“We will walk into the future together, you and I and all of the members of our local church, the Archdiocese of San Antonio,” – Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS
‘You rightly take pride in the history of this parish’
The feast of the Transfiguration on Aug. 6 was a bittersweet Sunday for the parish community of St. Stephen Church. Mainly sadness that the more than 50-old community was celebrating its final liturgy, but mixed with anticipation and hope of new possibilities as the parishioners join other Catholic churches on the Westside of San Antonio.
Many faithful who received their sacraments or grew up in the St. Stephen’s neighborhood returned to attend the closing Mass and fill the sanctuary to standing room only capacity. In recent times, only 40 families were registered at the parish.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, presided at the liturgy, joined by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette and eight priest concelebrants, mainly former pastors and priests of parishes on the Westside, who are willing to welcome parishioners from St. Stephen’s with open arms.
In his homily, the archbishop said that the readings for the day open with an almost overwhelming portrayal of almighty God and the heavenly court. “Blinding light, surging streams of fire, countless heavenly beings emphasize the transcendence of God. God is totally Other!” he began. “The Psalm response speaks of mountains melting in God’s presence! We can only stand in total awe — shielding our eyes from the brightness of God’s glory.”
The Son of God is described in similar majestic terms — coming before the heavenly Father “on the clouds of heaven” and given everlasting dominion over all creation.
In the Gospel from 2 Peter 1:16-19, listeners are led to a high mountain — the border or frontier between heaven and earth. With Peter, James, and John we encounter Jesus transfigured and talking with the prophets Moses and Elijah.
“Jesus then makes a very simple, very human gesture — he reaches out and touches them. He tells them not to be afraid,” Archbishop Gustavo emphasized. “The transcendent God also comes to us in a very intimate, human way — reaches out and touches each of us gently and says: Do not be afraid. Do not fear me. Do not fear for the future. You are very dear to me, and I love you very much. I am with you — I will help you overcome every obstacle, carry any cross.”
The San Antonio prelate then addressed the closing of the parish, acknowledging that it is a sad day, especially for the parishioners of St. Stephen’s.
“At the same time I have been very, very impressed that you have consistently wanted to do what is best for the Church and committed to helping the community of faith grow,” he stressed. “You rightly take great pride in the proud history of this parish. It has admirably served its purpose.”
However, the archbishop reiterated that now is time to move on to the next phase of our journey of faith.
“We will walk into the future together, you and I and all of the members of our local church, the Archdiocese of San Antonio,” he told the hundreds gathered at St. Stephen’s, many wiping away tears. “And the Lord will walk with us. He reaches out his hand and touches each of us today and says: Do not be afraid!”
Following Communion, and prior to the conclusion of the liturgy, the Eucharist was removed from the tabernacle and the altar cloth folded and taken from the table of the Lord. While these actions are familiar to Catholics from Holy Week services, they were particularly poignant on this day.
“Before we take leave of St. Stephen’s Parish, let us pause to once more express our deep affection for this place and the history of Christian community life that had taken place here,” said Archbishop Gustavo. “Whenever we eat this Eucharistic bread and wine we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Lastly, the deacon, holding the paschal candle, prepared to process out the center aisle. “With thanks to God for the good accomplished here, this parish of St. Stephen’s is now closed,” the archbishop intoned in the final commendation while the recessional hymn began.
After the liturgy attendees gathered in the parish hall for a reception, while many stayed in the sanctuary snapping photos with family and friends to mark the occasion.