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Well, at an hour, you least expect it. I was surprised on Thursday because I found out that I have a new assignment that came out of the blue. I’ve been assigned to be the administrator of Saint Matthias Parish in Parma, which is my hometown. My mother already mapped it out; I am 11 minutes away from her house, which is a good thing; she’s excited about that. But this has been a surprise for Father Paul and for me and for Father Andy, we didn’t know anything about this until Thursday, and then I found out I start next weekend, so this is my last weekend here with you as a parish. 

I asked Father Paul if I could just preach at all the masses, and as I was kind of preparing for this and reflecting on the last couple of years that I’ve had with you, we hear in the second reading that Moses went on a sojourn. I didn’t know what sojourn was, so I had to look it up in the dictionary. A sojourn is like a short trip. It’s like going out on a little vacation, and it’s temporary. Well, as a parochial vicar, I always knew that my time here would be temporary. I didn’t know it would be this temporary, but it leads us on to a new adventure, and it’s a reminder for all of us that we don’t know the day or the hour that our lives may change and that we have to truly be grateful and take advantage of the opportunities that we have. 

So, as I was thinking about the change when I first came here, I was assigned on February 24th of, 2020, and that was the Monday before Ash Wednesday. I don’t know if you remember that time, but on March 16th of 2020, not even two or three weeks later, the parishes were closed for Mass. And so, I didn’t even get to meet a lot of you, and all of a sudden, everything was closed down, and Father Andy and Father Paul and myself were in our own little bubble in the rectory. And it is kind of neat having them here today because we celebrated so many masses. In the beginning, we concelebrated together on Sundays to pray for all of the people, and it’s truly been a wonderful pleasure. You have been wonderful, but it has been wonderful to be with Father Paul and Father Andy. This has been a nice soft place to land; they have been so good and patient with me, and it’s just been the most home I’ve ever felt at a parish. So, thank you for that, and thank you, Father Paul and Father Andy for your goodness and kindness to me. 

After the pandemic closed the churches, we started up the live stream, and then on Tuesday nights, we started Fireside Chat, where we addressed you every week from the living room of the parish with our fire, and I’ll never forget celebrating mass in my room for all of you. Those were some of the most powerful masses I had because I was just interceding for you and so desiring to meet all of you in person.  I met many of you for the first time in the Adoration Chapel, where we clandestinely came together and prayed before the Eucharist at night.  On May 18th, I planted my first sunflowers, and I was excited about it, kind of feeling at home with that. May 25th, the parishes softly began to open, as the letter said, and then May 31st was Pentecost when the June 5th dispensation would be lifted.  I thought on Pentecost; my idea was to have a mask burning party, that we would burn all of our masks that Pentecost; little did I know how much we would still have to need our masks after that. I wouldn’t see your faces for months. I didn’t see your faces for the first 4, 5, or 6 months of my assignment here, so it is so good to see them right now.  It is so wonderful to be able to do that. 

Early on, when we started to open up a little bit, we started playing ultimate Frisbee with the teens, and that was a wonderful way; what wonderful teens we have. I so thoroughly enjoyed them and my time with them. To teach in grade school has been a real privilege. We have a wonderful grade school here. Teaching RCIA and the young adult brunch.  I was blessed to do two parish missions with you during the time of the pandemic. I got to write a book, “Pray Advent,” so I got to share all of that with you. Divine Mercy Sunday, we did the consecration to Joseph, the year of Saint Joseph. the Eucharistic processions, Bishop Pilla died during that time, and I got to interview him right before he died. I was a police chaplain and helped out with The Healing Ministry here. I celebrated my 15 years as a Priest with all of you just this past May. 

So, it’s been a wonderful time that I have had with you.  But probably my favorite memory with Father Paul and Father Andy is just before Good Shepherd Sunday, and I decided I would surprise them for the fireside chat, and I found a sheep that I brought into the rectory. They didn’t know about it, and maybe part of the reason is I didn’t want Father Paul to say no, so we brought the sheep in, and I put them on my shoulders. Father Andy, as a newly ordained, put the sheep on his shoulders, and Father Andy said the funniest line before I brought the sheep in. He came down and said, “Hey Father Michael, I’m hearing weird noises outside my, like animal noises and banging outside of my rectory, like, what’s going on?” And I said, “Don’t worry about it; you’ll see soon enough.” And it probably will be the first, and perhaps the last time there is a live sheep in the rectory, right Father Paul?  

So, these have just been joyful years. Again, I want to thank both of you for being patient, kind, and good to me with all my shenanigans. It’s just been wonderful; it’s been the most at home I have ever felt in a rectory, so thank you for that.  My Hope is that through all of this, in some way, you have come to know Jesus more, in some way that you have come to know and see his face.  Especially my love for teaching prayer, I just hope you come to know how much God loves you. The Father loves you. Jesus wants to be your Good Shepherd; the Holy Spirit is with you.  And you know me, I like to sing and play on the ukulele so I was going to leave you with a farewell song called, “Will you Love Jesus More.”  

     Fr. Denk sings:  

             I feel quite sure if I did my best, I could maybe impress you with tender words 

             and harmony, a clever rhyme or two. But if all I’ve done in the time we shared, 

             is turn your eyes on me, then I failed at what we’re called to do; 

             There’s someone else I want you to see.  

             Will you love Jesus more when we go our separate ways? 

             When this moment is a memory, will you remember his face?  

             Will you look back and realize you sensed his love more than you did before? 

             I pray for nothing less than for you to love Jesus more.  

             I’d like to keep these memories in frames of gold and silver 

             and reminisce a year from now about the smiles we share., 

             But above all else, I hope you will come to know the Father’s Love 

             and when you see the Lord, face-to-face, you’ll hear him say, ‘well done.’  

             Will you love Jesus more when we go our separate ways? 

             When this moment is a memory, will you remember his face? 

             Will you look back and realize you sensed his love more than you did before? 

             I pray for nothing less than for you to love Jesus more. 

             I pray for nothing less than for you to Love Jesus more: 

Father Denk stops singing: (Applause) 

Thank you, please be seated just for a second.  So, I always feel it’s just very important for me to express my gratitude to all of you; I really thank you so much for loving me and allowing me to be part of your lives. Thank you again to my brother Priests, with whom I’ve had the privilege and honor to serve. They’re such holy and good Priests.  I always like to say that if I have ever hurt or disappointed anyone, I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart. It probably came from my own weakness or humanness, so I just want to say that I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt you and know that I do love you. I want to assure you of my prayers as I go forth and thank you so much for allowing me to be your priest here during this time. 

My hope and my prayer are that through anything I may have done, you have come to know the Father’s love for you, and you have come to know and see and love our Lord Jesus more. God Bless You.