14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:1-12, 17-20
July 7, 2019
(Fr. Kelly is presenting a mission appeal for Haiti, where his good friend worked for several years. The Saginaw diocese has two parishes with priest from the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. Donations can be giving at: https://www.oblates.org)
To explain why I am here at your parish doing a mission appeal, I need to tell the story about a friend of mine…a friend who many of you might well have known. I first met Fr. Tom Moore 29 years ago, when Bishop Untener sent him to discuss the possibility of me doing what we hear about in this Sunday’s Gospel: Becoming a laborer in The Lord’s vineyard.
At the time, Tom, along with other Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, were working in Saginaw parishes. In addition to his sacramental ministry in different parishes around our diocese, Tom Moore served as our Director of Priest Formation. He helped Bishop Untener recruit, evaluate, educate, and develop the spirituality of men who, like me, felt a call to priesthood.
So, during the years I was preparing for ordination, I was in close contact with Tom, and through him, became very well acquainted with most of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. After ordination, Tom continued to advise and guide me, especially through the early years of my pastoral ministry.
Eventually, Tom left his diocesan responsibilities and became one of the Chaplains at St. Mary’s Hospital. He may well have brought the sacraments to you if you were hospitalized during his service there. At the same time, he continued to do weekend masses all around our diocese.
After a few years in hospital work, he was sitting next to me at the fall priest convocation. The speaker told the story about a successful professional lay couple, who decided to spend their retirement years working “in the Lord’s vineyard.” They liquidated all of their assets…and, like lambs among wolves, moved to a dangerous part of the world to share their treasure and talent with those in greatest need.
When the talk concluded, Tom turned to me and made the very emotional declaration: “I have to do that!”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Move to the missions.”
I pointed out to him that he had no assets to liquidate and take with him. As a religious order priest, Tom took a vow of poverty…and he lived it faithfully, also pointed out the obvious. At the time, he was no spring chicken. To be honest, that day, I did not take him seriously. But he was.
Immediately following the convocation, Tom contacted the Superior General for the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales and explained that, again, like the 72 in today’s Gospel, he felt that the Lord was sending him out into the world, beyond Saginaw, to bring hope to the hopeless. The Superior General invited Tom to join the Oblate mission efforts in Haiti where he would be able to use his background in formation by living with and guiding seminarians from Haiti and South America studying in Port-au-Prince. At the same time, he could be involved in general missionary outreach. Within months, he was gone.
He shared his rich experiences through a blog that he posted regularly…making his followers feel like they were actually there…in Haiti. But, it was during one of his few visits home that his work really came alive for us…living here in the safety and comfort that we so often take for granted. We could see the emotion in his eyes when he described the hardships of the Haitian people. At the same time, we could see the excitement and love in his eyes as he described the strength of their faith…and their spirit.
As far as his own living conditions…He told about frequent blackouts when power failed…and the definite shortage of safe drinking water. Hot showers were unheard of, and cold showers infrequent because the source was rainwater collected in rooftop cisterns. Meat was scarce, and dinner was often something as simple as an unappetizing dish of plain spaghetti noodles with ketchup poured over it. But he never failed to add how blessed he was compared to most of the Haitian people. Many wealthy people vacation on the beach resorts of Haiti, but Tom’s description of the area of Port-au-Prince where he lived and ministered was less than inviting. He described lots of dust and very little vegetation. His mantra became: There is nothing beautiful in Haiti but the people.
After a year or so, severe back pain made it necessary for him to return to Saginaw for surgery. He absolutely insisted on returning to Haiti…having barely recovered. On the few occasions that he had to make a trip back to the U.S., he would always book the least expensive airfare, which not only made for a very uncomfortable flight, but also required an overnight delay in Miami. I would send him off with pocket money and encourage him to get a hotel room. He never did. Instead, he would sleep in the airport and take the little money I had given him back to the poor.
Needless to say, back in 2009, everyone who knew him was frantic about his safety with the news of the devastating earthquake. After about two days, he was able to send an email and we were relieved to hear he was unharmed. The reports that he eventually sent back to the United States confirmed what we were seeing on television. There was no fake news in describing the horrific damage, as well as the disappointing performance of many of the relief teams. One of the young seminarians that he lived with died, although, Thank God, the others were spared serious injury. But they were surrounded by unthinkable human suffering.
Tom did not think for a moment about abandoning Haiti, in spite of the fact that the danger from aftershocks made it necessary for him to sleep outdoors on the ground. And the lack of sanitation created a high risk of disease. The already difficult living conditions were intensified by the natural disaster. Tom reported, however, that “we have it good compared to most of the country.“
The first weekend after the earthquake, I told my people at St. Thomas Aquinas about Tom. I explained that I was not going to wait for any relief organization, but was going to send my check directly to him. I invited anyone who wanted to reach out in Christian Charity and make an immediate contribution, to get their donation to me as soon as possible. By the end of the week, I was able to send a substantial sum, through the Oblate headquarters, directly to Tom. The money went DIRECTLY from our hands to the hands of the poor. He, together with a local parish priest, saw to it that the money was spent in the best possible way, to bring relief to as many people as possible.
Eventually, a letter appeared in my mail at St. Thomas Aquinas. It wasn’t on fancy letterhead and it was obviously typed on an old fashioned typewriter. It was a beautiful expression of gratitude by the parish priest who was working with Tom. It did not offer a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, but I was confident that it was put to immediate and proper use. I don’t want to give the impression that I think organized charities are bad…because I certainly do not. But I do know that very often, because of their corporate structure, our donations do not reach the poor…penny for penny.
Just this past week…a so-called “charity watchdog” operating out of Great Britain completed an 18-month-long investigation of the relief efforts of one of the major international relief organizations that responded to the earthquake in Haiti 10 years ago. The report, which took all these years to issue, describes the charity as fostering a “culture of bad behavior.”
I am confident that the Oblate mission outreach is a “Culture of Christ.”
You know…The motto of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales is LIVE JESUS! For many years, Fr. Tom Moore did that. He certainly LIVED JESUS here in Saginaw. But he encountered the suffering Christ in Haiti.
There are many other men like him, who heard the Lord’s call to go out among the wolves to bring relief to the lambs…not only in Haiti, but in parts of South America and Mexico, Africa and India…where Oblates LIVE JESUS and encounter Christ in the poor. So today, I ask you to join me in supporting their work of bringing hope to the hopeless, confident that your donation will reach the right hands and be spent in the best possible way…doing the most possible good.
I really need to tell you the rest of Tom Moore’s story. While helping to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, he became ill. The doctors there diagnosed hepatitis, which was logical considering the conditions in which he lived. He reluctantly agreed to return to the U.S. for treatment. The doctors here felt that it was something more serious, and, within days of his return, he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died within the year. One of his great regrets during his final illness was that he could not continue his work in Haiti. But, he found comfort in the fact that other Oblates are doing just that.
Please help their efforts through a donation….and in that way, LIVE JESUS!