Friday, September 30, 2011
After being called forward and presented to the congregation, I was questioned. I promised to diligently perform the duties of the Priesthood. I had rehearsed the order over and over in my mind. I thought for sure that the Litany of the Saints was next, when I would lie prostrate on the floor as the names of the saints were chanted over me, imploring their help and prayers. But, I had forgotten one very important step. The M.C. subtly motioned twice for me to go up to the Archbishop but I shook my head “No, it’s time for the Litany of the Saints!” Archbishop Kurtz finally had to whisper “You have to promise obedience first!” I was mortified; of course I do! How could I forget the Promise of Obedience! Although I was kicking myself inside for forgetting, I gladly went up the steps of the sanctuary and knelt before the Archbishop. I placed my hands in his hands, looked him directly in the eye, and he asked me “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” I answered with all the love and confidence I could give: “I do.”
Promising obedience is not easy, for some priests it is the hardest part of the priesthood. In obedience, a priest has to be willing to respond with trust to his bishop’s instructions, to be willing to go to any parish where he is needed, to be willing to go back to school for further studies if necessary, or to take on additional parishes or responsibilities.
Although these can be difficult, obedience can also bring great joy and fulfillment. It gives a priest direction – he knows who he is and what he is called to do. He doesn’t have to worry constantly about which parish God his calling him too or how long he should minister there. He knows that the Holy Spirit works through his bishop, guiding his ministry, and leading him to the people that God wants him to serve. This is very liberating.
It is very important that a priest promises this obedience in a public fashion, before God, his fellow clergy, and all the people of God gathered there. It is a sign to the world that obedience, although it entails sacrifice, does not have to be bitter or reluctant. It can be free and loving and can bring fulfillment, happiness, and grace to one’s life. When St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Jesus was obedient even to the point of death on a cross, he shows us that in Christ we find the true model and definition of obedience – one that springs from love and freedom and leads not to death but to life.
“Obedience” comes from the Latin “ob-audire” which means “to hear or listen to.” To our modern ears, Christ-like obedience sounds terrible. We don’t like to be told what to do, or how to act. We have highly exalted personal autonomy: “I have the right to do whatever I want as long as I’m not hurting anybody and you don’t have the right to tell me otherwise!” We think that having to obey someone constricts our freedom because then we have to do what that someone tells us rather than what we want to do. The Church is a prime example.
But, True Christian Obedience springs from love and freedom and increases love and freedom. It is not white-knuckled, bitter, disgruntled, rumbling-under-your-breath, Oh-If-You-Say-So, obedience. No, True Christian Obedience is joyful because it gives us that fulfillment in life that comes from being what God made us to be and doing what God calls us to do. God doesn’t want obedient robots or puppets. God wants obedient sons and daughters. And sons and daughters of God the Father, obey him not out of force or fear but because He loves them and they love Him in return.
When we see our obedience as part of a relationship with a loving Father then it can make more sense. There are many real-world examples that illustrate how sensible obedience is: Someone driving cross-country doesn’t mind the lane markings on the road. They don’t constrict him, rather they give him the fullest freedom possible with which to successfully complete his journey. A train conductor, chugging along the tracks, doesn’t resent the tracks because they prevent him from going along the roads like the cars can. No, he hugs the tracks because they allow him to be the fullest extent of what he was mean to be at that moment, a train conductor. A fish in a lake, if he could think, does not resent the confines of his lake which prevent him from flopping onto the banks. No, the confines of the lake give him the freedom to be what he is, a fish. If he were to rebel against the lake and jump out onto the banks he would surely die.
The point is, when one obeys out of love and willingness because the authority, like the Church, is good and trustworthy then he will find that his freedom and happiness is secured, not taken away. Obedience is good for us. A life of disobedience, free from rules or guides, may feel free at first, but it really only binds one to a spiral of confusion, uncertainty, disappointment and heartache.
Msgr. Cormac Burke, an Irish Canon Lawyer, wrote a book called Authority and Freedom in the Church. In it he said, “For the person who wants to follow Christ, the law is never a burden. It becomes a burden only insofar as one fails to discern the call of Christ. Therefore, if the law sometimes seems burdensome, it may not be the law so much as our keenness to follow Christ that needs amending. [After all, our Lord said,] ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (Jn 14:15).” Furthermore, although we know of course that Christ always has, does, and will love the Father, he says “I love you” out loud to the Father only once in Scripture – and this one time, interestingly enough, is in a statement of obedience. In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Christ obeyed the Will of the Father, not merely because he had to, but because he chose to, he wanted to, he loved to! So too, we must follow his commandments relayed to us through the teachings and precepts of the Catholic Church promptly, cheerfully, and humbly. We too can obey like Jesus did, even if we bring to the table a history of much disobedience.
Our Gospel told the story of how one son told his father that he would not work in the vineyard but later repented and did. His second son said that he would work in the vineyard but never showed up. It was the first son that did his father’s will. It was his later repentance that the father remembered, not his initial refusal.
Their story gives us much hope for our own lives. How many of us are more like the second son than the first? Those who said “Yes,” in essence, at their Baptism, at their First Confession, at their First Communion, but have later said No by lives of disobedience – can still have hope.
Like the tax collectors and prostitutes, it is never too late to heed the Father’s call, to repent, to say Yes to him, to follow his will, and work in his vineyard, even if we have spent long lives away from Him. It is this change of mind and belief for him that he will remember. If you find yourself lacking discipline, then grow in love, because discipline is the fruit of love. St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that “A very good sign of one’s being on the right road in the spiritual life is one’s willingness to obey others.” And the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed in our First Reading, “if someone turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
This weekend, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, a time we take every year to thank those who have dedicated themselves so generously to the immensely important role in the Church of catechesis, of facilitating a deep relationship with Christ, and of handing on faithfully Catholic teaching and practice. In 1979, Pope Blessed John Paul II published a document on catechesis titled Catechesi Tradendae, or On Catechesis in Our Time. In the last chapter of the document the Holy Father wanted to “sow courage, hope, and enthusiasm abundantly in the hearts of all those many diverse people who are in charge of religious instruction and training for life in keeping with the Gospel.” Today I personally thank all of you who are involved in this great work and I will give a special blessing to you at this Mass, after the petitions. I also want to join my sentiments with those expressed by Blessed John Paul II in that document:
“I am anxious to give thanks,” he said, “in the Church’s name to all of you, lay teachers of catechesis in the parishes, the men and the still more numerous women… who are devoting yourselves to the religious education of many generations. Your work is often lowly and hidden but it is carried out with ardent and generous zeal, and it is an eminent form of the lay apostolate, a form that is particularly important where for various reasons children and young people do not receive suitable religious training in the home. How many of us have received from people like you our first notions of catechism and our preparation for the sacrament of penance, for our first communion and confirmation!... I encourage you to continue your collaboration for the life of the Church.”
One very important role of the catechist that we all will benefit from throughout the coming weeks is helping the parish to grow into a deeper reception, participation, and understanding of the Holy Mass. As many of you have seen in the Record and in our bulletin inserts, the Church in the English-speaking countries of the world, is preparing to receive a new translation of the Roman Missal, or the “Sacramentary”: this being the book that the priest uses at the chair and the altar to pray the prayers of the Mass. A few of our catechists and those involved in planning the worship of our three parishes will be introducing some of the prominent changes in brief 3-5 minutes talks before Mass each weekend until Nov 27, the first Sunday of Advent, when the new Missal will be implemented.
I ask that everyone please try to come a few minutes early for the next several weeks so that you can benefit from these talks. One of the mistakes of the implementation of the Novus Ordo, the new order of Mass that came out of Vatican II, was that very little preparation and catechesis was done. In some parishes people heard Mass said in Latin one weekend only to come to Mass the following weekend and hear it all of a sudden in English and see it celebrated in strikingly new and different ways. This sudden change from one form of the Mass to another was a grave injustice. Many Catholics, understandably so, were offended and embittered by the way the “New Mass” was implemented and carried out. We Do Not want to repeat that mistake. Although the changes of this upcoming revised and corrected translation will not be as startling as the introduction of English and new practices were back then, we still want to do all we can to teach and to prepare you to receive deeply what truly is a great gift and grace to our Church: a translation of the Mass that brings out more profoundly the depth and the richness of our prayer and our faith. I wholeheartedly support and embrace the new Missal that is coming. I am truly excited about it and cannot wait to use it to celebrate Mass with you! In my own role as a catechist, I will be giving a few of these short talks also as well as giving a couple of evening conferences that you all are invited too. See the bulletin for the dates of those.
While I am enthusiastic about all of this, I realize too that change can be hard. Although I haven’t heard any grumbling from you all, perhaps you have from your family or friends. Maybe you could share the following points with them.
Often, when what we are used too gets shaken up, anger is our first reaction. Our Gospel reading today addresses this very thing; it shows us that God’s generosity doesn’t have to conform to our expectations. In the parable we heard, our Lord describes how a landowner hired some workers at the beginning of the day, about 6am, to work in his vineyard. Then he continued to go out throughout the day calling others to work in his vineyard – some at 9am, some at noon, some at 3pm, and still finally, some at 5pm. What St. Matthew doesn’t tell us though is that according to the Law, a day’s wage must be given before 6pm. So we see that the workers who were hired at 5pm only worked an hour and yet still received the same amount of pay as those who had been working since 6am that morning! This story sounds very odd doesn’t it? It sounds as if our Lord is advocating injustice or unfairness.
Some of those who have criticized the new Missal have concluded the same thing. They have said that the Church is being unjust or unfair in expecting the people to change the words they have used for 40 years in beloved prayers like the Gloria and the Nicene Creed. “Why can’t the Church leave well enough alone?” they say. But, they are missing a very important point, the point made by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
Often – and this new Missal is only one of many examples – we try to make God conform to our plan, our thoughts, our ways, instead of conforming ourselves to his. Our responsorial psalm teaches us the proper attitude we should have. We should rejoice when we are able to behold the great generosity of God, even when it comes in a way that we do not expect or would not have chosen ourselves. “Great is the Lord and highly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable… The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”
After the first-comers complained, the landowner soon asked them, “Are you envious”? The underlying Greek of this passage literally means “Is your eye evil?” We must not have an evil eye toward one another or toward the Church, because an evil eye sees evil where there is only good. God is incapable of injustice. As our responsorial psalm told us, “the Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.” It’s not that God is blind to the fact that the new Missal will change some of the phrases that we hold so dear and in ways we may not have expected or preferred. The point is that his generosity is never restricted by our measures and expectations. This new Missal truly is an example of this immense generosity toward us. St. Augustine taught the famous Latin maxim: lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of prayer is the law of belief, meaning that the way we pray is affected by what we believe and it in turn informs our belief. Whenever we can grow toward a truer worship, a constant endeavor of the Church throughout the ages, then we can grow in Faith. And Faith, along with Hope, and Love, are God’s greatest gifts.
The Mass is the vineyard that we are being called to work in and for. Listen to these inspiring words of our late Holy Father… “This is the vineyard, this is the field.” There is no better opportunity, we have the graces necessary now, here, to be coworkers in the vineyard, to grow closer to Christ and bring others to him. No one should cross our path in this life and be able to say that he wasn’t encouraged to love Christ and His Church more. Not one of our coworkers, not one of our classmates, not one of our relatives, not one of our friends should reach the dawn of his life and say that no one showed him genuine sacrificial love. Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to “Go you also into the vineyard”!
Every one of us has our own unique role in bringing each other closer to the Mass, not just our catechists. Our children can listen carefully to the instruction they receive at school and be a good example to their friends in how to behave at Mass. In our upcoming server training, we will improve upon the already excellent job that our servers are doing so that they can serve in a way that coincides with the dignity of the Mass that will come out in new and deeper ways in the prayers. Our adults too, especially the parents of the children to be baptized today, have a responsibility to lead their families; the elderly and homebound can pray for us; etc.
St. Gregory said, “The people who really work for him… are those who are anxious to win souls and bring others to the vineyard” or as our Gospel calls it, “the kingdom of heaven.” The Mass is a taste of the kingdom of heaven on earth. There is no greater thing to work for. Although it us ultimately the work of God, if we work hard to receive it and understand it well then we will be repaid for our effort with God’s own divine life: the greatest un-expectation.