By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — St. Joseph Parish, Hessen Cassel, celebrated a milestone Nov. 5: retirement of the parish debt.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass and paid his first visit to the rural southern Allen County parish. “This accomplishment is a testimony of your deep faith, your generous stewardship and your commitment to the Lord Jesus and His Church,” Bishop Rhoades told the congregation in his homily. “I thank all of you for your generosity and I thank your devoted pastor, Father Thom Lombardi, who leads you in the way of discipleship, in following the Lord Jesus and living your Catholic faith with such dedication. Congratulations on this joyful accomplishment of paying off your parish debt.”
The parish made a final check presentation in the parish hall to Bishop Rhoades after Mass retiring almost $1 million for the church restoration that included a narthex, additional congregational seating and other renovations.
He spoke of the evening’s Gospel: “I thought as I read it how fitting it is for us today. It is about debts and promissory notes. It is about stewardship, actually about a dishonest steward. But the dishonest steward was praised by the master for acting prudently. You have been honest stewards here at St. Joseph’s and have acted prudently. Your parish debt has been eliminated by your generous stewardship. May you continue to use wisely and prudently the gifts the Lord has given you, serving the Master with fidelity and generosity.”
St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel has a rich history. Even before the church’s founding in 1851, the German Catholics relied on visiting priests to preach and administer the sacraments in the 1840s. “For over 160 years, the faithful have gathered here in Hessen Cassel to praise and thank the Lord as we do this evening,” Bishop Rhoades said.
He spoke of how Church honors the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the first Friday of every month. “I chose to celebrate the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart this evening, since it is that Heart, which burns with love for us, that epitomizes our faith,” he said. “The love of Christ for us is a necessary premise of our faith, the bedrock of our Christian faith. Our love for Christ is a response to His love. It is the love of Christ that inspires us to follow Him. It is the love of Christ that motivates your generosity to St. Joseph Parish. This evening we give honor to the divine love, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during this celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is ‘the outstanding gift of the Heart of Jesus’ (Pope Paul VI), the sacrament of love par excellence.”
From St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Bishop Rhoades spoke of how St. Paul called the Phillippians his “joy and crown.” Bishop Rhoades added, “(St. Paul) encourages them to stand firm in the Lord in the midst of enemies of the cross of Christ. He reminds the Philippian Christians that their citizenship is in heaven. St. Paul wrote this letter from prison, either in Rome or Ephesus. It is one of the captivity letters of Paul. You can feel Paul’s intimacy with the Christians in Philippi — he writes that he loves them and longs for them. Even though he is suffering in prison, he doesn’t focus on himself — he is more concerned about the beloved people he is writing to.
“He says that he is telling them these things in tears,” Bishop Rhoades said. “He doesn’t want them to be led astray by those he calls ‘enemies of the Gospel of Christ,’ those who were spreading false teaching and those who were abusing their Christian freedom. He says: ‘their God is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things.’”
St. Paul encourages the Phillippians not to be misled, follow the bad example of others and not to be misled by earthly things.
“His message is vital for us today,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We are surrounded, like the Philippian Christians, by many who propagate false teachings, who have their minds set on earthly pleasures only. We must remember, as St. Paul teaches, that we are citizens of heaven and therefore called to live in a manner worthy of the saints in heaven, a life full of hope that our lowly bodies will be transformed by the Lord Jesus to be like his glorious body. This is what saves us from letting ourselves be consumed and preoccupied with earthly things and helps us to stand firm in the Lord.”
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