never despair either, because we’re always drawn closer to the Lord. We can always journey a little closer, even with our sinfulness and the brokenness of our world, even when we sometimes think we’ve taken a step backwards rather than forward.
“There is always hope in Christ,” he stressed.
That eternal hope is celebrated in every Mass, every baptism, every confession, every wedding, every funeral celebrated in St. Peter throughout its history and into its future.
“This place, as the beautiful introductory part of the formal installation of a pastor reminds us, is a family home, the family of God,” he said. “And all the family things happen here, with the grace flowing through the ministry of priests and deacons, through the support of all the faithful of the community.”
Even before the installation of Father Love, the bishop said, “love was already here, primarily in Christ, but also through the wonderful priests who have served here, all the deacons, all the faithful who have been part of this community through many years.”
Another sign of Christ’s presence in St. Peter is the tabernacle, which Bishop Strickland blessed during Mass. The tabernacle stood open and empty until its consecration, and Bishop Strickland used that as a teaching moment, or an opportunity to explain, as he said, “why Catholics do that.”
“You’ll notice that we did not genuflect (during the entrance procession). I’ll confess, coming into the church early this morning, I did. Then I realized, nobody’s home,” he said to laughter from the congregation.
He also pointed out that, having removed his zucchetto, “or, as I know some people call it, ‘little pink hat,’” at the consecration of the bread and wine, he kept it off until the tabernacle was blessed and the Eucharist reposed within it after Communion.
“It’s a sign that, as bishop, I must be humble before the Lord and take off all signs of the office I’m called to carry out,” he said. “And as we leave, we will genuflect, because Christ is alive and present in the Eucharist in repose in the tabernacle.
“The Lord is here,” Bishop Strickland proclaimed. “Certainly he dwells in us, but the Eucharistic presence of the Lord is that strongest sign, Christ himself, alive and present in us, beautifully, to be our food.”
The Lord also is present in the persons of the priests and deacons who serve St. Peter and in the community that gathers to worship there, the bishop said. And the readings for the second Sunday of Lent spoke clearly of what they are called to do.
The first reading was from Genesis, with God calling Abraham – then still Abram – to leave his homeland and journey to a land that God would show him.
“Abram is directed by God,” Bishop Strickland said. In that same spirit of faith and obedience, “Father Love and all of us as a priestly people, like Abram, are called to allow ourselves to be directed by God.” Such faith and obedience also require prayer and discernment from those who would follow God’s direction. “What is God calling out of my life, out of our lives, out of the life of Father Love in this community?” the bishop asked.
The second reading, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, made clear what is expected from people of faith.
“Bear all hardships for the sake of this community,” Bishop Strickland said. “That’s Paul’s instruction to Timothy, but we can all be Timothy in that setting. Bear your share of the hardships for the sake of the Gospel. What does Christ tell us? ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’”
It is a stark and often fearful command, but one that cannot be ignored.
“In the mystery of our Catholic faith,” he said, “the heart of Christianity, we have all learned the truth of what the Scriptures tell us. If we try to avoid the cross, if we try to pretend it’s all just blessing and wonder, we’re taking the heart out of what it means to follow Christ. He tells us, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’
“Father Love, you must hear those words,” he urged. “Replace the name Lawrence for Timothy in that reading and listen: ‘Bear your share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel.’ And not just Father Love,” he turned to face the congregation, “but all of you. (Father Love) cannot do this alone. It is not his job to live your life of faith. But together, as a community, as the body of Christ, (you must) allow yourselves to be directed by God, like Abram, and be willing to take up your share of the cross for the sake of the Gospel.”
But the Gospel reading from Matthew, he said, shows what lies at the end of those hardships.
“Ultimately, in the beautiful Gospel reading today, we hear about the Transfiguration of the Lord. What does the voice of the Father say? ‘Listen to him.’
“Father Love, listen to Christ in your life,” the bishop instructed. “Let his Eucharistic presence speak to you, speak to this community. All of you members of this community of St. Peter’s in Mineola, Texas, let us all be aware. Listening to Christ is the call of those like Abram, willing to be directed by God, willing to bear their share of hardship. We listen to Christ, and what is the result? Transfiguration.”
And as those who hear and heed Christ’s call are transfigured, so can they transfigure others.
“That’s the call we all share – Father Love with you, you with Father Love, having an effect not just on the people who gather in this beautiful little church here on the outskirts of Mineola, Texas, but on every person on this area.”
He urged all present to “go out, strengthened by Christ, energized by the love and supportive ministry of Father Lawrence Love, and bring Christ to this corner of God’s world.”
Whether at work or in school, or even in the aisles of Wal-Mart, “wherever we are, we bear Christ, the hardship, the direction by God, and we can bring that transfiguring love that even right here in Mineola is desperately needed, by many of your neighbors. Sometimes our own family members, who have forgotten who they are, don’t come and worship here every Sunday. Beckon to them, welcome them, bring them in. Let them know we are called to go on this journey and cooperate with Father Love in following Christ.”
The readings lay out a daily plan for Christians.
“Be directed by God,” Bishop Strickland said. “Bear whatever hardships are necessary for the sake of the Gospel. And seek by listening to Christ to be transfigured in him. That is our purpose on this planet.
“All of us too easily forget that purpose and we wander into darkness, into foolishness, into sin, into destruction. That is not God’s plan. That is not the journey we are called to and what Jesus Christ the Son of God has revealed to us.
“So, people of St. Peter here in Mineola, work with Father Lawrence Love, support him, challenge him, be challenged by him, and ultimately, together, listen to Christ and allow this beautiful tabernacle, which will be the Eucharistic presence of Christ shining forth from this community, to be not just a beautiful work of art, but something much more – the presence of the very light and love of God, here with us and calling us on the journey.”
Father Love was ordained June 28, 2014, and has served in Our Lady of Victory Church in Paris and St. Peter in Mineola. He is a native of St. Paul, Minn., and was an ophthalmologist prior to entering the seminary. He was married to the late Nancy Meredith Love and has two children and several grandchildren.