The last will be first — Fr. Pierangelo Paternieri’s homily at Our Lady of Hungary Parish

Our Lady of Hungary Parish in Montreal, which currently does not have its own Hungarian-speaking pastor, is being served by visiting priests from the Archdiocese of Montreal. As a sign of the diversity of Canada’s second largest city, clergy of different backgrounds have celebrated Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Hungary Parish since the church’s reopening in July, following the spring pandemic shut-down. Of the visiting priests, Fr. Pierangelo Paternieri has been the most frequent celebrant. Born in 1951 in Italy, Fr. Pierangelo  immigrated to France with his parents at age ten. He was ordained a priest in 1979 and moved to Canada, in order to serve Our Lady of Pompeii Parish, an Italian community, in Montreal. Over the years he served in several parishes in Montreal, Laval and Toronto, including in both Italian and French-speaking communities. In 2010, Fr. Pierangelo was appointed Episcopal Vicar of ethnic parish communities.

In this role, Fr. Pierangelo is certainly no stranger to Our Lady of Hungary Parish, and the Hungarian Catholic community knows him well, after many visits over the past decade. We are sharing the text of the homily that Fr. Pierangelo gave in the Hungarian parish on September 20th, focused on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard — a parable with a teaching that can be hard to accept from the perspective of an individualistic culture. Yet its message remains, in many ways, at the core of a social justice worldview that the Hungarian Free Press seeks to embrace. (HFP)


Fr . Pierangelo Paternieri C.S.

If in the time of the Lord there had been modern institutions to protect the rights of workers, surely they would have found a valid reason to contest the approach taken by the owner of the vineyard with respect to the workers called to work there. The first to be called to work, and who had worked all day long, rightly say: “we have endured the weight of the day and the heat”. The last ones worked only for a few hours, but the remuneration turns out to be the same for everyone. Here we discover once again that our understanding of what is just does not correspond to that of God: He reminds us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts; your ways are not my ways”.

The fundamental reason for the difference in judgement and evaluation derives from the fact that God is infinite, while we are very limited in our vision and outlook. God knows how to perfectly combine justice and love, fairness and benevolence, judgement and mercy. Surely he does not measure the reward on the income from our shares or the return we have obtained from them. Rather, he sees our willingness to accept his divine solicitations at any time they arrive and this already serves as a basis for him to give us the full reward. To the workers of the first hour who protest because they consider themselves victims of a grave and evident injustice:

“The Landowner replied to one of them: ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Under the pretext of affirming our human and limited concept of justice, we risk challenging God’s goodness and magnanimity. We risk being envious because he is good. Something similar happens when the father welcomes his prodigal son with open arms and organises a big party for him, even though the son had been immensely wasteful. This act of welcome, given the son’s imprudent behaviour, arouses the indignation of the elder brother. He too considers himself the victim of obvious discrimination.

God, in his infinite goodness, makes of his goods what he wants and therefore it may happen that the last become the first if they have responded with full availability to his invitation. It is therefore important to be ready and available at any hour of our long day because he, the Lord, passes and knocks on the door of the heart of everyone to make our life productive and fruitful.

The interior of Our Lady of Hungary Parish in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and reduced capacity.

The interior of Our Lady of Hungary Parish in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and reduced capacity.

One Comment

  1. It reminded me of Dives in misericordia, an encyclical of Pope John Paul II. This faith is too abstract for me, it demands the mind to an image that is created outside of us, which we can then contemplate. Thou shalt not make an image, I can understand faith better if I look for the “image” within myself. In the past I would have been burned as a heretic.

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