Story By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Photos By Frank Methe, Clarion Herald
Drawing on the example of the prodigal son, who came to his senses after debasing himself, Father John Asare-Dankwah told dozens of priests and women and men religious celebrating their jubilees March 31 that, just as the father in Jesus’ parable, they must always welcome the marginalized in their ministries.
Father Asare, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in New Orleans, this year celebrates his 25th anniversary of ordination. In his homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond at St. Rita Church, New Orleans, Father Asare said the job of any priest or religious is to emulate the father who always stands waiting and watching for his lost son to return.
“The father in the parable gives us an image of the mighty God that we serve who is always reaching out to his wayward children,” Father Asare said. “He is the God who will ‘make a way out of no way.’
“In our ministries, we must always reach out in compassion to the rejected, the unloved, the socially outcast and the troublesome. These are the prodigal sons and daughters in our society today.”
Expanding on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Father Asare said the older son, who always remained faithful to his father, exhibited an unforgiving heart. That should serve as a warning to anyone who cannot see his or her way to forgive.
“He was very judgmental, and sometimes we turn to judge people who come to us seeking assistance,” Father Asare said. “His pride got in the way as he refused to call the younger son ‘my brother’ but instead said, ‘That son of yours.’ Pride should have no room in the life of a Christian.”
Thousands of years of service
The 59 jubilarians honored included diocesan and religious order priests, sisters and brothers. Together, they represented 3,205 years of ministry.
Sister of Mercy Mary Henry Simoneaux, who recently moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was the longest-tenured jubilarian at 80 years.
Sister of the Holy Family Alicia Christina Costa, a 50-year jubilarian, offered remarks after Communion on her own vocational journey.
She said her tug to religious life began at age 6, nurtured by her parents, who took her to Mass and CCD classes every week without fail.
“As a result, a seed was planted,” Sister Alicia said, who recalled always writing as an elementary school student that she wanted to be “a nun and a math teacher” when she grew up.
Thoughts of marriage
She gave serious thoughts to marriage as a high school student, and when she told her grandmother she was thinking of entering the convent, she was told she would be “cheating her out of great-grandchildren, even though she already had 25.”
Sister Alicia told her blood sister that testing her religious vocation with the Sisters of the Holy Family was “something I felt compelled to do.”
“I can now say some 50 years later that it has been a journey only God could have provided,” she said. “I can attest to the joy of my soul when God makes his presence known in prayer.”
Those grace-filled moments probably would not have been available if she had married and become a mother, “especially if I had those 12 children as I had planned!”
Sister Alicia, did in fact, become both a sister and a math teacher, and she was thrilled to have been able to add calculus into her students’ curriculum, even though some felt it was “unnecessary.”
“It had to be done if our young women were to compete in the future,” she said.
She hopes more families would encourage vocations with their children.
“Do we ask them to be of service in a radical, religious way?” she asked. “I do believe God is still calling, nudging, prodding and hounding young people to consider a life dedicated to him and to the service of his people, if only they would open their ears and heart.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.