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Homily: Monsignor Jim—Servant of All

Msgr. Jim Loughnane:  “Servant of All”
Homily on Sunday, September 23, 2018 by Fr. John Palmer


In today’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus tells his disciples about the Passion that he will endure.  Specifically, Jesus says that he will be handed over to men, who will kill him; and then in three days he will rise.  After hearing Jesus describe his Passion and death, the disciples surprisingly express no concern about what he will endure; and they seemingly have no empathy for him.  Instead, they argue among themselves about who is the greatest.  In their self-centeredness, they completely ignore what will happen to Jesus, and focus only on themselves.

We may shake our heads in disbelief over the callousness of the disciples.  And yet, they probably are not much different than we are.  If we’re honest, many of us probably would have to admit that, in our daily lives, we focus mainly on our own needs and concerns, rather than on the needs and concerns of others.

Consequently, in today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples, including all of us today, to get beyond our inherent selfishness.  He says that “if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”  Thus, greatness does not involve attaining a high rank or a high status.  According to Jesus, true greatness consists in humble service to others.

This week, our parish mourns the loss of a truly great man, our beloved pastor, Monsignor Jim Loughnane.  He was not great because he attained the rank of monsignor, or because he was the Episcopal Vicar of the San Gabriel Pastoral Region for more than three years, or because he chaired the Clergy Personnel Board for the archdiocese for 12 years.  Monsignor Jim was great because he lived a life of humble service to others.

And all of us at St. Denis saw this firsthand.  Monsignor lived his entire life to serve others, ministering as a priest for over 57 years.  He put everything that he had—his heart, soul, mind, and strength—into his ministry.  And he held nothing back. 

He was always responsive to people’s needs; and whatever someone needed, he would do.  Even at 81 years old, he was always ready to take emergency calls, anoint the sick on short notice, or squeeze in an extra liturgy, such as a last-minute funeral, wedding, or baptism, even if he had three or four other Masses that same day.  In recent years, he didn’t take a day off; and he hardly slept, preferring to work in his office from early morning until 10:00 p.m. at night.  He was like the Energizer Bunny from the old commercials—he just kept going and going and going.  He was an inspiration for me because he showed me that you can keep going strong well into your golden years.

Monsignor Jim poured out his life to serve others; and he died the way that he lived.  Last Monday morning (September 17), he helped to lead Morning Prayer here in the church at 6:10 a.m.  But he wasn’t feeling well.  He started sweating profusely; and his face turned ashen.  A severe pain in his back prevented him from standing.  Somehow, the parishioners moved him into the sacristy, because he still wanted to get ready for the 6:30 a.m. Mass.  He sat in a chair in the sacristy, but couldn’t get up.  One of the parishioners asked him, “Monsignor, do you want me to call 911?”  And he told her, “No!”, which was typical of him.  Thanks be to God, the parishioner called 911 anyway; and Monsignor was rushed to St. Jude Hospital, where he had emergency surgery for an abdominal aneurysm.  The surgery was completed successfully, but Monsignor never recovered.  He died at 7:10 p.m. on Monday, as people were gathering here in the church to pray a Rosary for him.

Thus, Monsignor died exactly the way that he wanted—with his boots on.  In March of this year, when the Vicar for Clergy told me that I would be assigned to St. Denis, he also told me that Monsignor Jim could retire at any time, and he repeated, “He could retire at any time.”  The Vicar wanted to prepare me for the possibility of leading the parish if Monsignor decided to retire.  But when I arrived at St. Denis in July, it was clear to me that Monsignor had no intention of retiring, and that he didn’t even want to discuss the possibility.  Whenever someone asked him when he would retire, he would say, “I’m not retiring.  I’m refiring!”  For him, “retirement” was a dirty word.

And why should he have retired?  After all, he loved what he was doing and enjoyed every minute of it.  In particular, he loved serving the people of God at St. Denis and beyond as a priest of Jesus Christ.  Like Jesus himself, Monsignor lived a generous, self-giving, self-sacrificial life.  He freely poured out his life for others, without counting the cost, by focusing on the needs of others, rather than focusing on his own needs and wants.  And by freely pouring out his life for others, he found true happiness and joy; and he found the purpose and meaning of his life.

When a loved one dies, we often want to do something to honor him or her.  And so what can we do to honor Monsignor Jim?  First, let me tell you what not to do:  Please, don’t buy any flowers because Monsignor hated cut flowers!  That’s why we tend to use artificial flowers in the church. 

I think that the best way to honor Monsignor Jim and his life’s work is for all of us to start living lives of humble service, as he did.  And we don’t have to be priests in order to do this.  We just have to find a way to reorient our lives so that we start living mainly to help other people, rather than to satisfy our own wants and desires.  And if we give our life away, by forgetting ourselves and living for others—including for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers—then we will find true joy and happiness, as Monsignor did; and we will find the purpose and meaning of our life as well.

This is how Jesus lived.  Jesus was the servant of all; and Monsignor followed in Jesus’s footsteps.  And all of us who are Christians are all called to live in the same generous, self-sacrificial way.

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