Saturday, October 11, 2008

Homecoming Homily

This is the approximate (because I go "off the page" at times) homily I gave at the Grotto Mass for the 2008 Priests' Homecoming at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary:

Mount Homecoming Homily
Thursday of the 27th week of Ordinary Time
Gal 3:1-5 and Luke 11:5-13
October 9, 2008

The first thing I did, upon being asked if I would preach at this Mass, was to ask, "What readings are we using at Mass?"  I was told, "Whatever ones you want."  So I checked the Ordo, and found out that there's three options today:
  1. The Feast of St. Denis, a martyr
  2. The Feast of St. John Leonardi, founder of what we know as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Church's main missionary arm.
  3. Thursday of the 27th week of Ordinary Time
This, I thought, was perfect for diocesan Priests.  Why?

Tradition tells us that St. Denis, upon being beheaded, carried his head out of Paris to a nearby village.  In our ten years of Priesthood, I'm sure there have been many times that we've had our heads handed to us, whether by irate parishioners who didn't get their sponsor certificate, or a pastor who was annoyed because we dared to use the word "contraception" in a homily, or even by someone in the chancery.

Luckily, this was something the Mount prepared us well for - having our heads handed to us after a Fr. Mindling medical ethics test, or a Msgr. Satterfield final exam, or a Dr. Houghton Canon Law exam, or when we didn't know the difference between the eastern and western Syrian liturgies in Fr. Gross' class.

Church history tells us that St. John Leonardi founded not only the Society for the propagation of the faith, but also the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  That's appropriate, too, since each of us have done our share of teaching the faith to young and old alike.

But, realistically, the most appropriate thing to do is to use the readings for Ordinary Time, if for nothing else than to acknowledge the fact that we, the Class of 1998, are pretty ordinary parish Priests.

Pope Benedict, on the balcony following his election to the papacy, called himself a humble worker in God's vineyard.  For the past three weeks, the "vineyard" has come up again and again.  This, too, is appropriate for our Priests' Homecoming.

Three weeks ago, we heard the Gospel about the owner of the vineyard who calls worker at all hours of the day.  How many of us can think of our own classmates in the seminary, some older, some younger?  Then there is that great line in the exchange between the vineyard owner and the angry worker, "Are you envious because I am generous?"

For my classmates, we can look back and realize how generous God was to us in our years here at the Mount:
  • Fridays off in our first semester of First Theology.
  • Pope John Paul's visit to the U.S. in 1995, and being able to be with him at Camden Yards and St. Mary's Seminary.
  • The visit of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to the Mount, and the chance to hold her hand even for a moment.
  • Our class' trip to Rome and being able to attend Mass with Pope John Paul in his private chapel.
  • Having Rectors like Monsignor Ken Roeltgen and Father (now Bishop) Kevin Rhoades.
  • The generosity of Confessors who heard our sins and forgave them, whether at St. Joe's in Emmitsburg, or Father Ed Gaffney hearing confessions in I.C. chapel every morning at 6am.
  • Not getting thrown out by Dean of Men like Father Kennedy or Father Gross when we came in after curfew.
  • To be here for the start of what would become Mount 2000, and how many young people have come (or come back) to Christ because of these retreats?
Two weeks ago, we had the Gospel in which two sons were asked to go into the vineyard to work, with one saying yes but not doing it, and the other saying no but changing his mind.
How many times has that been us?  Whether saying we'll study for a test or attend some parish function, but with no intention of actually doing it.

Last week, it was the Gospel of the vineyard owner looking for his share of the produce.  He sends workers, and eventually sends his son.  The vineyard is not ours; it's been leased to us.  But the vineyard is ultimately God's.

On one hand that's freeing.  We can become self-centered, thinking it's all about us.  This reminds us we can't do everything ourselves.  But on the other hand, it also means that God, as the owner, can ask his laborers to to something we don't necessarily want to do.  It's his vineyard; he's allowed to do that.

So how do we do it, when God asks the undesired or unwanted task?

Today's Gospel is the continuation of yesterday's Gospel (Luke 11).  It started off with Jesus praying, and the apostles asking him to show them how to pray.  He responds with the Our Father.  But that's not all.  In the same breath he gives another part: the commands to "ask", to "seek", and to "knock".

So it's praying as well as doing.  The supernatural along with the natural.  The contemplative with the active.

Plus, Jesus says we must do it with persistence.  Not just a flash in the pan for instant gratification.  Like the man in the gospel, we have to keep beating on that door, not giving up until the person inside opens up.  Maybe it's persistence in studying until you "get it".  Maybe it's that person in our parish who we can't get through to, and it'll require a persistent effort.  Sometimes, it's even us who shut the door on God, and in that case we have to be humble enough to let him in.

Why do we do it?  That we'll find in next week's Gospel: The King calls us to the feast.

In this year dedicated to St. Paul, I would risk a haunting by Sr. Joan Gormley if I didn't at least paraphrase some part of the first reading:

Like St. Paul, I ask, "Oh, stupid class of 1998, who has bewitched us", so that ten years of Priesthood has come and gone in a flash?  How many joys, sorrows, and moments of illumination and glorification have occurred in the 125 months since we left this mountain?

Ten years ago, formed here in faith and the Law, we went out into the world to tell the good news.  We did so in parishes, schools, and colleges in archdioceses and dioceses around the U.S., even at the National Shrine in Washington and emerging dioceses in Russia.  All the while, every day, repeating the words we heard as the Responsorial Psalm, the words we say in Morning Prayer.  Truly God has been good to us.

To the seminarians, I remind you of words written in two polar opposite locations:
  • In the bonechurch of the Capuchin's Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rome, where the remains of the brothers are out for all to see in decorations, there is a placard at the end which reads: "What you now are, we once were.  What we now are, you will soon be."  This should be written under every class picture in the halls of the Mount.  Today, you are the inhabitants of this hallowed building, but soon enough you'll be just a picture on the wall.  Your years here are God's gift to you.  Make the most of them, because they will go by so fast. [NOTE - in the actual homily, I said "slow", but I meant to say fast, and did correct myself]
  • The second quote can be found in the locker room of the Montreal Canadiens, the great National Hockey League franchise.  On the locker room wall, surrounded by pictures of past Stanley Cup winning teams and hall of famers, are the words, "From failing arms we hand you the torch.  Be it yours to hold high."
So that, whether God calls you to be a martyr, a missionary, or just plain ordinary, you may be a good son of the Mount.

No comments: