Pastor’s Column November 25 – 26, 2023
“When the Son of Man comes in glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations
will be assembled before him.”
This weekend our liturgical year draws to a close as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. And our Gospel reading comes from the 25th chapter of St. Matthew, Jesus’ somewhat frightening description of the Last Judgment, when he will return as our King at the end of time “sitting upon his glorious throne” and he will assemble all the nations before him in order to separate the good from the bad “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
It is not an accident that in talking about his role as King at the Last Judgment, Jesus describes himself using the beautiful image of the lowly shepherd, which would have been so familiar to the people of his day. Jesus is the King who comes not to be served, but to serve, the one who gives his life for the many. Shepherding at the time of Christ was not an easy occupation. It would have been pretty lonely and extremely dangerous. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock. In our Old Testament reading Ezekiel prophesied, “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.” I have always been somewhat curious as to why it is that the sheep get to represent those who are saved while the goats stand for those who are eternally damned. In our language today, the acronym GOAT stands for the Greatest of All Time. And at the time of Jesus, both sheep and goats were valuable animals that provided milk for cheese, meat for food, and skins for clothing. Both sheep and goats were tamed very early in the Near East. In one of the earliest stories in the Bible, we are told that Cain became a tiller of the soil, while his brother Abel became a keeper of the flock, which was composed of both sheep and goats. Jewish law even prescribes that the Passover meal be an unblemished male taken from either the sheep or the goats. But from biblical times to the present day, a goat’s reputation has been less than positive. I’ve got to believe that in today’s politically correct society, Jesus most likely would face protests from the Goat Owners Association or some such organization over his less than flattering
depiction of goats and the negative reputation to which that has led.
Perhaps it is because that while sheep are gentle animals that are tranquil, quiet and easily led, goats are pushy, self sufficient and headstrong. Sheep are basically defenseless, and they must rely on their shepherd to protect them. Goats, on the other hand, are naturally quarrelsome and have short tempers. They rear and butt in order to establish dominance. Goats do not require as much supervision or care as sheep. Because they are a much more independent animal they do not bond as closely to their shepherd as do the sheep.
These last couple of weeks we have been hearing parables about how we must stay alert and be ready for that day when Christ the King returns to mount his throne and judge us, separating the sheep from the goats. And the criteria he will use is pretty simple: whatever we did or did not do for one of the least ones among us. Did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the ill, or visit the lonely? Notice how it is not those sins of commission that we typically worry about that will do us in, but those sins of omission, those things that we should do but fail to do when we act stubbornly, selfishly and independently like goats, that can keep us from inheriting the kingdom prepared for us and instead send us off to eternal punishment. So let us resolve to be the Lord’s sheep, following Christ our Good Shepherd through those verdant pastures where he feeds, so that as our responsorial psalm says, goodness and kindness might follow us all the days of our lives and we might dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. Long live Christ the King! —
Pastor’s Column November 18 – 19, 2023
“Well done my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.”
Our Gospel for this next to last Sunday of our liturgical year is known as the parable of the talents. It begins, “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another two; to a third one – to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” Now a talent was not any kind of coin but a measure of value worth about one hundred pounds of silver. A talent was the equivalent of roughly fifteen years’ wages for a working man, not an insignificant sum. And in a commentary on this Gospel passage our Holy Father Pope Francis tells us that “the man in the parable represents Jesus, we are the servants, and the talents are the inheritance that the Lord entrusts to us. […] His Word, the Eucharist, faith in the heavenly Father, his forgiveness … in other words, so many things, his most precious treasures. […] In the parable, talents represent the riches of the Lord, which he entrusts to us so that we make them bear fruit.” In the parable, the good and faithful servants are the ones who put what was entrusted to them to use and returned it with interest, while the wicked, lazy servant buried and hid what was given to him.
This parable has some important lessons for us. First, it shows how much God knows us and loves us and trusts us. Although He is our Master and we are His servants, He does not treat us like servants. The man in the parable does not leave a detailed list of instructions or require that his servants sign a promissory note. Moreover, he does not give the same to every servant but “to each according to his ability.” God knows each of us personally and wants and expects us to get to know Him. He entrusts us with what is right for us. God never demands from us abilities we have not got, but he does demand that we should use to the full those abilities that he does give us.
Next, those treasures that God gives us are not meant to be locked up in vault to be protected for safekeeping. Instead, they are to be used for the benefit of others. All the gifts of nature and grace that God entrusts to us are meant to yield a profit. It does not matter what we have received; what matters is our generosity in putting what we have received to good use. Whatever we have been given, little or great, we must lay at the service of the Lord. The wicked and lazy servant buried his talent in the ground in order that he might hand it back to his Master exactly as it was. God’s gifts are not to be selfishly horded or to be lazily and carelessly neglected. Saint Josemaria Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei wrote, “Don’t lose your effectiveness; instead, trample on your selfishness. You think your life is for yourself? Your life is for God, for the good of all men, through your love for our Lord. Your buried talent, dig it up again! Make it yield.”
Finally, this parable teaches us that our reward for work well done is to be given more work to do. To work in the Lord’s vineyard is itself its own reward. The Master tells the good and faithful servants, “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” There is a saying, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” God’s calls each of us to play a unique and irreplaceable part in his great story of salvation. And one day we will be asked to give an accounting of our stewardship
of the gifts that God has given us. So as we prepare first for our great national celebration of Thanksgiving and then soon after for our Lord’s coming at Christmas, let’s be generous in sharing those unique gifts which God has entrusted to each one of us with one another, and most especially with the poor and all those in need, so that when God does settle accounts with us we may hear Him say those comforting words to us: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” — Fr. Bob
Pastor’s Column November 11 – 12, 2023
“Taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence.”
The theme of our readings this weekend is wisdom. Our Old Testament reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us that: “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her. For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence…” Prudence is the first of the cardinal virtues because it is the ability to look at a concrete situation and know what ought to be done. Often in life we are faced with difficult decisions, sometimes having to choose between the greater of two goods and at other times between the lesser of two evils. Prudence is wisdom in action.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the parable about “the ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” Five were foolish and brought no oil with them, but five were wise and brought flasks of oil with their lamps. The bridegroom was long delayed in coming. At midnight, they were awakened by the cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” The foolish virgins tried to borrow some oil from the wise but were told there would not be enough. While they went off to buy some oil, “the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.” Then the door was locked, and the foolish virgins, when they returned, were unable to enter. As Jesus said, “Therefore stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The wise virgins who refuse to share their oil were not being selfish; rather, they were being prudent. They reasoned that if they shared their oil, there was a chance that all the lamps would go out before the bridegroom’s arrival. This parable has two important messages for us. First, it warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student who has done no work the entire year to begin preparing on the day of the final examination. And it is useless to try to acquire a skill such as playing a musical instrument on the day the concert is going to take place. It is human nature to want put things off, but we risk leaving things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves properly to meet with God. Second, this parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil when they discovered they needed it. We cannot borrow character; we must be clothed with it. We cannot borrow a relationship with God; we must possess it ourselves. While I know that there are many who may be counting on the faith and good works of their spouse to get them to heaven, we cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others. We all need to spend some time with God in prayer each day. We all need to come to Sunday Mass each week to praise and worship God as a community of believers. We all need to confess our sins regularly to be reconciled with God and receive his grace, mercy and love. We all need to be alert and ready to meet God when he calls us home.
Inserted in this weekend’s bulletin is a letter from Bishop Brennan that talks about some difficult decisions and choices we face in our diocese and in our parishes due to the severe shortage in the number of priests, which in the near term will only continue to worsen. As Bishop Brennan says, “There is no simple solution to these issues. Additionally, your pastor, in coordination with your Regional Vicar and local Dean, are beginning discussions at the deanery level concerning possible collaborations among neighboring parishes regarding Religious Education programs and other ministries, that could possibly lead to formal parish partnerships. I ask for your openness and cooperation with these possible changes.” Let’s pray for the virtue of prudence to give us the wisdom we need as we navigate through these challenging times. –
Pastor’s Column November 4 – 5, 2023
“The greatest among you must be your servant.”
Have you ever heard it said that God has a sense of humor? Well, if you ever needed evidence or proof, the readings we are given today for the start of National Vocation Awareness Week are a prime example. For while each of them have something to do with ordained ministry, they do not necessarily present the Priesthood in the most flattering light. But perhaps it’s only natural and a sign of the struggle we face. Did you know that in our country, compared to 60 years ago, there are 20,000 fewer priests and 129,000 fewer religious sisters, while the Catholic population continues to grow steadily? Many factors have contributed to the decline, including a growing secularism, a lengthened period of adolescence, and attitudes and misconceptions regarding celibacy among other things. And let’s not forget the breakdown of
marriage and family life. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “Let us not forget that Christian marriage is a vocation to holiness in the full sense of the word, and that the example of holy parents is the first condition favorable for the flowering of priestly and religious vocations.”
In our first reading, the Prophet Malachi sharply reproaches the priests and leaders of the Israelites for their laxity and indifference toward God. He says, “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart … says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction …” Challenging words, but perhaps not the kind of thing you might want to put into a recruiting brochure for the Priesthood.
And while St. Paul speaks tenderly of his successes in preaching the Gospel to the people of Thessalonica, he does not sugar coat how hard he had to work. Paul writes, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”
But it is in our Gospel reading where Jesus really gives it to the religious leaders of his day. He criticizes the scribes and Pharisees saying, “Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them… They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues.” So, if you see me squirming a little more than usual in the place of honor we call the Presider’s Chair this weekend, it is because I take these words to heart. Jesus then goes on to say, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
But before you get the impression that you get off scot free in these readings, think again. By virtue of our baptism, we all share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ, me as one of His ordained ministers and you as a participant in the common priesthood of all the faithful. We are all called to follow the one Master, the Christ, in making gifts of ourselves. In the best marriages, spouses put each other first. The most effective priests make parishioners their priority. The holiest nuns and brothers live out their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience by doing, like St. Therese the Little Flower, “small tasks with great love.” The key to discovering one’s vocation is casting aside the quest for status and pleasure that the lies of the world say will make us happy and instead focusing on lives of loving service.
God calls each of us to serve Him in a unique way. And, as I personally experienced after many years of seeking satisfaction in the things of this world, our greatest happiness is found in God’s will alone. I truly love being a Priest! As our Responsorial Psalm says, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.” — Fr. Bob