Friday, October 24, 2008

Homily 30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Here is the homily I gave to the pastor during our meeting today on the readings for this Sunday. His reply: "But what impact do the readings have on you?"...well...uh...yeah...but...

Works consulted: A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Navarre Bible Commentary, and In Conversation with God.

Last weekend, after our Lord showed the Pharisees and the Herodians the true meaning of faithful citizenship, they marveled and went away. Before our Gospel reading today, the Sadducees who denied the Resurrection, tried to stump Jesus but they too “were astonished at his teaching.” Now the Pharisees will try one last time. Infuriated that he was able to silence the Sadducees, the Pharisees gathered around our Lord and, putting forward their most clever scribe, they asked him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” By calling him Teacher they again show false humility as they did when they asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. “Teacher” was a title used with humility and respect, yet they thought they already knew it all.

With this question they again hoped to stump him. In the old Jewish Law there were 613 laws which the scribes and Pharisees rigidly imposed on God’s people. Their yoke was not easy, their burden was not light. These 613 laws were divided into light and grave offenses with the grave ones being punishable by death. And they were further divided into small and great, with our Lord’s questioner interested only in the greatest of them all. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” he asked.

To this Jesus gave a two-part answer, the first part easily recognizable to any faithful Jew. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” This is a direct reference to Deut 6:5, a prayer called the Shema which is Hebrew for the first word of the prayer: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Faithful Jews prayed this prayer three times a day, every day. Therefore, it’s the second part of our Lord’s response that would have been the most surprising to his audience. Jesus continues, “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, in an unprecedented way He formally joins love of God to love of neighbor by quoting Lev 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Such a combination of texts is nowhere to be found in the writings of the rabbis down through the centuries. The prevailing Jewish attitude toward non-Jews was of bitter contempt.

In this episode, Jesus again answers the question they should have asked. Earlier when they asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” he answered with what should be paid to Caesar and to God. Here they ask him which commandment in the law is the greatest and he gives them the greatest and the second-greatest! The reason he does this is because he understands the true spirit of the Old Law and here he does not wish to separate love of God from love of our neighbor. These two commandments summarize the spirit of the entire Old Testament and of all 613 of its laws. They even summarize the 10 commandments we all know and love today.

True love of God leads us to love our neighbor. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “When man is loved, God is loved, for man is the image of God.” This is also echoed elsewhere in Scripture. The first letter of St. John tells us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (1 Jn 4:20-21). But who is our brother/neighbor?

The Jews, before and during the time of Christ, had a strict interpretation of the term “neighbor.” They had a strong national identity and a bond with each other as the chosen Sons of God, his people set-apart to bring the entire world to Him. Therefore, naturally, “neighbor” was a fellow Jew. But, just as Jesus was the first to formally join the two texts of the Old Testament together, love of God in Deuteronomy to love of neighbor in Leviticus, so was he the first to expand the notion of neighbor beyond their national identity. So who then is our neighbor? A scribe in Luke’s Gospel asked our Lord this very question and he answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.

We all know the story, right? There a Jew is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. When the Jewish priests and Levites, who were trained in the law and thus more responsible for it, passed him by, finally a hated Samaritan stopped to help. But, he doesn’t just bandage him up and run away even though he could have because there was such hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. No, he poured water and wine on his wounds, took him to an inn, cared for him, and paid for everything. In this story the Samaritan teaches us that our neighbor is everyone in need, friend or enemy. Every person is my neighbor, more particularly the one in need.

This story of the Good Samaritan also teaches what love is and how to love. Christ is the Good Samaritan, the wounded man is the human race robbed and beaten by sin and the devil, the oil and wine are the sacraments and the inn is the Church where we are cared for and where our wounds are healed. Love is not a feeling. Love is not a twinkle in the eye or butterflies in the stomach. Love is an act of the will, to will the good of another whether it feels good or not; to put another’s good before our own. Imagine what it felt like to be the Samaritan. He knew the Jews hated his people and he was in their land. He probably was afraid and wanted to journey as quickly as he could. But, knowing the true spirit of the Old Law himself, and loving God first, he was moved to love his wounded neighbor despite the fact that he was a Jew. And this love had no mushy, buddy-buddy feelings to it. It was probably expensive to use his oil and wine on the man’s wounds but he did it anyway. It was probably difficult and dirty and tiring to dress up his wounds on the side of the road. It probably didn’t feel good and probably took a lot of energy to pick up the man and place him on his horse and then slowly ride him back into town despite the jeers of other priests and Levites who passed by. Then the Samaritan cared for the man all through the night and paid two days wages to ensure that he would be taken care of at the inn while he was gone. This is true love, my brothers and sisters, a love centered on love of God and self-sacrifice. If the Samaritan’s love for the wounded Jew hadn’t come from the overflow of love for God then the Jew would have been an obstacle between the Samaritan and God. It wouldn’t have been true love. And if the Samaritan had waited to feel love before he showed it then he may not have showed it at all. Now, to be sure, when great feelings come with love then they are good and can bring much Joy. But, remember: Love is not a feeling, it is an act of the will.

How do you love God? How do you love your spouse? Your family? Your coworkers? Your classmates? Your friends? Your neighbor? Love God first and you will love the rest. But if you love your spouse first or your family first then your love is out of order. When you love Him then you will be able to love others as He does, as Christ does, with patience and sacrifice. Then you will care for what matters most: the salvation of the souls God has placed in your path. Then like Christ, you will be their Good Samaritan. As you journey, go to where your family, your friends, your coworkers are and bring them to the Inn of the Church where they can be saved by the “oil and wine” of our holy sacraments, a salvation paid for not by two days wages, but with the priceless grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, our rock, our fortress, our shield, our strength.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

serving friend's wedding

Last Sat, Oct 11, it was my pleasure to serve the wedding of a good friend, Julia Bauereis, now Julia Walsh at the gorgeous All Saints Catholic Church in Walton, KY. I served with another seminarian, from St. Meinrad, who is a good man and will make a good priest.

The five-year-old new Church is one of the most beautiful new constructions I've ever seen. It was designed by Duncan Stroik, head of the architecture department at the University of Notre Dame.

Below are some pics. I took those of the bride. Those of the Church are from Duncan Stroik's website on the project.

I think she kinda looks like the great Joan Crawford

Here some pics of All Saints:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Here is my homily for this Sunday's readings. I can see me losing the congregation during the first half... it's a little heady. This one would probably be best delivered from bullet-points taken from the text. But... the second half would grab their attention. Too controversial?

Over the last few Sundays, our Gospel readings have been from St. Matthew’s Gospel and parable after parable, Jesus has been putting the Pharisees squarely in their place. Earlier in Matthew, the Scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him where his Authority comes from. But he replied that he would only answer their question if they could answer where John the Baptist’s authority comes from. Jesus answered them this way because he knew the Scribes and Pharisees had witnessed much of John’s ministry. But, his reply stumped them. The Scribes and Pharisees didn’t know how to answer because if they said that John’s authority came from above then Jesus could scold them for not following John’s “way of righteousness”. But if they said that John’s authority came from mere men then the great multitude of John’s disciples would rise up against them because they regarded him accurately as a prophet. So they answered cowardly, “we don’t know.” At this our Lord taught them The Parable of the Two Sons that we heard a couple weeks ago. Since then with each parable the Pharisees have been increasing in anger toward Jesus. He had stumped them, caught them trapped in their wickedness and so now the Pharisees decide to try to return the favor. They “went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”

But, their cowardice has increased with their anger for St. Matthew tells us that they sent their own “disciples” to Jesus, rather than engage him themselves. What makes this attempt really devious though is their cooperation with the Herodians. Do you remember in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in the days of Herod the Great? He was the king placed over the Jews by the Roman emperor. Upon hearing from the wise men of the birth of the true King of the Jews he sought to kill our Lord but St. Joseph heroically led the Holy Family to safety in Egypt. Although at the time of this conflict with the Pharisees, Herod the Great had been dead for almost 30 years, his successors had maintained a Herodian dynasty over the Jews. The Herodians then were those who were supportive of this dynasty and of Roman rule. But the Pharisees, for all their wickedness and rigid adherence so the law, shared the common conviction that only God is their true king and therefore the Jews should be free from Roman rule. The fact that these two groups would work together toward a common goal would have been unthinkable and shows the true evil of their goal.

Their plan to trap Jesus seemed fool-proof. First, in an act of false humility, they compliment our Lord’s truthfulness and his disregard for opinion or status. But they do not realize that He, who they try to trap in speech, is the Eternal Word of God and Truth Itself. They ask him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They figured that if he said Yes, that it is lawful, then he would be discredited among the Jews as one who advocated Roman rule. But, if he said No then they could report him to the Romans for inciting treason and anti-taxation sentiments among his followers. He answered neither though and his answer left them dumbfounded. After they showed him a coin with Caesar’s image and inscription he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Since the coin had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, it belonged to him and could rightly be returned to him with no religious conflict. No big deal. But what is this about God? They didn’t ask him about God, only about Caesar. This is the point and the lesson Jesus taught them in his simple answer: Obedience to civic duties is the responsibility of all who follow Christ as long as these do not conflict with our duties to God. And more importantly, our duties to God come first and if these conflict with civic duties then God’s law wins out in the end. Jesus may have also been making a play on words. Caesar required his subjects to offer him the worship that was due to God alone. Therefore the Jews were greatly offended by the coins which bore Caesar’s image. They regarded it as a graven image forbidden by the First Commandment to have no other gods. In the natural order, the coin made in Caesar’s image and likeness should be returned to him. But in the supernatural order, we who are made in the image and likeness of God should return our whole lives to Him. This our Lord stated objectively to include all men, including Caesar. The depth and meaning of this response threw the Pharisees and Herodians off their plan. “When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.”

This lesson of our Lord disarmed his enemies. The Truth will always prevail. Therefore this lesson is also true for us, today. We must “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” As Isaiah reminds us, we must remember that God is “the Lord and there is no other.” And, in our Responsorial Psalm we must “tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the Lord made the heavens.” We must “say among the nations: The Lord is king, he governs the peoples with equity.” But what do we do today if, when repaying to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, we fail to “give the Lord the glory due his name”? What if obeying the laws of the land breaks the laws of God?

Today and in our near future, we are faced with many such dilemmas. For example, our Lord, through the Church’s constant and faithful teaching, warns us against the use of contraception, yet some of our laws are forcing faithful, Catholic, pharmacists to fill these prescriptions or be sued. In some parts of Canada it is illegal for a pastor to preach what the Bible says about homosexual activity and we can see this pressure being exerted in America as well. And in this upcoming election we may be forced with the biggest “Caesar vs. God” dilemma of all. One of the gentlemen running for president of the United States, the Democratic candidate, said on July 17, 2007, “The first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” Besides eliminating all restrictions to abortion at any stage, this Act would force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States. So here it’s not a matter of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s on one hand, and then giving to God what is God’s on the other. No, here they are tied together. And it’s not just a matter of inappropriately giving Caesar the priority before God. Here, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s would at the same time undermine and insult God. God alone has ultimate dominion over life, not Caesar, not the government. What then is a faithful Catholic to do? We have to pay taxes don’t we? That’s one of the constants of life. Can we conscientiously object to paying taxes to avoid funding abortions?

My brothers and sisters, if this Act is signed I’m not sure what we should do. There is something we can do now though, while there is still time. In the next two weeks until the election let us focus on what our priorities really are, on the lessons Christ and his Church has taught us. Let us pray and work now for a society in which faithful citizenship can harmoniously repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Let us focus more intently on promoting and believing in the sanctity of preborn human life and on what St. Paul referred to in our Second Reading: a “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ… For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

Homily 28th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Below is my homily for this Sunday's readings. My critique: I wanted to use my reflection on Psalm 23 so bad that I sort of artificially plugged it in to the middle of the homily :) And there's a rather lengthy quote of Lumen Gentium... it's all in the delivery!

Do you remember in our Gospel reading last weekend, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants? In that parable a landowner built a vineyard and put tenants in charge of it while he was gone. But when the landowner sent two groups of servants to collect the produce the tenants beat and killed them. Finally, out of great patience, the landowner sent his only son but the tenants seized him, threw him out of the city, and killed him also so that they could acquire his inheritance. In return the landowner put those wretched men to a wretched death and put new tenants over his vineyard. From this we learned that the landowner is God, the vineyard was Israel, the tenants where the Jewish leaders, and the servants that they killed were the Old Testament prophets sent to them to warn them of their sins. Most importantly, the son is Jesus Christ who was also rejected, taken outside the walls of Jerusalem, and crucified. The Jewish leaders were punished when Rome marched on Jerusalem in AD 70 and destroyed the city. And the new tenants are the Apostles placed in charge over the people of the New Covenant. After Jesus told the scribes and the Pharisees this parable they became furious because they realized Jesus was describing them as the wicked tenants. They tried to seize Jesus, just as the parable foretold, but His multitude of believers prevented them.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus follows up that parable with another one of similar meaning, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. Despite their anger towards him, Jesus wishes to drive the point home to the scribes and Pharisees even further. Here, the king is God who prepares a wedding banquet for his son, Jesus Christ. His servants are, again, the prophets sent to summon Israel to the feast. But Israel, the invited guests, refused. So, just as in last week’s parable, the king sent a second group to plea with them to come to the feast. At this point in the story our Lord reveals the disposition of their hearts in a way that he didn’t in the parable before.

In both parables a small group takes it upon themselves to seize, beat, and kill the servants sent to them. But, in this one, Jesus tells us about the wider community of Israel. Outside of the violent minority – the Jewish leaders – are many who, as St. Matthew puts it, simply “ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” This preoccupation with worldly affairs is the fundamental reason why a vast majority of the Jews rejected Jesus. “Because some of the invited guests ignored the prophets and others killed them, God, again, will destroy their city, Jerusalem, and send other servants as apostles to invite Gentiles this time, good and bad, to the celebration.” From this parable then we can discern two lessons, the First, of Ignorance and the Second, of the Universal Call to Holiness.

When we examine our spiritual lives do we find that we too have been like the invited guests who ignored the invitation to the banquet and busied ourselves in worldly affairs? Our Lord is calling us to Himself in a thousand different ways every day in both natural and supernatural ways. Intimacy with God and eternal life with him is the banquet too which we are called and we have so many means available to us that give a foretaste of that feast. St. Paul said in our second reading that “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” These “glorious riches” are the banquet of graces available to us in the Church. Through the Sacraments especially we can taste of eternal life but so many of us would rather just shrug our shoulders. Many of us today will taste eternal life when we receive Holy Communion in a few short moments. But at the same time, I’m sure we can all call to mind family members or friends who have fallen away from the Church and haven’t honored the invitation as we have. This can be a great source of pain and frustration, especially after having experienced the new life and joy that these graces bring. Perhaps some of you here have fallen away, but for one reason another found your way here today. I welcome you and encourage you to accept our Lord’s invitation to return to him in sacramental confession so that you may soon partake of the royal banquet of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

The dignity of this feast, symbolized in our parable by its being prepared by a king, with fattened calves and cattle, and with double-invitations, adds great weight to the error of ignoring it. This is a royal banquet, a wedding feast! And, on top of that, it is freely given! How can we possibly ignore it? In last week’s parable, the servants were sent to collect what already belonged to the landowner, the tenants only had temporary oversight of the produce. But today we hear of this great feast being freely offered to all, if only they respond. We have only to follow the Good Shepherd and he will lead us to eternal life and intimacy with the King. But we must forsake worldly interests for eternal realities in order to follow him.

When I was doing some research for this homily I came across a wonderful reflection on our responsorial psalm, the very famous psalm of our Lord, the Good Shepherd. Did you know that the early Church Fathers have interpreted it as a hymn on the Sacraments? This shows us that throughout salvation history, from the Old Testament psalms to the New Testament letters, God has been constantly, without fail, calling us to Himself. The phrase, “Beside restful waters he leads me, he refreshes my soul”, refers to the waters of Baptism, washing away our sins. “He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake” refers to Confirmation, the sacrament in which we are empowered and lead by the Holy Spirit in a new way. “With your rod and your staff that give me courage” refers to Penance with the rod of absolution empowering us to combat future sin and the staff of priestly guidance helping us to avoid sin’s clever ways. “You spread the tables before me” refers to… you guessed it… the Eucharist, the heavenly banquet which will be prepared for us shortly. “Even though I walk in the dark valley” refers to the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in which we are given the grace to “fear no evil” and to avoid the “dark valley” of despair. “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” refers to the anointing of Holy Orders, of ordination, and of the chalice overflowing with the Precious and saving Blood of our Lord. Finally, in Matrimony where a man and woman become one with each other and with Christ, “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life.” By finding in our psalm all seven sacraments, we see an image of the entire life of the Church, replete with supernatural ways to follow the Good Shepherd to the heavenly banquet.

But, this multitude of “glorious riches” does not mean that ordinary, natural ways to holiness do not exist. And it does not mean that only a “supernatural, super-holy few” are capable of responding. This leads me to the second lesson I have found in our readings: The Universal Call to Holiness. This teaching was a hallmark of the Second Vatican Council and its document on the Church entitled Lumen Gentium, “the Light of the Nations.” We see this universal call in all of our readings today. In our reading from Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples” and he draws them together as one nation by destroying the veils and the webs that separate them. In our Responsorial psalm, the Good Shepherd, the Kind Host, spreads the tables before us, even in the sight of our foes. In our second reading, despite the ups and downs of life, and weather we share in each others’ distress or not, the Lord is offering his strength and is ready to supply whatever we need. Finally in our gospel, the invited guests refused and so the servants where instructed to invite whomever they could find. The Jews and Gentiles alike were invited. “Thus,” the second Vatican Council teaches us,

all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness… a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history. The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one-that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity. (LG 40, 41)

Let us pray with St. Augustine, “Help us, Lord, to disown our vain excuses. We want to attend the banquet… Don’t allow our pride or sensuality or attachments or idle curiosity to get in the way of our attendance. Make sure that we show up… We have been invited by the wealthy one who became poor for our sake… We will come as sick people, since we need the divine doctor to cure our ills. We will come as lame people, and we will tell him: “Keep steady my steps according to thy promise’ (Ps 118:133).”

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Like I said, I've been preparing homilies during my pastoral year at St. Athanasius in Louisville, KY. Every Friday I have a supervision meeting with the pastor and during that I present a homily for the following Sunday's readings. Below is the homily I prepared for today. Here's the readings. Works consulted: A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, A Commentary on the New Testament, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, and In Conversation with God.

Today, our readings continue, in a very explicit way, the theme of bearing spiritual fruit in the vineyard of the Lord. But, there is another theme emerging as well: one of spiritual protection. If you went to daily Mass last week you will remember that on Monday we celebrated the feast of the archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. St. Michael is my patron saint and is a good, dear friend of mine. Then on Thursday we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels, the guardians, and guides that God so generously has given each one of us. Today we heard of spiritual protection in the first and second reading, the responsorial psalm, and the Gospel! And finally on Tuesday of this week we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary: Our Lady being the Queen of Angels and the Rosary being our spiritual sword against sin and evil. The Church has sort of encapsulated us with this theme. Therefore it seems clear to me that the Holy Spirit would like us to contemplate more deeply the protection He has given us as we strive to bear much fruit for God. Let us then look deeper at our readings.

In our Gospel we have another very striking parable, this time the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Did you catch how closely it paralleled with our first reading from Isaiah? In both there is a landowner who plants a vineyard, cultivates it, and protects it and hopes for good fruit to come from it. The landowner is God and the vineyard is Jerusalem. The hedge that was put around it is meant to protect from thieves and wild animals that would destroy the vineyard. St. Ambrose teaches us that the hedge represents divine protection from spiritual predators. Similar in function is the tower that was built as an elevated and sheltered outpost in which one could watch over the land. And the wine press was used to collect the grapes to be prepared for wine. Isaiah adds that the landowner built the vineyard on a fertile hillside, spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines. Thus much hard work was put into it and it was well-prepared to bear much good fruit.

But, the tenants that the landowner put in charge of the vineyard while he was gone were wicked and we hear of the awful things that they did. First it’s obvious that no one trustworthy was manning the watchtower! For when the landowner sent three of his servants to collect the grapes, the tenants seized them and “one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned”! Here the tenants represent Israel’s leaders and the servants are the prophets that they beat, stoned, and killed throughout their history. Whenever the prophets would warn them of their sins, they were often met with violent rejection. But, the landowner, like God, had superhuman patience with the tenants of his chosen vineyard and sent still more of his servants to call them to make an account… “but they treated them the same way.”

Nonetheless, God, the landowner, to show his great love for Israel, his vineyard, sent his last messenger to them, his only Son in the hope that surely “They will respect my son.” “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ This son, of course, is our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just as the landowner’s son threatened their possession of the vineyard and its fruit, so to God’s Son threatened that position of the Jewish leaders and their reign over the souls of God’s people. Finally, we heard that the tenants “seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” This is a stark reference to the coming crucifixion of Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem. In John’s Gospel we read: “Then [Pilot] handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull… near the city” (John 19:17, 20).

This last point of the parable is where he really nails them down. Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of the people, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” Rather than provide them the answer, Jesus had a way of drawing in his audience to make the final word and thus realize the full implication of their answer. They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Then they knew exactly what Jesus meant, he was referring to them. And we know that those wretched men were put to a wretched death when Roman troops marched on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and destroyed the city and the temple. After the parable the Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus but the multitude of his believers prevented them.

Earlier in the Gospels, we see God transferring his kingdom from the leaders of the Old Covenant to the shepherds of the New Covenant when Jesus calls his apostles and especially when he sets up Peter as the rock on which his Church is built. And so we have become the new vineyard and we, with the Son, are the heir of the Father’s riches. But, like the wicked tenants before us, our sins too are intimately related to the death of the beloved Son. We are now expected to render a timely account. Will we yield much good fruit or will we allow sin to yield what Isaiah called “wild grapes,” or what the Hebrew literally means, “stinking things”?

God has prepared us well. We are grown on the fertile hillside of grace. We have the choicest vines, the blood of the grape, the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are spaded and cleared of the stones of sin through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. The tenants are our priests and bishops and the watchtower is the Magisterium. Despite all of these things, we can still rise up against the Son through our sins. That is why we must rely on the hedge… Ah, the hedge! Remember what St. Ambrose said about it? Rather than protecting from thieves and wild animals, he said that it represents divine protection from spiritual predators. Can the Lord find abundant fruit in our lives? If we are to bear good fruit then we must ask the Lord for an aversion to sin and protection from sin. We must entreat daily the spiritual protection he has given us… in our guardian angel.

These aren’t nice and fluffy angels that I speaking of. No, this is serious theology, serious spirituality and not something we should feel childish about contemplating. Angels aren’t childish. Everyone from the strongest man here to the smallest child needs the help of his guardian angel. Do you ask your guardian angel for assistance? Have you befriended him? Really he is your closest friend. You are a beloved child of God. He stands before the face of God on your behalf. Do not be afraid to pray to your guardian angel throughout the various trials and joys of your day. Before a test, make the sign of the cross and ask him to help you remain calm. In the dark, ask him to be your companion. When your alarm first goes off in the morning, ask him for courage and hope. When you are tempted to sin, ask him to guard your heart. Before you go to Confession, ask him to kneel beside you. On your way to Communion ask him to help you approach reverently.

And when you get a good grade, make the sign of the cross and thank him for helping you study. And when you get up on time thank him for rousing you. When you face rush hour and the other frustrations of the day with serenity and patience thank him for his strength. When you are able to choose good over evil thank him for his direction. When you make a good Confession, thank him for helping you remember those sins you needed to confess. He is your constant companion and God’s instrument and conduit of grace in your life. At the end of the day, thank God, for such a special friend. With the help of our guardian angels we can grow to overcome even the small sins in our lives and be able to offer to God the fresh grapes of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever us pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,” and whatever is excellent and worthy of praise – rather than the wild grapes, the “stinking things,” of sin and rebellion.

On Tuesday, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, pray that she send you her angels and especially that she let you know your guardian angel. With him, through her, you can at last embrace the Son rather than throw him out. For Christ has told us in John’s Gospel, “He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… by this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:5-8). Therefore, let us pray: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side: to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.” Amen.


Yunno, in the last seven months since my last post, by far the biggest thing (and one of the best days of my life) that happened was being picked to serve the Holy Father's Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20. Here is an article from The Record on the day.

(I'm on the far right in this pic)

Archdiocesan priests, seminarians assist at Mass
Marnie McAllister
Record Staff Writer
Priests concelebrate at papal liturgy; 2 seminarians are altar servers

NEW YORK — While the faithful from the Archdiocese of Louisville watched the pageantry of the papal Mass from the Yankee Stadium stands, a group of men from the Archdiocese of Louisville assisted in celebrating Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

Among them were 18 priests of the archdiocese and two seminarians in formation to become diocesan priests.

They prepared for the liturgy in the bowels of the legendary baseball park. The locker room was their sacristy. They gathered there for a prayer before the liturgy — just as countless ball players have done before a big game.

The Yankees’ dugout served as their vestibule.

That’s where local seminarians Christopher Rhodes and Matthew Hardesty were standing when the Holy Father’s popemobile arrived. They were within reach of the vehicle, they said.

“He was two feet away. We were calling, ‘Papa! Papa!’ and he looked down and a huge smile came over his face,” said Hardesty. “We were waving and shouting at him. We were overcome by that. I had tears in my eyes. We felt distinctly and individually blessed by God.”

That was just the beginning of an historic day for the young men who were among a select group of seminarians invited to serve at the papal Mass. Two seminarians from each of the five archdioceses being honored were invited to take part in the liturgy.

In addition, more than 18 priests from the Archdiocese of Louisville took part in the Mass — some concelebrated on the papal platform and others dispensed Communion to the crowd of 60,000 worshippers in the stands.

Rhodes, who attends St. Meinrad School of Theology, said during an interview April 21 that he is still in awe of the experience.

“Who would have guessed that a guy from Texas, converted from a charismatic tradition, would end up in Yankee Stadium in equal view of the pope?” he wondered.

Rhodes traveled to New York on one of the nine buses from the Archdiocese of Louisville. His job during the liturgy was to show the concelebrating priests where to go on the platform and around the altar.

They practiced repeatedly prior to the celebration — while the crowd listened to the “Concert of Hope.” They were prepared to serve with all the pomp and circumstance required by the occasion.

But something changed when the pope came into view of the crowd.

“I was in position, leading the priests in, when all of a sudden, you could hear the crowd,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening. But they were responding to his entrance.

“We were supposed to act dignified and distinguished,” he said. “But we couldn’t help it. The priests and bishops were pulling out cameras and cell phones, taking pictures. They were like little kids. He (Pope Benedict) is Papa to them, and they were like children so happy to see their father come home to the U.S.”

Hardesty, a seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, noted that the enthusiasm of the crowd and of the participants in the liturgy was one centered on love. While the frenzy of cameras and uproarious cheers at times had the look and sound of a rock concert, the feelings were motivated by love for the Holy Father, he said, noting that’s an important distinction.

“It really made it something special to be a part of,” he said. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Hardesty was selected to be a torch-bearer — along with five other seminarians — at the Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayer, he was stationed at the front left corner of the altar.

“During the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ we knelt there with our torches and were no more than six feet from where the Holy Father was consecrating the Eucharist,” he said. “Being so close was amazing. When the ‘Our Father started,’ we rose and genuflected. That was our big part.”

Hardesty and Rhodes both noted that prior to the liturgy the servers were feeling tense and stressed. But those feelings dissipated when the papal master of ceremony, Msgr. Guido Marini, arrived ahead of the pope, said Hardesty.

Msgr. Marini “was so calm and professional in a situation that can really make you frazzled. He very gently corrected us and told us what to do” during practice.

“Then, just before the pope arrived, he gathered us all together in the sacristy, and he prayed with us to prepare us for Mass. We were so impressed,” said Hardesty. “We felt we were at the feet of a mentor or father. He was like a parish priest.”

The monsignor reminded them, “It’s not about getting caught up in how you look; it’s about reverence and worship of Christ in our midst,” said Hardesty. “And he asked us to pray for him. We were really touched by that. You would think in a liturgy of that scope you wouldn’t have time for that.

“It helped us to calm down and focus on the fact that this is for the glorification of God and not because it’s on EWTN or Fox,” he said.

Among the priests from the Archdiocese of Louisville who concelebrated Mass with the pope were Fathers William Hammer and Charles D. Walker, both members of the archdiocesan college of consultors, and Franciscan Father Dismas Veeneman, pastor of St. Paul Church.

Father Walker, associate pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church, said he saw Pope John Paul II on three occasions. So a papal event was nothing new.

But the experience at Yankee Stadium was the first opportunity he’s had to concelebrate Mass with a pope.

“It was much more special than I thought it would be,” he said, noting that the pope came within about 10 feet of him when he came onto the platform. “At other papal Masses I’ve been to (there have been) 700,000 or a million (people in attendance).

“I had Mass last night at Our Lady of Consolation,” he said during an interview late Sunday night at JFK Airport. “I had the same readings and prayed the same prayers. But they meant more to me today. They had more impact.”

Father Walker and Father Hammer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky., said they could feel the spirit of the Archdiocese of Louisville contingent raining down from the stands as they cheered for the Holy Father.

Father Hammer was on the front row of concelebrants seated to the left of the altar, and the pope came within three feet of him, he said.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Father Hammer. “The spiritual energy you draw from the Holy Father is a once in a lifetime experience. People use that term a lot. But it was a singular experience.

“I had a sense I was part of something much bigger than anything I was participating in,” he added. “I felt very much connected to the people back in Bardstown and Fairfield. I told them I would take their spirit with me.”

Father Veeneman said the experience was “pretty amazing.” It was his first papal Mass, and he was surprised to find himself in a second-row seat, he said.

“It was a special occasion for Louisville, and I felt honored to be a part of that,” he said during a bus ride to John F. Kennedy Airport following the liturgy. “Celebrating the Eucharist with the Holy Father is a whole different experience — (considering) who he is and who he represents.”

Other priests who took part in the celebration included: Fathers Joseph Atcher, Bernard Breen, Michael Casagram, Philip Erickson, James Kent, William Medley, Pius Poff, Joseph Rankin, Nick Rice, Joel Rogers, David Sanchez, John Schork, Jeffrey Shooner, Thomas Smith, J. Mark Spalding, Charles Thompson and Abbot Damien Thompson of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Ky.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Wow, it's been 7 months since I've posted here... anyone still out there? (cue crickets) My brother just made his comeback from a 2 month absence with a beautiful paper, so I'm motivated to do the same. Plus, this guy has kinda inspired me...

I'll mention briefly the major things that have happened in the last 7 months (like serving the Holy Father at Yankee Stadium!) and may post my homilies that I'm preparing during my Pastoral Year. I'm giving them to the pastor on a weekly basis one-on-one and sometimes to the staff. I have a really good parish assignment.

In Jesu, per Mariam,
Matt Hardesty