MSGR. MATTHEW CONNELLY’S RETIREMENT – FEBRUARY 2006

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
To care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

These words from St. James’s letter – indeed the entire epistle – are a continual challenge to us as we attempt to respond to the gospel’s call to holiness. Thank God that he has given us in the lives of the Saints ample models for us to imitate as we strive to conform ourselves – not to the world, but to Christ.  And today, we thank God for Msgr. Connolly who for many years and in many ways, in many different ministries in our diocese, as a pastor and as a chancery official, has modeled for us, clergy and laity alike, what a religion pure and undefiled looks like.

Today, we gather around this Eucharistic table to thank God for the witness of Msgr. Matt Connolly.  He now begins a new phrase of his priestly life with his retirement as our Diocesan judicial vicar. But, retirement does not  mean that he no longer has an active role to play in the life of our Diocese.  However, it is a role that won’t require his coming to the office as he has done faithfully over the years – and with great courage, even in spite of physical infirmities that might have stopped a weaker man.  Monsignor Connolly still remains a priest – and retirement or not, I am sure that he will continue to live out this priesthood embraced some 53 years ago with that same characteristic courage and evangelical simplicity that in the short time that I have known him has edified and inspired me.  As the Pontifical honors he has received recently, both the award of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice as well as being named a Monsignor, demonstrated so well, he has earned the respect of his peers and the love of the people of God in this Diocese. He has served us so well throughout his priesthood.  Of course, as he understands, this active priesthood will not be as “public” as before – but he will continue to pray (and I would ask you that in your prayers, you continue to storm heaven for an increase of vocations to our diocesan priesthood, Monsignor will continue to celebrate Mass, he will continue to unite himself to the Lord especially as the acceptance of the limitations of age and of infirmity as a means of sharing in Jesus’ passion becomes a new apostolate, a new ministry.

Msgr., your life as a priest is bound up with the history of this diocese.  You came here to this region when all of Florida was one diocese.  You began your priesthood some years before the changes of Vatican II.  You were here when the Diocese was formed some 38 years ago.  You helped established this diocese in its earlier days – and like the priests of your generation you helped implement the changes called for by the Council.  In all this you have witnessed the growth of this local Church, but also your pastoral zeal helped make this Church grow.  You have seen the lights and shadows of this history.  And today, as you retire you can have some “holy pride” that your contributions have been to the bright side of the history of this local Church of Orlando.

The passage of time helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens the painful side.  Hopefully, as you look back on your ministry in this diocese, the light of faith – the light that gives true sight – will dispel any shadows that you may have experienced as you tried to respond to God’s call and to live up to the promise of obedience you gave to your bishop on the day of your ordination.

Every person’s life is lived under the sign of the Cross.  Experience shows, especially when that experience is interpreted in the light of the wisdom that age gives, experience shows that life’s difficulties, by God’s grace, contribute to peoples’ growth and the forging of their character.   From adversity comes a light that can brighten the years of old age for as St. John Chrysotom said:  tribulations not only do not destroy hope, they are its foundation.

In Psalm 71: 17-18,  we pray: “You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deed.  And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation to come.

Monsignor, even old age can be a time of favor, a time of grace. And to that you might say:  Well, that’s easy for you to say. But, it is your graciousness, in accepting the gift of your grey hairs,that make it easier for us younger souls to look forward to that time of grace.  May God make each of us whatever our age aware of this, that old age is a time of favor and in that awareness each of us may savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future.

Monsignor, live with serenity these years that Lord has granted you.
We are grateful for your witness.  We thank you for having said yes – and for continuing to that yes to God, “unstained by the world.”