June 18, 2022- 50th Anniversary of Ordination Celebration

Fiftieth Anniversary of Ordination 

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna 

A group of people in a church

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Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”. Matthew 5:1-12


When I was a teenager living in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, I served as an acolyte at many funerals. Since there were a lot of elderly Italians living in the neighborhood, on a busy morning you could have as many as three funerals.  One among them was most memorable.  It was the funeral of Joe Profaci, the Olive Oil Don.  The Profaci family, in time, morphed into the better know Columbo family.  These two families along with the Genovese and Bonanno families, kept the streets of our neighborhood safe from “disorganized” crime. 

This funeral was over the top.  St. Bernadette’s Church was packed.  All the men sitting in the pews wore dark glasses.  During the mass I observed other men walking up and down the side aisles taking notes.  I later learned that these were FBI agents. The cortege of flower cars, bumper to bumper, stretched at least 15 blocks along 13th Avenue bearing the floral memorial tributes of countless, let’s say, persons of interest.  

It was thoroughly exciting.  As I looked at the priest celebrating the mass, I thought I would like my own life punctuated with exciting moments like these.  I want to be a priest.  God does work in mysterious ways and speaks to us in unusual moments, does He not? 

A short time later, I read A.J. Cronin’s, Keys of the Kingdom and watched the movie version of the book in which Gregory Peck portrayed Father Chisolm who was sent as a missionary to China.  I found the story exciting and engaging and pictured myself one day making the same journey.

When I was 17, an issue of the Maryknoll Magazine arrived in the mail.  I paid more attention to its contents than I had previously done.  I found what I read stimulating enough to move me to phone Maryknoll’s Vocation Office in Manhattan and make an appointment with the vocation director.  The next thing I knew, I was packing my bags to begin my seminary training. 

Nine years later, I processed up the aisle of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, Chapel, at Maryknoll’s headquarters in Ossining, with 13 of my classmates.  When we arrived at the altar, we prostrated ourselves on the floor of the sanctuary while the choir chanted the Veni, Creator Spiritus, Come, Holy Spirit.

Later in the service, Bishop James Edward Walsh, who the previous spring had been unexpectedly released from a Chinese prison after spending twelve years of a twenty-year sentence for sedition, laid hands upon each of our heads and ordained us priests.  My heart leapt for joy in that moment. It was and remains for me, in the words of St. Paul, a joy that the world cannot give and cannot take away.  My first overseas assignment with Maryknoll was to Hong Kong and its ministry to refugees from mainland China.

Yes, I have found these past 50 years exciting years and joy-filled years.  When we are young, we naively believe that our lives will unfold as we plan them.  As I look back, I can honestly say that I would never have imagined my story to have unfolded as it has.   I want to believe and trust that it has been Spirit led and Spirit driven.  For though, at times, it has been painful, taking me to places that I would not have chosen to go; requiring my taking unusual risks, making unanticipated choices; and engaging unexpected changes, it has remained both exciting and joy filled.

And you, my dear family of friends; members of my Maryknoll family; my sister and brother priests of this diocese; my colleagues in ministry; members of the Kingston Interfaith Council and the Black Minister’s Alliance; those to whom I have ministered at St. Margaret’s in Staatsburg, St. Andrew’s in Beacon, and for these last 12 years at Holy Cross/Santa Cruz in Kingston; those among you whom, I have in this last six years come to know, admire, and love through the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network and the service we engage on behalf of our immigrant friends; are the ones through whom the Spirit of God has sustained excitement and joy in my life.  

To share your lives in their joys and in their sorrows, in their hopes and in their fears, in their triumphs and in their tragedies, in their birthing new life and in their being birthed into eternal life, has been a gift that my one heart finds so hard to contain and a treasure that has made my life so very much worth living.

Early in my life I was seduced by the person and mystery of Jesus Christ, and I fell in love with my Lord.  The Sermon on the Mount and its prologue, the Beatitudes, proclaimed as today’s Gospel, serve as the Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God.  As far as I know, there has never been a more radical message proclaimed in any spiritual tradition.  It is at once both a, compelling and daunting, invitation to what, at times, appears to be an impossible transformation. It is a call to turn both ourselves in the way we think, feel, and order our lives, and the world, in its systems, structures, and ordinary ways of doing business upside down. 

For me, the person and mystery of Jesus Christ know no equal. Through Him, we are invited into a relationship with God that is grounded in the experience of intimate mutuality, predicated on unconditional acceptance, uncompromising forgiveness, and boundless mercy.   

God is not some great vending machine, that exists to meet our every need if we only plunk in the right amount of change.   Our relationship with God is not a transactional quid pro quo.  God is first and foremost our lover, who loves us with a love beyond all telling.  This love is the wellspring of a freedom before which all other experiences of freedom pale by comparison.  It is a love that enables us to live our lives free from any and all fear, even the fear of death.

I cannot read the Sermon on the Mount and not be blown away again and again by its invitation and call to live life by a standard that the world will only ever count as foolish. And for fifty years I have relished the striving to live as a fool for Christ, knowing that I am deeply loved, even and most poignantly, in those many moments in which I have failed and will fail to be all that God has made it possible for me to be.  For whatever my failures in your regard, today, I ask your forgiveness.

Getting back to Brooklyn 60 years ago, and my vocation beginning with the excitement of participating in the burial of mobster.  Over these many years I have learned that organized crime, with its crime bosses and their henchmen is not exhausted by the likes of those who live the Godfather reality.  

I have learned that organized crime can command the soul of even whole societies and certainly those societies in which structures and institutions are constructed precisely for the purpose of maintaining and advancing the status quo.  A status quo that is predicated on greed, in service to mammon, toward the end of keeping most people in servitude, drugged with the cool aid of national and religious exceptionalism, committed to tribalism, and to the narcissistic impulse that causes legitimate self-care to morph into unmitigated selfishness. 

Where economic, judicial, and social systems are set up to ensure that money, and the power that it enables, remain in the hands of those who have already stolen too much and exploited too many for their own personal gain, and to sustain their position of privileged power, and in our society, white power.  A status quo supported by countless myths about our own goodness that leave no room for that spirit of repentance so necessary for the birthing of the Beloved Community for which Dr. King lived and died.  

I learned that casual charity, as necessary as it is, remains an inadequate substitute for the God-required and God-demanded change that justice requires and demands, so that wrongs are righted and the enduring disease that renders so many desperate and hopeless finds a lasting cure.  

I learned that unless a faith tradition inspires its young and motivates its members to burn with a passion for justice, that faith tradition whatever the idealism that gave it birth, is necessarily life sucking rather than life giving.  

However, we may know and name God, if we do not get that God requires justice, then we do not get God, and the God we presume to know and to worship can only be an idol of our own making for the sake of our own comfort rather than the service to His will.  

Do not the scriptures make it very clear that it is His will that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

Do not the scriptures make it very clear that it is His will that we execute justice for the orphan and the widow, and love the sojourner, the stranger who has come to live among us, giving him what he needs to live?

Do not the scriptures make it clear that all expressions of hate: anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and the racist scapegoating of people of color, immigrants, and the classist scapegoating of the poor are virulent malignancies? 

These often fly under the banner of so-called Christian nationalism.  These must be opposed and resisted with every fiber of our being.  These must be opposed and resisted with all the love that we can muster.  And given the fact that God has indeed, through the mystery of the cross, poured an ocean of love into our hearts, have we not been given more than enough love to overcome any sea of darkness? 

The scriptures are very clear that those who hunger for justice are blessed and that their hunger will be satisfied.  

There is no ambiguity in God’s will when it comes to the requirements of justice.  May there be always less ambiguity in our response to doing His will when it comes to securing justice.   

Priests are ordained to offer sacrifice.  We grow into the fullness of ordination by striving to become the sacrifice we would offer. Those of us who are baptized have been baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ, may we all stive be and become the living sacrifice that we would offer. 

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 18, 2022