Saturday, August 6, 2016

“You have shown me the way to Ars…I will show you the way to Heaven.”

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
August 7, 2016

I’d like to tell you a story about a little boy named Antoine Givre. It was a cold February evening in the year 1818 – a Tuesday evening to be exact…February 9. Antoine, who was a shepherd boy, was tending to his sheep just as he did every evening in the rural countryside of central France, about 17 miles outside of the city of Lyon. As he was preparing to call it a day, he saw a man coming towards him down the road…and as he got closer, Antoine could see that it was a priest. With nothing more than a cassock on his back, a hat on his head, and a little old cart he used to pull some essential possessions, the unassuming priest came up to the boy and asked if he would be good enough to show him the way to the village of Ars. Even though he knew that it would make him late for his supper, Antoine was happy to help the stranger, and he took him farther down the road until the tiny village could be seen. “How small it is!” the priest said softly, as he knelt on the cold ground and began to pray. Antoine was taken aback by how long the priest stayed kneeling and how he kept his gaze entirely fixed on the village the whole time, almost as if he were able to see into individual homes of each of the 200 inhabitants. After some time, the priest got up, took up his cart, and made his way down into the village, with Antoine at his side. When they reached the door of the little church, the priest turned to Antoine, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “You have shown me the way to Ars…I will show you the way to Heaven.” With a smile on his face, little Antoine made his way back to his sheep, pondering the words of the priest. He shared what had happened, and what the priest told him, with all who would listen…not realizing that the quiet stranger he encountered that day on the road to Ars would one day become one of the greatest saints in history: the Curé of Ars…St. John Vianney.

I tell you this story because the encounter between this shepherd boy and this saintly priest forms what I think is the heart of what the Christian life should be and what it should look like: a journey of two souls down a beaten path…a journey of selflessness, a journey of prayer, a journey of companionship, a journey of graciousness, a journey towards heaven. That day a poor boy and a poor man, a simple shepherd and a simple priest, exchanged gifts that far surpass anything that money could buy or that learning could impart. Antoine offered to John Vianney the gift of his time and the gift of his young experience…and in turn, John Vianney offered to Antoine the gift of his priestly heart and the gift of Christian hope. And everything that transpired between those two souls almost 200 years ago pinnacled and found ultimate meaning in the greatest of all gifts: the gift of eternal life, of blessedness, of heaven, offered to us by our good God.

In our Gospel today, our Lord invites us to reflect on the great gift that heaven is…and He invites and challenges us to dedicate every moment of every day to preparing for that gift. “Gird your loins,” He tells us, “and light your lamps, and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” We don’t know when the Lord will come for us…all we know is that He will, and we want to be ready to receive the gift that He has to offer. And the only way to be ready for this gift is to band together, to lock hearts with each other, and to trail down the road of this life carrying little, praying much, and helping one another to keep our eyes on the city that awaits us.

This week Father Greg, Father Rick, and myself come to you just as St. John Vianney came to Antoine and to Ars. And while I can only speak for myself, I think they would both agree with me that we don’t have a whole lot to offer you in terms of the things of this world…we each come carrying just a rickety old cart with a very finite collection of gifts and possessions. We may not be the best preachers or confessors. We may not be the most learned or the most wise. We may not be able to fill the pews or the bank accounts. We may not always be able to inspire you or fill you up. But what we do have, we give completely and entirely to you…our humanity, our priesthood, our very selves. For as long as we are here, we promise to journey with you…to walk down the tough and rocky road of life with you as companions, as brothers, as fathers. We will baptize your babies and bury your loved ones. We will hear your confessions and anoint your sick and dying. We will feed you weekly, and even daily if you want, with the Bread of Heaven. We will listen to your stories, to your happiness and your pain, and we will be there with you and for you. Show us who you are and where you come from, as Antoine showed John Vianney who he was and where he came from, and don’t ever think for a moment that you’re too small, or too poor, or too different, or too unimportant to be worth our time. Each of you has the ability and the worth and the grace to show us where to go and how to get there…and if you journey with us, the Lord Who works through our priesthood like a mighty hand in an old tattered glove, will show you the way to heaven.

So gird your loins, my brothers and sisters, and light your lamps, for the day of the Lord is near and the promise of our salvation is at hand. Let us recommit ourselves this day, and every day, to living as if it could be our last, and dare to enter into holy friendship with our Lord and with each other. Only by and through this friendship can we truly prepare and hope for the blessedness of heaven…and so as friends, as companions, let us show each other the way.

“You have shown me the way to Ars…
I will show you the way to Heaven.”

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