“12 years… 12 years… 12 years.” – These are the words His Excellency Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo repeated as he tearfully addressed the congregation during his homily at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy, MI this past Sunday, June 15 2014. In a historic weekend for our Church that saw a new Bishop, Mar Francis Kalabat, be ordained, attended by almost every Chaldean Bishop around the world along with the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, two Cardinals, our Patriarch Mar Louis I Sako, and a host of others, it also saw an old Pastor and current Bishop say mass at his former parish for the first time in over 12 years.
For Mar Sarhad, St. Joseph’s is much more than just a priestly assignment from his past. He built and designed that masterpiece of a Church brick-by-brick. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing it first-hand, you’ll notice that structurally it isn’t your typical Church, especially for a flock that happens to be the largest-attended Chaldean parish in America – a flock that he led for over 20 years. The ceilings are significantly lower than what you would expect, but you would never know it. The way he designed and constructed the ceiling gives it the feel and effect of a large cathedral. College professors and students from Michigan have studied that ceiling to see how he achieved this composition. The Eastern Iconography that fashions the walls and the sanctuary is a sight to behold. For anyone to leave all this, let alone a priest, and not be able to return for 12 years would be very difficult to say the least.
Although Mar Sarhad has obviously accomplished so many amazing things since being elected our Bishop, there is undoubtedly a special place in his heart for St. Joseph’s and its parishioners. I experienced the first sign of this personally when I saw many members of the congregation crying as we began the procession at the start of mass. Fr. Andrew Younan, Seminarians David Stephen and Ankido Sipo, along with Shamashe Dany Shabilla, Marlo Georgis, and I were blessed and fortunate enough to serve this mass with our Bishop and witness this immensely magnificent moment. As Mar Sarhad recited the gospel, his emotions were too overwhelming. While recounting the “children sitting at the marketplace,” he could not help but get choked up and had to take a few moments to pause and gather himself. He was proclaiming the Word of God on the altar he had built in front of a congregation he hasn’t served in over a dozen years. Maybe it was the answer to God’s question of what shall He compare the “men of this generation” to that triggered this sentiment: “They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, `We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep’” (Luke 7:32).
In his homily, Mar Sarhad explained that the reason the “children” act like this is because they can never be satisfied. We are the children. We can never be satisfied. No matter how much money we make, how many friends we have, whatever social status we may achieve, we will always want something more. The only thing that can truly satisfy us is Christ as it is answered in the gospel, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:35). Christ is the wisdom of God and no matter what the circumstances were that made it so long for Mar Sarhad to return, we continue to trust in that wisdom and allow it to guide our Church. After mass ended, the people swarmed towards their former Pastor to greet and receive a Blessing from him. The emotion in that Church overwhelmed me as it did pretty much every single person. We all wept – men, women, and children – not because we were sad or sought something we didn’t have, we wept because we were all satisfied by this moment. A moment only the wisdom of God can produce.