This past Saturday, my good friend, Fr. Aaron Foshee, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Below is the homily preached by Fr. James Goins (without text or notes!) at his Mass of Thanksgiving.
We celebrate this morning the gift of a new priest. A new priest has come down to the vineyard of the Lord, a new voice, and what a voice it is. We gather here with Fr. Foshee and his family. We, his brother priests who are here with him, will gather around the altar this day and pledge to him our priestly friendship, our prayers and support for him in the years to come.
I want to look at the miracle within the miracle in the Gospel passage. I want us to contemplate this unfortunate suffering woman who risked all to thread her way through the crowd, to find a way to the hem of Christ’s garment. It is this miracle within the miracle that caught my attention and imagination as I prepared to preach this Mass.
To begin, there is the humbling admission by Luke. Tradition tells us that Luke himself was a physician, and his humility here is very telling. That this woman had suffered from a flow of blood for years, yet medicine could do nothing for her. Her physical condition made her unclean. She was not supposed to be in the street that day. She was not supposed to be in that crowd. As she participated in all the jostling, and all the movement to find her way to Christ, everyone she touched she rendered unclean as well. This is a woman who risked everything to find her way, if only to the edge of grace.
Scripture scholars tell us that it was probably the tassels on his garment that she wanted to touch. Pious Jewish men, rabbis especially, would have worn a symbolic outward garment with four carefully knotted tassels at each corner of the garment. The tassels were to have been tied with 613 knots, symbolic of the 613 commandments. It would be as if you and I walked through the streets with a Bible hanging around our necks. The tassels symbolized many things: the authority of God, the Word of God, the life of a pious man. It was a signal to the larger world that Jesus lived by different values, that he was a man who lived for the Word of God. This unfortunate woman, this suffering woman knew this, and believed with all her heart that if she could make her way for that one brief touch, that it would be enough to heal her.
But in the heart of this passage, there is something even more remarkable than that miracle. It is the question that lies at the heart of the Gospel, it is the Christ who cries out in the middle of the crowd, who turns and looks into any number of faces, and asks the question: “Who touched me?”
Who has touched me? This question, Fr. Foshee, is what I believe will be the question that you will ask much later in your priesthood, perhaps at the very end of it. For you see, our Lord and Savior wanted no one to remain anonymous. No one suffering must go unnoticed. No one must be forgotten. He wanted a personal encounter with her, he wanted to look into her face and behold the faith that motivated her to come to grace.
Fr. Foshee, as priests we do wear special attire. But more importantly, we represent something much more remarkable. Fr. Foshee, you now represent to the world the hem of the garments of Christ. Your priesthood, your voice, your life of service, your prayer, is now given to the world so that all who search for God, all who seek after the mercy of God may find it within your life, within the sacraments that you will give to those who hunger and thirst for the love and the mercy of God.
At the end of what we hope and pray today will be a very long and successful priesthood, that question, “Who touched me?”, will return to you as a great blessing.
Fr. Gallatin of our archdiocese is a great storyteller. He tells of a priest who was very old when Fr. Gallatin was very young. And this priest had served all of his life in the panhandle of Oklahoma, which even today, we priests shiver when hear that word. And yet, this priest served there joyfully, in the depths of the Great Depression, in the dustbowl. This priest gave his life to the poor of that part of the state, people that no one else wanted. He lived and served in his priesthood in a land called “no man’s land.” This priest gave his life, his priesthood to those people. Fr. Gallatin says that when this priest was very old and little, they moved him to Oklahoma City to the nursing home. The younger priests would pay homage to him, would make something of a pilgrimage to his bedside. And he said that above the bed was a distinct piece of cardboard, and on the cardboard, which dated from the priest’s 25th anniversary, there was written, “Happy Anniversary, Father.” The people of his parish, the very poor, had taped 25 quarters to the cardboard. Gallatin remembers that that was all the priest was given for that milestone anniversary, because it was all they had. And yet he treasured it more than anything else he had even owned in his life. To his dying breath, it was there above his bed reminding him that he had pledged his life for the people of God, come what may. His priestly heart held such treasure that it sustained him and his people for all those difficult years.
I would venture to say that your priesthood will be lived out in very interesting times, very challenging times. I think it’s safe to say that the era of middle class, comfortable priesthood is over. You will need be brave, and faithful, and kind, and charitable. And when you ask the question, “Who has touched me?”, you will remember all the people who stood in line at your confessional, who stood at the baptismal font, and who held their hands out to you for a piece of heavenly bread. You will remember those upon whom you laid your hands and sent forth to an eternity of love. You will remember and you will be thankful that you are a priest forever. God bless you.