For most of my life—both as a child and as an adult—the New Year has begun the Tuesday following Labor Day. I have spent 55 of my 67 years beginning school—as a student, as a teacher, and sometimes as both. Hence, it should come as no surprise to you or to me that in the afterglow of Labor Day, I look ahead to where the path of my life leads.
I am so grateful for the time we have spent together. You have shown me the face of God. Together we have walked through the valley of the shadow of death as we have mourned those we love who have died either on the streets of Albuquerque or in some other corner of the world—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, friends, life companions. Together we have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, jobs, housing and the many little victories that people have in a life of challenge.
And together we have formed a most amazing and remarkable and special Christian congregation—a congregation of people who live on the streets and people who live in houses housed in a homeless shelter where people experiencing homelessness welcome the housed to worship. I now know what God’s great welcome table looks like—it’s a green table covered with an old table cloth in front of a big mural of Mother Teresa. Gathered around the table are John and George and Virgil and Dan and Amy and Ramona and Mr. Garcia of the North and Avanti and Sonia and Chris and William and so many more. Over in the corner is Tully taking it all in. And in the back of the room—Charles—counting how many will be waiting for breakfast. Sometimes, Eddie sneaks in and fills a space in the back row. JoJo is there on one side of the room. Dashing in at the last moment, Karen takes her seat on the other side of the room in the third row from the front. Together we make up the Body of Christ in residence at St. Martin’s.
Yet I believe from the bottom of my heart that we are not really the ones who have created or sustained this community. It’s God who has created the Congregation of St. Martin’s; it’s God who has kept us going when Big John has been away; it’s God who sent Carlos and his guitar to us; it’s God who stirs our readers to open their mouths and our altar servers to give the wine-like grape juice; it’s God who ministers to each of us in our times of deepest need; and it’s God who will sustain us tomorrow and every day.
In the last few weeks, as I have watched Labor Day and the New Year approaching, a song has stuck in my head. Here are the words that I hold onto as I look out on what has been and look forward to what will be:
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine.
Seek the face of the Lord and long for Him
He will bring you his light and his peace.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have called you, and you are mine.
You and I are loved by the One who loves with an everlasting love. And we are also bearers of that love. For the last five years, we have been carrying that love to one another and to all the people we meet in a day and in a week. AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO CARRY, TO SHARE AND TO LIVE IN THAT LOVE FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.
We have been together for almost five years. Now our paths are parting. It’s time for me to retire as Chaplain at St. Martin’s and priest of the Congregation of St. Martin’s. I have been working long days since June 10, 1966. It is time for me to cut back. It is time for me to focus my energies on my family. And yet, each day, when I awake, I will shout out the words we have shouted together so many times in the last five years: THIS IS THE DAY THAT THE LORD HAS MADE/LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT.