50th Anniversary Homily

Bishop Head's Welcome

It is a great joy to welcome all of you to Saint Joseph's Cathedral; Your Eminence, Cardinal O' Connor; my brother bishops, who honor me and our diocese with your presence; the priests, deacons, women and men religious; and all Christian faithful of our diocese; family and friends, from near and far.  I also welcome warmly representatives of other religious denominations as well as representatives of government and the business world who are present with us this afternoon.

This Cathedral Church was built by our first bishop, John Timon, and opened in 1855. Through the years, we have gathered here in times of celebration and in times of sorrow. I am delighted that you are with me today on this wonderful occasion. I ask you to join with me in prayer as I thank God for the gift and the grace of these past fifty years and I entrust our future to His care.

Bishop Head's Homily

Your Eminence, John Cardinal O'Connor, my brother bishops and priests; deacons and religious; my family and friends from near and far and all my other sisters and brothers in Chris:

May I begin by thanking all of you for the honor you pay to the Church at Buffalo by coming together in prayer here in Saint Joseph's Cathedral.

In a particular way, I welcome to the Church at Buffalo His Eminence, John Cardinal O'Connor. May I say, Your Eminence, without wanting to embarrass you in any way, that I hold you in the highest esteem. You are a courageous servant of the Gospel, and, for me, a trusted friend and challenging priestly model.

My brother bishops and archbishops, we are honored by your presence also. Throughout the many years we have prayed and worked together, I have always been humbled by your patience with me and challenged by your commitment to the Gospel of Christ. Your presence today adds to the joy of the Church at Buffalo and gives me personally, yet another reason to be thankful to God.

The psalmist, David, reminds us that "Our life lasts for seventy years, eighty with good health." In all honesty, as I pray these words of the 90th Psalm, they take on a new meaning and added significance each day for me personally, especially on a day like today as I praise and thank God for the privilege of serving His Church for 50 years as a priest, and 25 years as a bishop.

David reminds us the years indeed pass quickly so he encourages us, in that same Psalm, to "wake in the morning filled with God's love." This morning, indeed, I awoke filled with God's love as I looked forward to joining all of you here in celebration, the celebration of the presence of Christ Jesus as He speaks to us in His Word, as He nourishes us with His Body and His Blood. It is not really possible for me to express in words the depth of my gratitude to God, or the depth of my love for you, but, please, please be assured of both.

Many years ago, in Saint Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, I read a rather simple book, "The Diary of a Country Priest," a novel, a story of a simple curate in France, struggling with all his personal insecurities, his personal doubts, his personal inadequacies, as he tried to serve God's people faithfully and generously. At the end of the novel, the country priest, as is the human condition, dies. His death is described in these words by his friend:

"A few minutes later, he put his hand over mine, and his eyes entreated me to draw closer to him. He then uttered these words almost in my ear and I am quite sure that I have recorded them accurately, for his voice, though halting, was strangely distinct. He said, "Grace is everywhere ... " I think he died just then."

The simple country priest died with the words, "Grace is everywhere" on his lips. Everything is a gift, everything is a grace, GRACE IS EVERYWHERE!

There are on my desk in my office, two framed pictures: one is of my mother and father, the other of my college professor and priest mentor, Msgr. John P. Monaghan, "Doc" Monaghan we called him with great affection. Grace is everywhere, and I found grace, God's presence in these wonderful people who so deeply touched my life. My mother and father taught me how to pray, how to trust, how to believe, how to serve, how to love, not just by their words, but by the very living of their lives. And when I told them I was hoping to enter the seminary and become a priest, their advice was simple and straight forward. My father told me, "Edward, be the best priest possible," My mother's words were, "Edward, be a holy priest." 

And, when I was struggling with my own doubts and uncertainties, struggling to hear more clearly God calling me to priesthood, it was Msgr. Monaghan who enabled me to trust in God's love, to live on in God's presence, to continue the journey toward the great goal of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Grace is everywhere. What a grace, what a gift, my parents, my family and my teachers have been and are. My brother, Dan, has been called home to the Lord but his wife, Mary, is here as is my brother, Bill, and his wife, Helen, as are nieces and nephews and cousins and friends. Please know, each of you is a gift. Each of you is a grace. Each of you is a sign of God's love and presence to me.

And there is another grace here with me today. Concelebrating this Mass is Father Richard Walsh. He is a first cousin of mine and a constant friend and model to me from our earliest boyhood days. Last year, as a priest of the Society of Saint Paul, he celebrated his Golden Anniversary of priesthood. What a joy and an encouragement it is to have you here with me today, Richard.

I remember so clearly 50 years ago today as if it all happened yesterday! I remember walking down the aisle of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, kneeling in front of Cardinal Spellman for the imposition of his hands, sharing my first priestly blessing with my parents, family, and friends. And I remember 25 years ago, walking down that same aisle in the same cathedral, kneeling in front of another cardinal, archbishop of New York this time, my classmate and friend, Cardinal Cooke, and he ordained me for the service of the Church as bishop.

Each day of these 50 years as a priest has been a gift. Each day of these 25 years as bishop has been a grace. Grace is everywhere. And I found God's presence in Sacred Heart Parish in the Bronx, in St. Veronica's Parish and in The Federal House of Detention in Greenwich Village. I found grace ministering with and to the poor in Catholic Charities in New York City. And I found the presence of God in my other ministries in the Church. Today, at this altar, I praise and thank God for this gift of priesthood and for this grace of episcopal ministry.

When I was sent to Buffalo as your bishop by Pope Paul VI, I knew three priests: Msgr. Bill Wozniak, Msgr. Julius Szabo, Msgr. John Conniff. I knew them all through our common ministry in Catholic Charities.

What I found when I came here on March 19, 1973, was a Church filled with love, and characterized by a strong faith, a Church alive with zeal for the Gospel. Grace is everywhere, and I have found grace, the presence of our loving God in each and every county of this great diocese. I have found grace in a presbyterate committed to serve God's people with love and compassion.   I believe there is no finer presbyterate, no more generous priests than the priests of this Diocese of Buffalo. I have found women and men religious in love with the Lord and in love with His people. I have found deacons who proclaim the Good News of Jesus through their liturgical ministry and their ministry of charity. And I found lay ministers, women and men who answer their baptismal call to serve God's people with their talents and their gifts. Grace has been everywhere.

In 1973, Pope Paul VI could have sent to this Church at Buffalo a wiser bishop, a holier bishop, a bishop more astute in administration, a bishop more gifted in public speaking. He could have even sent a better golfer! But, I don't think Pope Paul VI could have sent to the Diocese of Buffalo a bishop who would have tried harder to love you and to serve you.

Yet, even as I say this, I am aware that some of you have not experienced this love as deeply as you would have hoped, and some of you, for whatever reason, have not been affirmed as you would have wished. So I seek from you today the gift of forgiveness for whatever ways I have failed you, hurt you, not even loved and served you as Jesus loves and serves. In this forgiveness, may we both find God's presence, for grace is everywhere.

It has been a grace to ordain to the episcopacy, two priest sons of this great diocese, Bishop Donald Trautman, a special, special, loyal and gifted friend, and Bishop Edward Grosz, a grace-filled, dynamic and energetic coworker. It has been a grace to ordain to priesthood 124 men for the service of our people. It has been a special grace for me to share my pastoral ministry and every day of these 22 years with Bishop Bernard McLaughlin.

It has been a grace to inaugurate the Permanent Diaconate in our diocese, to establish the Office of Church Ministry, to initiate the Commission on Women in Church and Society.

Grace is everywhere. I find as I often stand with you, prayerfully and peacefully, outside abortion clinics, attesting to the sacredness of life. I have found grace as I served the hungry and have eaten with the poor in our soup kitchens and dining rooms. I have found the presence of God and found His grace as I visited the sick and dying in our hospitals.

It has been a grace and a gift to work with you to strengthen Catholic education, to build peace, to assure justice, to welcome new members into our Church, to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Grace is indeed everywhere. And it is a grace and a gift to work with ecumenical leaders and civic leaders, to work to assure safety in our streets, and quality education, and quality healthcare for all our people.

And what a grace and gift it has been for me to visit our parish families. I have confirmed over 50,000 young people in my ministry here as bishop. What gifts these young people bring to our Church and to our society with their vision and dreams, their hope, their faith, their enthusiasm for the Gospel. They are truly a grace and a gift. I have been privileged to be present in all of our parishes. You, faithfilled, generous people, have welcomed me, prayed for me, supported me. Grace has been everywhere.

And even in the midst of what has been painful, what has caused suffering for our church and for you and for me personally, even in the midst of grave difficulties, it has been possible to find grace. I have found grace in the pain and suffering I have shared with you. The cross is grace. We have found the cross. Indeed, grace is everywhere!

Today, I reflect upon 50 years of ministry as a priest, 25 years of ministry as a bishop. I am overwhelmed at how good God and you have been to me and how deeply you both have shown your love for me. Please know that I am grateful. Thank you for keeping me dissatisfied with myself as I have learned to become more satisfied with God. It has been and is a wonderful life.

I hope there are still many days of grace before me and many opportunities for me to grow and to bear fruit, many chances for me to retell the story of the Father's love. I look forward to continued ministry with you and for you, even after our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, appoints a new bishop to serve and to love this great local Church. I know I will continue to find grace everywhere as we pray together and serve together.

What a marvelous way for that aged country priest in France to end his life with the words on his lips, "Grace is everywhere ... "

That is the profound lesson I have learned as a priest and as a bishop.

God bless you.

Most Rev. Edward D. Head
Bishop of Buffalo
January 27, 1995