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Monsignor Gregory L. Higley reminded the congregation that “Jesus’s farewell message to the Apostles 2,000 years ago was, ‘I’ll never leave you orphaned. I’ll always be with you, because I am your best friend.’
“And that’s all He asks of us in return: to be a true friend to Him.”
Msgr. Higley wore a facemask while offering Mass and preaching the homily in the Romanesque chapel of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg May 17.
About 30 people, keeping proper social distance, attended.
“This, of course, would ordinarily be the day of Maifest in Hermann and of our May Pilgrimage to this shrine,” he noted. “Much of the activities had to be postponed until next year, but I wanted to have Mass if at all possible.”
“Sum total of the Gospel”
Msgr. Higley noted that for the past several weeks, the Gospel readings had come from the 12th, 13th and 14th chapters of the Gospel According to St. John.
“This is Jesus’s last discourse, His final farewell message,” said Msgr. Higley. “Now, His Apostles don’t know that it’s His farewell message ... but He knows it. And that’s why He has to cover a lot of ground.”
The priest asserted that those three chapters present a compact summary of all of Jesus’s teaching.
“That’s the sum total of the Gospel,” he said. “After that, Jesus and the apostles go to the Kindron Valley, which of course, is represented here on the shrine grounds down below where the creek is.
“And He is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, depicted there at our Mount Olivet Grotto,” he added.
Through His last discourse, Jesus wants His apostles and those they would minister to, to see God not as a punitive judge but a loving Father.
“And it’s not just meant to be a metaphor,” said Msgr. Higley. “It’s a true relationship.”
Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit — the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Advocate.
“The Holy Spirit is our helper,” he said.
And Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer, presents Himself as a friend.
He deals honestly but lovingly with His people. He always has their best interest in mind.
That friendship continues to deepen and grow, even when the friends don’t see each other every day.
“That’s a true friend,” Msgr. Higley stated. “That’s the relationship Jesus wants to have with us.
“He is a true friend, in fact He is our best friend,” he said. “Jesus is a true friend that we don’t always see but we know He’s here.
“And that’s why we come here as Catholics, to enter into communion with our best friend,” he said.
The calling of Catholic Christians is to be a best friend back to Jesus, which requires spending time with Him in prayer.
“And not just when we come here for worship,” said Msgr. Higley, “but especially through the other six days of the week.”
“Ask your mother”
Msgr. Higley acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic is “downright scary.”
“This microscopic virus is wreaking havoc upon every aspect of our daily activities,” he said.
He urged everyone to spend what would have been Pilgrimage Day calling upon the Blessed Mother to intercede before the throne of her Son, on behalf of all of God’s people.
“We do this time and time again for family members who ask for prayers or whom we know need our prayers,” the priest stated. “We do this all the time when situations in our lives plague us with worry and anxiety, so we give them up to our Blessed Mother.”
Having herself experienced unfathomable suffering in her role as “Our Lady of Sorrows,” especially in witnessing her Son’s passion and death, Mary understands other people’s fears, worries, anxieties and sorrows.
“That is why we turn to her,” said Msgr. Higley. “That is why her shrine in Starkenburg is such a gift to our community and to every person that makes a visit here.”
He encouraged everyone to pray a Rosary “for the victims of COVID-19, the healthcare professionals providing care, the millions of people who are out of work, the millions who have had to close up their businesses, the millions of children unable to attend their local schools, in our own country and all over the world.”
He said praying alone or with others is the best thing most people can do to help end the pandemic.
“This is not only a time for the power of medicine, this is also a time for the power of faith!” he said.
“Very holy ground”
Nearby Valentine Hall, which on Pilgrimage Day would normally be filled with people gathering for a meal and fellowship, was empty except for a handmade quilt marked, “To be raffled off at the May 17 Pilgrimage.”
From the hundreds of chances that were sold, young Gus VanBooven, pulled out the winning ticket from Bayville, New Jersey.
Msgr. Higley thanked everyone for their support of the shrine.
“And hopefully, it will be here for another 100 years, because of people like yourselves who are benefactors of this very holy place and this very holy ground.”
The Fall Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 13.
La Salette Father Denis Meyer, a Jefferson City native who is celebrating his 50th priestly anniversary this year, plans to lead the pilgrimage.