Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sept. 18, 2011: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Click to hear audio homily
St. Augustine Catholic Chapel is like any other Catholic chapel around the state. In the sanctuary of the chapel is a crucifix, surrounded by statues of Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. There is a Tabernacle where Jesus in the Eucharist resides and the Stations of the Cross hang on the walls. Unfortunately, it's not easy to visit the chapel because of its remote location. It would take you about two hours to drive there from here. More importantly, you would need a special visitor’s pass in order to visit the chapel, that is, unless you are a registered member of the community. Frequently, there are buses filled with adults and young people from Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and New Orleans making pilgrimages to that chapel. No miracle has happened in that chapel that would attract people to go there--at least not a miracle in our worldly terms. So what interests people in that chapel?

To get to the chapel, you have to take a 20-mile drive on the sparsely populated Highway 66. In fact, sometimes people get lost in the woods and then it takes days to find them. There is a must-see museum on the way to the chapel. If you were to view the photographs in the museum, you might think that only evil things happen beyond the entrance--violence, theft, and murder. Some photos are gruesome examples of what one human can do to another. Weapons of every kind are displayed on the sidewall of the museum. However, these are not sophisticated or expensive guns or knives, but weapons made from everyday bathroom and kitchen utensils. You might be shocked by how people used their intelligence and energy toward hate and revenge. You may be wondering where this museum and chapel are located. It’s the museum and chapel at Angola State Prison. The prison is nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South," and it is also a prison farm. It is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with 5,000 offenders and 1,800 staff. It is located on an 18,000-acre land surrounded on 3 sides by the Mississippi River. Over 95% of men living there will die there as they serve their prison terms.

The other day, a group of men from our area went to Angola Prison to conduct a communion service and visit the prisoners. One of our parishioners noticed a touching sight during the communion service held in St. Augustine Catholic Chapel. He observed an elderly inmate in a wheelchair being attended by a fellow inmate. After the service, our parishioner spoke to both men to learn about their relationship. The inmate in the wheelchair is dying of cancer, and the man helping him was assigned by the prison's new hospice program to assist him. The man in the wheelchair said, "I don't know what I would do without him." And the man assisting him said, "He is doing for me much more than what I am doing for him."

Is it too late for anybody to turn their life around, to change their hearts? Some men in the maximum security Angola Prison show us that numerous miracles of conversion of hearts can take place even for those imprisoned for violence and murder. This is what Jesus is teaching us when he gave us the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard. At the end of the day, the workers hired earlier in the day were complaining to the landowner because he was paying the workers hired just an hour before the end of the day the same wage. They grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the day's burden and the heat.' The landowner replied, 'My friend, did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'

"The Lord is near to all who call upon him," our Responsorial Psalm said. For Jesus, the maximum-security walls, electric fences, and guards with automatic weapons are no hindrance for him to reach anyone who calls out for Him. He is so generous with his forgiveness and mercy, whether early in our life or late in life, whether when we are obedient to Him or when we have lived many years of disobedience. His mercy is endless and the treasury of His compassion is inexhaustible. Turn to Him today and call out for Him. It is never too late.