A few people have asked me about this, so here it is: my farewell homily from the 11:15 Mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church in Forest Hills, NY, July 2, 2023. Celebrant: Bishop Paul Sanchez. The video from the livestream is also embedded below. 

Over the last two weeks, these Sunday gospel readings have described Jesus commissioning his disciples — sending them out into the world.

To start off with, we heard him tell them how to proclaim the kingdom of God. He told them to fear no one, to remember how precious they are in the eyes of God.

But then this Sunday, as he warns them about dangers to come, he says something unexpected.

He uses the “c” word.


“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Imagine being a young disciple of Jesus and hearing that.

And yet: they embraced their mission. With courage. With passion. With enthusiasm.

For them, taking up the cross was worth it.

But what about us?  What do we think of when we think of taking up a cross?

For the last few days, I’ve been living with this Gospel, thinking about it, praying about it, as I prepared to speak today.  This is my last Sunday here with you. And as I reflect on these words of Jesus, I’m reminded of how much my life and ministry at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs have been made meaningful, and beautiful, by the cross.

It’s there again and again.

Dipping my fingers in the font to make the sign of the cross.

Marking the brow of a newborn at baptism with the sign of the cross.

Smudging my thumb in ashes to mark foreheads with a cross on Ash Wednesday.

And then there are the Benedictions —holding the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, to offer a blessing with the sign of the cross.

So often, we think that the cross is all about hardship and martyrdom.

But it’s so much more than that.

The words of a great hymn keep coming back to me: “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ‘til all the world adore his sacred name.”

The fact is: When we “take up our cross,” we don’t just take up a burden to bear.

We take up our faith.

We take up our hope.

We take up courage.

We take up Christ.

And then we bear witness to the world, to bring the Christian story to others.

Years ago, PBS did a profile about Don Hewitt, the legendary creator of “60 Minutes.” The producer asked him, what’s the secret of the show’s success? Why has it lasted so long? And he said, “It’s very simple. It comes down to four little words. Four words every child knows. Tell me a story.”

Tell me a story.

The cross is our story. 

A story not just suffering and sacrifice, but of renewal and mercy, of compassion and hope.

To take up the cross of Christ and bear it to others is to remind the world of this astonishing truth: God’s grace never fails.

One of my favorite scripture passages assures us, “Behold, I make all things new.” That is the acclamation of a God who loves us beyond measure, whose creative work in the world continues, even now, in each of us.

That is the promise that we carry when we take up the cross.

At his installation as pastor a couple weeks ago, Father Passenant spoke about what it means to be a vibrant parish.

I look out into the pews today and I see it.

It’s widow lighting a candle, praying a rosary, receiving the Eucharist, and leaving renewed and restored.

It’s the parents who come here week after week to teach their children how to pray.

It’s the struggling men and women who come here to gain strength…the hungry who come to be fed with the Bread of Life… the lonely who come to find friendship…the troubled or the anxious who come here to find peace.

It’s the everyday Catholic just trying to live a good life — someone, really, not that different from me — who just needs to spend an hour in God’s house, and who finds here something uplifting and full of joy.

It’s beautiful, all of it.

And so much of it is because of you. The people of this parish have reminded me across the years that ours is a living faith — and you’ve given me lessons in how to live it. It’s been humbling.  I’m so grateful for that.

As I mentioned in the bulletin last week: I’ve had great teachers in my time here, men like Msgr. Funaro, Bishop Sanchez — himself, the son of a deacon — Father Passenant and all the priests who have been here across the last 20 years and who have embraced me as a friend and a brother.  I owe them a debt I can never repay.

Of course, there has also been another wonderful teacher.

My wife, Siobhain.

I am standing here today, literally, because of her.

When a married man is about to be ordained as a deacon, his wife has to write out by hand a letter to the bishop of the diocese, giving her consent — really, giving her permission for him to be ordained to Holy Orders.

People sometimes thank me for answering the call to this vocation and saying “Yes.”

But the REAL yes that mattered was the one from my wife.

She has been my partner, collaborator, helpmate, support for 37 years of marriage. I introduce her at baptisms as the “minister of the towel.” She’s the first to reach out to the brand new baby Christian, to dry a head or dry the tears and offer a smile of welcome.

I love that. And I love her. I love how year after year, she has been the voice of Lent, the voice of Mary for so many of us as we have all walked together the Way of the Cross.

Which. brings me to another great teacher in my life: Mary, our Blessed Mother, who has been a constant in my life since before I was even born.

Not many people know this. After my mother lost three children through miscarriages, she found out she was pregnant again. She began the Miraculous Medal novena, praying that her next child would live. And 64 years alter, here I am. Mary has helped teach me that taking up the cross is also about patience, and resilience, and faith.

It’s about a mother walking with her son, through everything.

I spoke at the beginning all the crosses that have marked my life and ministry. I want to mention just more. We are all a part of it right now.

I’m talking about this very building. Like so many magnificent churches around the world, it is built in the form of a cross.

Last Sunday, Father Kuroley and I were talking in the rectory kitchen, and he mentioned this church could be considered the “cathedral of Queens,” in part because it is where so many cultures, languages and backgrounds intersect.

They intersect, in fact, like a cross.

Within this cross, we encounter something wondrous: grace. This church, this cross, is never more vibrant and alive than when it is filled with people worshipping God.

But the glory of this particular cross is how beautiful it is, even when it is empty.

My favorite time to be in this church is on any Sunday afternoon, after the last Mass, and the baptisms are done, and I’m walking around checking the doors. I turn off the lights. The pillars and arches take in the stunning colors of the stained glass windows. Blues and reds and yellows dapple the walls. I look up at the altar and see that rose window. And beneath it, the tabernacle.

I know I am not alone. Jesus is here.

I remember what the archbishop of Notre Dame said after fire devastated that historic church. “Why was this beauty built?” he asked. “What jewel was this case meant to contain? It was built for a piece of bread, that bread that we believe is the body of Christ.”

So it is with our own Notre Dame, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.

This will always be home to me. When I want to revisit, I will close my eyes and be here. I will see it all again. The windows. The statues. The pews filled with people. The choir singing, the altar servers processing in.

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim…”

My friends, this is my message for this Sunday, and every Sunday of my life: Take up the cross. Proclaim the love of Christ. Tell this story. With words. With your lives. Bring Christ into the world every day.

And know this: God is with you.

I’ve had to be reminded of this so often over the last few months, as we’ve dealt with realtors and lawyers and moving. I’ve had my share of meltdowns. But my wife has reassured me of this again and again: just have faith. Trust. God’s love never fails. He’s in charge.

As usual, she’s right.

Please pray for me and Siobhain as we begin this next great adventure in our lives.

Know that wherever we are, we will be praying for you, with the cross before us and with confidence and hope in our hearts and these words to our Lady on our lips:

“Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.”