Farewell to Emmitsburg

Father Vincent OíMalley

Thank you and may God continue to bless you! As I prepare to leave Emmitsburg for my next assignment in Michigan, I wish to thank all those who have been a source of inspiration to me over the almost seven years that I have served as pastor of St. Josephís Church. I especially want to thank the priests and parishioners of St. Josephís, the ministers and members of the townís other churches, the volunteers of countless organizations, and the municipal leaders and citizens of this wonderful community. God has blessed the people of Emmitsburg with an unusually strong faith and sense of community, especially in caring for those in need. I love you, and I will miss you.

Having lived in a dozen towns and cities during priesthood, I perceive that your faith and generosity are exceptional. Please receive this compliment in the right spirit; please donít take for granted your goodness. Thank God for your goodness. And may God continue to bless you as you share your gifts, material and spiritual. The only way to grow in the spiritual gifts is by giving them away.

This article has one message: for the praise of God, and for the sake of society, your children and grandchildren, please attend your churches.

All of the churches in town have played and continue to play a significant role. Most of the churches were founded here by the late 1700s: Elias Lutheran, 1757; the Presbyterian Church, 1760; Incarnation United Church of Christ, 1788; St. Joseph Catholic Church, 1793; and Toms Creek United Methodist Church, 1797. Two more churches were founded early in the next century: St. Anthony Shrine Parish 1805; and Trinity United Methodist, 1833. Most of these churches were here long before the Mount (1808), Elizabeth Ann Seton (1809) and the Daughters of Charity (1850). Walking through the church cemeteries in town, a pilgrim will notice with appropriate pride that the relatives of these deceased have remained in this town for two centuries. In the church cemeteries we read the following familiar names: Shriver, Troxell, Elder, Gelwicks, Martin, Welty, Van Brackle, Adelsberger, Pecher, Boyle. The list goes on of our church-going ancestors who established this town with God-given goodness.

After Robert and Elizabeth Wilson, around 1733, became the first residents of our as yet un-named hamlet, German Lutherans, Scottish Presbyterians and German and Irish Catholics soon followed. The town was founded upon and continues to thrive on the vitality of Christian people. It is now our turn to shoulder the responsibility of keeping alive the spirit of goodness, and we do it as active members of our churches. Religion gives rise to culture and civilization. Religion serves as the soul of society.

Why does religion matter in making society strong and vibrant? An individual might possess strong faith and spirituality, and might serve the public well, but that individualís good has little possibility of continuing on for generations. When faith and spirituality are demonstrated through a religious institution, the impetus and structures for being and doing good continue on. Individual faith needs public religion. Granted, individual faith and spirituality are essential for religion to be vital, but Individual faith and spirituality alone will achieve little lasting good until it is expressed in institutional religion. Can we do it? Can our commitment to religion help to make Emmitsburg and beyond strong and vibrant? We have the churches, and we have the leaders. Now, we need to support our churches and support each other in upholding Christian vision and values, so that one day our children and their children will continue to be blessed by God as they share their gifts, material and spiritual.

People of faith shake their collective heads in dismay at what is happening not only in Western Civilization but also more specifically here in the United States. Occasionally, some people receive via email summary statements of the practical effects of having removed faith and religion from the vision, values and dominant institutions in our country. The impact is gradual but real. The deleterious changes in society are not attributable to religion alone, but the decline in religion makes profound impact because religion reaches to the soul.

Two examples follow. First, governmental records compare between 1940 and 1990, in order of gravity, the most serious problems which took place in schools. On the one hand, the contrast is humorous; and on another hand, the contrast is tragic.

1940 1990
Talking out of turn Drug abuse
Chewing gum Alcohol abuse
Making noise Pregnancy
Running in the halls Suicide
Cutting in line Rape
Dress code violations Robbery
Littering Assault

Another example of the consequences of eliminating religion from society is found in the heartfelt comments by Darrell Scott whose daughter was murdered in the student-led attack on Columbine High School. On May 27, 1999, he spoke before the U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee. He writes:

I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy; it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers [members of Congress]. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best. This was written way before I knew I would be speaking here today:

Your laws ignore our deepest needs.
Your words are empty air.

Youíve stripped away our heritage.
Youíve outlawed simple prayer.

Now gunshots fill our classrooms.
And precious children die.

You seek for answers everywhere,
and ask the question, "why."

You regulate restrictive laws
through legislative creed.

And yet you fail to understand
that God is what we need.

The conscious elimination of God from the public forum did not originate with the removal of prayer from public schools (1963) or the passage of Roe vs. Wade (1973). Historians point out that the 16th century Reformation broke the back of Western Civilization. For the previous 200 years, the Church had failed to reform itself despite the heroic efforts of individual popes and bishops, emperors and kings, saintly men and women both lay and religious. Because religion serves as a source for vision and unity, the divided religion resulted in dissonant visions and disunity. A century later, the Enlightenment arose. Over-emphasizing the value of rational thought to the detriment and disparagement of faith, the Enlightenment further wounded Western Civilizationís soul. The false dichotomy between faith and reason led to the exaggerated separation of church and state. Society needs both strong government and strong religion; a society without both institutions will be unsatisfactory and unsustainable.

If societyís pillars may be described as the political, economic, social and cultural institutions, then these institutions need to pay due respect to each otherís roles, including the role of religion. If our USA society and Emmitsburg are to thrive, these institutional pillars need to incorporate into their structures, and individuals need to inculcate into their souls, a mutual respect and practical appreciation of each of these pillars. The contemporary surge in secularism which disrespects and attempts to diminish the role of God and religion in society will lead to the societyís downfall, if it is not corrected. Is it too late to save the United States from catching the same sickness from which Europe suffers? Europe is literally dying, culturally and demographically. Please God, we in the USA might find the cure for this affliction. Can we do it? God gives us the grace, but we need to evaluate our priorities.

What has history shown? Typically in the ebb and flow of history, a vital spirituality inspires strong religion and family life for about 300 years. For about the next 100 years, a malaise sets in during which politics and law attempt to fill the vacuum of providing order and direction to society. But soon enough, people become weary of domination by politics and law, and yearn for a return to vibrant religion and family life. From my humble observation, in the past few years, we have turned the corner on the expected century-long dominance by politics and law; religion and family life are on the rebound.

How do we restore religion? All believers need to work within and among our churches. Our Christian churches need each other; we thank the Holy Spirit for the ecumenical movement. Letís keep moving toward reunion. To whichever Christian denomination someone gives profession, please God, he/she will be present in and for that church. If you are Catholic, you are invited and needed to participate at Mass every Sunday. If you are Lutheran, your congregation invites and needs you to worship every Sunday. The same goes for the Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC members and all our churches. To revive society, we need to revive our religious institutions.

Since the mid-first century of the Christian era, Christians have worshipped on Sundays: coming together, listening to the Word of God, receiving Communion, and returning to the larger society as disciples of Christ and as leaven to develop the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Imagine and work for Godís promised kingdom characterized by justice, peace and joy. Society needs good church-going Christians.

How do we restore family life? Family requires communication, cooperation and prayer. Communication presumes that family members are present to one another physically, psychologically and spiritually; some families are so busy that members become like ships that pass in the night. Family members need each other to perform age-appropriate chores so that each person contributes to the whole group. And family members need to keep God at the center of their lives; the adage, "the family that prays together stays together" is proven time and again by formal surveys.

Dear fellow Christians, in all of our churches, letís keep the faith in Jesus as Lord of History, and keep the faith that the Holy Spirit guides all the churches to the extent that each participates in the Spiritís truth. A new age is dawning under the guidance of God. For praise of God and for the sake of society, our children and grandchildren, letís support our churches. By the grace of God, letís do our best to develop the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley