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Fr. Lance Harlow

Fr. Lance Harlow

Father Lance W. Harlow is the rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parishes, in Burlington, Vermont. He serves as the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Mercy. He can be reached at IHMchurch@comcast.net. Website URL:

Sacrificial ministry is incomplete without the cross

Caution: This article concerns working with the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and addicts. If your experience of this kind of ministry is limited to the occasional conference talk on social justice in an air-conditioned building, bolstered by small group discussions followed by a tasty lunch, you won’t appreciate it.
 
If you have hands-on experience with the above-mentioned population, who rejected your good intentions at “helping them,” then you will understand the Gospels in their complexity and entirety.
 
For most Christians, the seminal Gospel passage often quoted regarding social justice and ministry to the poor is Matthew 25:35-40: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
 
This Gospel makes clear the various acts to be performed, but the sacrificial act of ministry is not complete without the cross. For ministry to be fruitful the mystery of the cross looms behind every act of charity. An act of love, met with the rejection of the intended recipient, if united with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, can produce spiritual fruit more efficacious than any pious sermon on the preferential option for the poor.
 
Remember what happened to Jesus in John 5:1-16 when He bestowed two healings on the man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed for 38 years? The man is healed but nonetheless intentionally betrays Jesus to the authorities for having told him to carry his mat on the Sabbath which led to an intensified persecution of Jesus.
 
Jesus’ act of charity is met with ingratitude, betrayal and suffering. But, did Jesus stop healing the sick? No.
 
So, what do you do when the sandwich you offer the hungry man is thrown with contempt in the garbage? You still feed the hungry. When the water you offer the thirsty one is left behind for alcohol? You still give water to the thirsty. When the clothes you offer the poor family are exchanged for drugs? You still give clothes to the poor. When you offer kindness and compassion to the mentally ill or addicts and they calumniate you? You remain kind and compassionate. But, most importantly, you pray to the Father from the depths of your soul uniting your frustration, hurt feelings and misunderstood intentions to Jesus so that He may elevate those acts of charity to the supernatural heights of mercy which we alone, without the cross, are unable to accomplish.
 
From those heights a shower of grace descends upon the poor, which a mere sandwich, bottle of water, pair of boots or kind smile was unable to achieve by itself. Such is the complexity of social justice and ministry to the poor. Not every recipient of charity is ungrateful, obviously. And many will be kind, pleasant and enjoyable. But don’t let those who betray you and hurt your feelings stop you from performing the good works of the Kingdom.
 
Jesus didn’t stop. And neither did the saints.

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

Father Harlow's reflections on change

As we mature, we gain experience in enduring the reality of changing events. The
change in our own person is called aging. In society, change is called progress. In architecture, it is called development. But however we categorize the experience of movement from one thing to another and its emotional effect upon us, St. Paul puts into blunt perspective that the minor changes in the human condition pale before the one fundamental life-changing event, which is called death.
 
He states in his letter to the Corinthians: “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality” (1 Cor
15:51-53).
 
St. Paul is speaking about the second coming of Christ at which time He will execute the final judgment. The bodies of the dead will be raised to join their souls forever in Heaven or in hell. Now that’s a change!
 
It also puts life into perspective because it orients our human purpose towards a goal—that is, eternal life. Everything that we do in this world should have
Heaven as its fundamental hope. My body will experience the changes of getting old; but, have hope. It will one day become glorified in Heaven.
 
Social fashions and customs will change around me; but, have hope. St. John tells us
that in Heaven there will be no fashion anxiety. Everybody will be clothed in the purity brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands (Rev 7:9). Now that’s quite a dress code!
 
Buildings will rise and fall; but, have hope! One day I shall dwell in the new heavens and the new earth which will not be defined by dimensionality but by the glory of God: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:22-26). Now that’s a developer’s masterpiece!
 
There is no limit to the personal, social and environmental changes during our lifetime, which could lead to a cynicism for those whose horizons are limited to this world only. But for those whose fundamental orientation is the Kingdom of Heaven, the accumulation of life’s events, through which these changes must occur, is nothing but a prelude to the fundamental and eternal stability of the glory and beauty of Heaven which “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, [nor] has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love
him” (1 Cor 2:9).
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Year of Mercy: Jubilee celebration to honor role of laity

On Jan. 17, 2016, only one month into the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the diocese will celebrate a special Jubilee for Lay Ministers. During this liturgical event at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, representatives from Vermont's parishes who are involved specifically in lay ministry as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and others, will be recognized for their collaboration with pastors in building up the kingdom of God in the local parish. (Teachers, musicians and religious will be recognized at other Jubilees throughout the year.)

When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, he planned its début to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. In no other council in the history of the Church has the role of laymen and women received so much attention. Nearly every document promulgated by this ecumenical council touches on the role of the laity; and in fact, an entire document is dedicated to understanding their role. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity ("Apostolicam Actuositatem") was promulgated on Nov. 18, 1965. The document speaks about the diversification of ministries within the Church since apostolic times as well as the complementary relationship between the clerical and lay states: "In the Church, there is diversity of service but unity of purpose. Christ conferred on the apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity, too . . . exercise a genuine apostolate by their activity on behalf of bringing the gospel and holiness to men, and on behalf of penetrating and perfecting the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the gospel." (AA,2)

In our own parishes throughout Vermont, we experience that harmonious collaboration – especially in the case of priests burdened with managing multiple parishes. There are some very visible lay ministries assisting the pastor every weekend at Mass, such as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and ushers, but there are also many indispensible lay ministries who thrive behind the scenes that make parishes vibrant. For example, the parishioners who provide funeral receptions, those who decorate churches and wash linens, those who serve on various advisory committees to the pastor, those who teach religious education for children and adults, those involved in the media, those with financial expertise, and so forth. (See Lay Ministry story on page 16.)

Our very own Bishop Robert F. Joyce, who was one of the Council Fathers at the time of Vatican II, told Vermonters as far back as 1962:

"Our laymen and women have been very active for a number of years and have displayed excellent qualities of leadership and zeal promoting the work of the Church. I feel very strongly their role should be much further extended as was the case in the early Apostolic times." (Vermont Catholic Tribune article 10/26/62)

The role of the laity has indeed been extended in our modern era in ways that Bishop Joyce could not have foreseen. During this Year of Mercy, the Diocese of Burlington appeals to God the Father, whose "mercy endures forever," that the zeal which marked the first century lay disciples of Christ may be rekindled in the 21st century with increased fervor and unity of purpose to show the world that we truly are Christians by our love.

Father Lance W. Harlow, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston and Our Lady of the Rosary in Richmond, is the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 
  • Published in World
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