After the June 15 funeral Mass for Father Michael Jacques, the pastor of St. Peter Claver Church, Archbishop Gregory Aymond walked with fellow bishops, priests and parishioners in a horse-drawn procession with the body of Father Jacques through the neighborhood. Here are his thoughts:
One of the things I reflected on – and it was the same thing that came to mind during the Corpus Christi procession earlier this month – was that on our streets there has been so much blood and violence. Carrying the Eucharist on Corpus Christi Sunday in early June rededicated us to Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. In the same way last weekend, carrying the body of a man who fought against violence and racism was another way of reconsecrating our streets to that which is good.
Whenever we lose a pastor who has served his parish for nearly three decades, the question naturally arises of who will succeed him. The superior of the Edmundites, Father Michael Cronogue, has shared with me that unfortunately he does not have an Edmundite priest to replace Father Jacques. So, we know that for sure. Through prayer and consultation with the Priest Personnel Committee, I will be looking at someone to succeed him.
In the long run, we all need to pray fervently for vocations. At the end of the Funeral Mass – as I do at the Mass of every priest – I held up Father Jacques’ chalice and asked that it remain in the parish until a young man from St. Peter Claver becomes a priest. I know there are young men and young women being called to the priesthood and religious life in every parish of the archdiocese. Father Jacques would want us to pray for those being called that they will hear and respond to God’s call.
Death always requires a separation from someone whom we have loved and with whom we have shared life. It causes pain and a sense of loss. But that pain and sense of loss are even greater when there is unexpected death, as was the case with Father Michael. We do our best to console one another and wipe away those tears. But we are also mindful, too, that the one who can truly give us comfort and peace is the Lord Jesus.
As Father David Theroux said in his wonderful homily, we pass over from the death of this world to the life of the world to come.
Twenty-nine years ago, Father Michael came to a world here that was unknown to him. He opened his arms and his heart to the people of God of St. Peter Claver and the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the people of God did the same in welcoming him as a brother.
St. Paul said he wanted to become all things for all people because he saw the needs of God’s people. I might suggest that Father Michael wanted the same thing – he wanted to become all things and do as much he could for all of God’s people. I never asked Father Michael to do anything for the archdiocese where he didn’t say yes. Archbishop Hughes recalls the same thing. Father Michael always said yes.
Father Michael spoke consistently as a voice for justice and peace. He was a voice against violence and against racism, and he spoke loudly. I never went to a meeting with the mayor or other city officials when Father Michael wasn’t there – and he had something to say! It was about justice and peace and the fight against racism. He was a voice for unity and a sign of that unity among us. He was a community organizer in the best of ways. His voice always proclaimed that we should live out our potential as a human family.
From a human point of view, we could say that he died too young because he had much more work to do with his talents for St. Peter Claver, the archdiocese and the Edmundites. As Father David said in his homily, his death was unexpected, but that should call us all to live in the present. That is one of Father Michael’s last messages to us – we must live in the present because we know not the day nor the hour of our death. We are grateful for today, but we don’t know about tomorrow. If there is someone in our lives to whom we need to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you,” do it today. Because there may not be a tomorrow! Father Michael teaches us that in his death. He teaches us to live God’s life and love fully in the present.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.