HOMILY – OCTOBER 8
In the Christian life, it’s hard to keep focused on the fact that Jesus is calling on and relying on ALL of us to be his priestly people. We bear his name as Christians, and he is the eternal high priest; so it should come as no surprise that when we are baptized and confirmed and share in the Eucharist, we are being equipped for what we need to do AS HIS PRIESTLY PEOPLE. When we hear him taking the chief priests and elders of the people to task, as Isaiah did in his own vineyard parable in the first reading today, we must realize that he is talking to ALL of us, not just to the ordained. I was a baptized and confirmed member of God’s priestly people long before I became an ORDAINED priest to minister within the Church to the rest of God’s people. At the very least, if you haven’t caught on to what you’re supposed to do as a member of the baptized and confirmed priestly people, there’s not much hope that ordination is going to help you OR the Church. That’s why the Church, and not the individual alone, is the one who decides whether someone has a vocation to the ordained priesthood. And even at that, sometimes we’re disappointed. We are, after all, all of us, earthen vessels.
The long and short of it is, we are not all called to be pastors, but we are all called to be pastoral. A pastor is a shepherd. In the Christian way of speaking, a pastor is a shepherd of souls. A pastor’s primary interest is in helping his assigned flock to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with God forever in the next. In other words, a pastor’s work is to help people understand why God made them, and then to help them cooperate with God’s loving plan for them. Each and every one of us, INCLUDING the ordained, has the Christ-given duty from baptism to be pastoral, to be like a shepherd, to be looking out for the salvation of others even more than for our own. The beauty of it is, that those who are concerned about OTHERS’ salvation will THEMSELVES not be overlooked by God when the judgment takes place.
Being pastoral doesn’t mean getting all up in someone’s face or business. It doesn’t mean nagging them farther and farther away from the practice of the faith. Like medicine, being pastoral is often more art than science, as we ponder and experiment with different shades of caring, trying to get the right formula for each person for whom we care. Many times, being pastoral is going to mean surrendering our care to God in prayer, and admitting that we are powerless to figure out what to do about this straying sheep or that obnoxious agnostic. Prayer for those whom we don’t know how to help is never prayer wasted. Prayer for an enemy’s eternal salvation is an especially efficacious act, at least after we’ve examined our consciences and made sure that being enemies is not OUR fault.
Being pastoral means being aware of the power of the smallest gesture to convey something of the message of Christ. Many of you remember Monsignor Hugh Michael Beahan, our longtime diocesan director of radio and TV until his death in 1980. I had the good fortune to work with him at St. Mary’s on Turner, and to live with him for a time at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. What impressed me about this thoroughly pastoral man was that, whether answering the door for a bum at the Cathedral rectory at 11:00 at night after a long day, or on the air in front of the TV camera, he had the same wonderful persona: smiling, welcoming, engaging. There was nothing phony or put on about him. In an age long before teleprompters, he memorized word-for-word his 3-page scripts each week for his famous Fifteen with Father TV talks, so he could look directly into the camera and have what felt like a one-on-one conversation with each of the thousands of people tuning in. He paid supreme attention to all the little things, and in the process accomplished magnificent things. All that by the time he died at age 60!
We don’t have to set out to make headlines. In fact, we’re probably better off if we don’t. Do the little things prayerfully and well, and you’ll be delightfully surprised to find what God can do with them. In today’s Gospel, the crazy tenants thought they would inherit the vineyard if they killed the owner’s son! Go figure! Don’t complicate your life with sinful craving and scheming. Remember what happened at Cana? At his mother’s prompting, Jesus, the Son of God, simply tells the waiters to fill jars with water when they’ve run out of wine. Follow Mary’s advice, “Do whatever he tells you,” give him your very best with the routine and ordinary stuff, the “water” of life, as it were, and you’ll be amazed what God can do with a little. In just a few moments, we’ll bring him a little bread and a little wine, and God will take it and make of it the sacred food and drink that has nourished his Church for 2,000 years, the Body and Blood of his Son. After Mass, we’ll take a little water and speak a few simple words, and God will begin the gift of eternal life for our little sister, Teresa Chiara, just as he began it for us at OUR baptism. There is literally no end to his wonders. We witness them every day, as a prelude to joining him in the Kingdom.