Homily for Feast of St. Louis Bertrand
October 9, 2012
“The following homily was preached by Fr. Bill Garrott, OP, prior, on the patronal feast of St. Louis Bertrand Church and Priory, October 9. Our 13 novices and the novice master, Fr. James Sullivan, OP, were present since the novices make their annual appeal for the novitiate on the same weekend. Fr. Sullivan had been pastor of St. Louis Bertrand Church before his appointment to serve as novice master. St. Louis Bertrand is the patron saint of missionaries and novice masters of the Dominican Order.” A few years ago, I was renewing my license in Virginia at the much dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles. When my time finally arrived to go up to the window, the clerk said what county is Charlottesville in? I had no idea. I hadn’t moved there yet. So I turned around and asked the entire room full of people: “Does anyone know what county Charlottesville is in?” The guy standing at the next window whipped out his iPhone and said, “Wait a minute, I’ll google it!” 5 seconds later: “Albemarle!” How many of you here own one of the following: an iPod Classic or Nano or Shuffle or an iTouch, an iMac, an iPhone or an iPad? A show of hands please. That’s about half of you. And the other half just don’t want to admit it! The death this past week of Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, at the age of 56, provides an opportunity to reflect on how much technology affects our lives. Instant information at our finger tips. Only when a battery dies or the power is out do we realize how dependent we’ve become on technology. Let’s put this into perspective. 145 years ago, when this parish was established, the invention of the light bulb was still 14 years in the future. When this church was solemnly dedicated January 6, 1873, there were no parking lots next to it. Cars wouldn’t roll off Henry Ford’s assembly line for another 30 years. In those days, everyone lived within walking distance of the church. Distance is relative, isn’t it? I confess I’m not very green. I climb into my car to drive 2 ½ blocks to Rite Aid for a prescription. Only rarely do we catch a glimpse of how dependent we are on easy travel. The closing of the Sherman Minton bridge which turned a 15 minute commute into a 2 hour nightmare makes us appreciate how easy we have it. Consider the Lord’s invitation to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” In a tribal society, to strike out on one’s own was a huge gamble: barbarians and bandits lurked in hiding along desert highways and byways, waiting for the kill. Abram left all that was familiar behind him. He risked everything. Nothing was more important to him than trusting God’s promise. Consider, too, the distance Louis Bertrand traveled to become a missionary. He entered the Dominican Order in Valencia, Spain, in 1544 with one great desire. From the time he was a boy, he wanted nothing more than to be a missionary in the New World. He professed vows in the Dominican Order but his dream had to wait due to more pressing matters. Because he was such a fine example of religious observance, they appointed him novice master – a post which he discharged at various times throughout his long life for a combined total of 30 years. I know someone here among us who had to leave behind the people he loved to become a novice master. Fr. James does this mean you’re going to Africa next? Since St. Louis Bertrand is the patron saint of novice masters, we commend you to his watchful care as you guide these young men entering our Order. And don’t worry. 30 years can pass very quickly. How many baptisms does the average priest administer in a life-time of service to the Church? 500? A thousand in a rare case? St. Louis Bertrand is said to have baptized upwards to 25,000 people! He didn’t have a moped, a speed boat, an airplane or a car to get from village to village. He traveled by the oldest form of transportation known to man – by foot. And our saint was no stranger to the peril of pastoral work. On one occasion, a man came at him wielding a weapon. Louis Bertrand made the Sign of the Cross and the gun turned into a crucifix. Perhaps the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms could use a lesson from St. Louis Bertrand. The biographers say that scores of miracles attended St. Louis Bertrand wherever he preached. If he couldn’t speak the language of the natives, then God granted him the gift of tongues. If someone poisoned his beverage, the saint would drink and be unaffected. Speaking of poison, Lady Astor once said to Winston Churchill, “Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison your coffee.” Churchill responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.” I doubt Louis Bertrand would have chuckled at that story. His biographers tell us that he was grave in demeanor and lacking in sense of humor. Maybe he found it hard to laugh when he considered how much was at stake. Like Abram, he left behind his family and country to announce the Good News of God’s promise: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Today, less and less people seem inclined to view their lives in terms of Heaven and Hell. For many, the Gospel message has been replaced by the Gospel massage. Maybe this is understandable given that we’re living through the worst economic times since the Great Depression. In spite of an increase of 103,000 new jobs last month, 45,000 of which were Verizon telephone strikers returning to work, we’re still looking at 9.1% unemployment. My own brother in law has been out of work for almost a year. In spite of the difficult position many of us are in, we should resist the narrow viewpoint of James Carville which says, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Yes, it’s the economy but it’s far more than that. The erosion of our moral fiber as a nation continues unabated but we’re not hearing anything about that during this election season. We need more St. Louis Bertrands to remind us that when all is said and done, economics will not determine the eternal destiny of our immortal souls. St. Louis Bertrand could travel as far as he did because he was convinced that the Word of God had traveled further. The Son of God leapt the immeasurable distance from Eternity into our time-bound universe to erase the distance between Creator and creature. From Mary’s womb to calvary’s tomb, Jesus went the distance for all of us. On the cross, He loved us to the end. How far are you willing to travel to bring the Good News to a relative, a friend, a co-worker in his or her darkness? Maybe they don’t want the Good News. That doesn’t let us off the hook. Finally, consider the great distance trekked by Fr. Edward Dominic Fenwick and his 3 companions who established the Order of Preachers in the United States. When they made their way from Maryland to Kentucky in 1805, there was no National Road. That didn’t begin until 1811. At that time, the United States was mission country according to the Vatican. No one had so much as thought of the Kentucky Derby and bourbon was just in its infancy. In the space of 50 short years, the Order spread the Gospel from Kentucky to Ohio, to Tennessee and as far northwest as the current state of Wisconsin. Interestingly, the Order was not established in Louisville until 1866 when Bishop Lavialle invited our then provincial Fr. William Dominic O’Carroll to found a parish in honor of St. Louis Bertrand. And you know the rest of the story. We’ve traveled a long way in 145 years. But when it comes to preaching of the Good News, we can never travel far enough. Not if we’re the only Gospel some people will ever read. St. Louis Bertrand pray for us that the genuineness of our faith, hope and love may match the grandeur of this church where today we honor what God has done for you and for us. Amen.