Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
It was so good to be with you at Masses last weekend as I begin getting to know you and your tradition of worship and sacrament and parish life. This move, as I have said, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, as I had really attached to the parish family at Saint Mary in Fredericksburg. It is also true that, throughout different chapters in my life, I always feel at home at the altar. I am grateful to gather around your beautiful altar with you.
Perhaps you noticed, one of the first things I felt compelled to do was to uncover that amazing altar. Someone told me I should write about this – that many of the newer members of the parish might not even know its significance. It is the altar at which Saint John Paul II presided on the Mall in 1979 – it is a world treasure, a sacred relic. There is a little picture of the Mass on the Mall on the south wall of the vestibule. Over time the green wood seems to have cured, and split, and twisted pretty dramatically which, for me, makes it even more stunning. I imagine the real wood of the cross, which was the first altar. It is an honor to celebrate the Mass there.
I began in Kansas City, Missouri, my parents Marie and Don Rooney. My mother still lives in an assisted living facility in Overland Park, Kansas, where she moved after we sold our family farm last fall. Our family lived there since 1975. I have an older brother who is a priest in Lincoln, NE, Fr. John, and two younger brothers, Bob and Joe who live in Kansas City now. I graduated from University of Dallas (Irving) in 1983 with a B.A. in fine art / painting, and afterward worked as creative director and owner of an advertising design firm in Dallas. I experienced a clear call from God in 1989 beginning with my brother’s ordination, and entered the seminary several months later in Philadelphia, Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Ordained in 1994, I have served in Manassas at All Saints, in the Dominican Republic, in Fairfax at Saint Leo the Great, and then as pastor since 2002 at Saint Mary in Fredericksburg.
I believe that the path of conversion and renewal for a parish family is the one that is described so often by Pope Francis, after the Tradition of the Second Vatican Council. We must openly encounter each other (I always tell my eighth graders – you have to look into the eyes of the person with whom you are speaking!), without prejudice, with humility. There follows a dialogue of truth, an exchange of knowledge, freely offered and respectfully received. Once we learn of each other, we discover goodness, and relationship. Love is not a concept, it only exists in the context of a relationship that has been established and nurtured. Too often today people love for the sake of love, and serve for the sake of serving: these can never be authentic unless there is a person in relationship who is the object of that love. We learn in the common moments of every day’s living the same process by which we fall love in the Person that is God.
As God is a community of Persons, so we too, made in his image and likeness, must enter into that relationship as a community of persons, each with our gifts and dreams which are our unique contribution to the Body of Christ. We journey together.
So may we be.