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Entering St Joseph’s in Yorkville for the first time, I found it a pleasure to look around—to view the exquisite stained-glass windows in the sanctuary and to peer upward at the less outstanding but still worthy ceiling murals of scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Originally founded to serve German-speaking Catholic immigrants, St. Joseph’s achieved a bit of fame—and subsequent growth—in 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI visited it during his trip to the United States. The parish is particularly proud of the chalice and paten, now on display, that the pope gave to the pastor.

On Sunday, April 18, the principal liturgy at 11:00 A.M was in many ways a typical American example of a vernacular Mass according to the “ordinary form,” or what many tradition-minded Catholics call the Novus Ordo . Still, it was more reverently and rubrically conducted than at many parishes. Fr. Matthew Yatkauskas, the parochial vicar, or curate, of the parish, was the celebrant and homilist. He exuded faith, piety, and precision of thought. In this reviewer’s opinion, however, Fr. Yatkauskas’ homily did not say all that the Church’s current situation calls for.

The Gospel passage on which Fr. Yatkauskas preached was John 21:1–19, which centers on the appearance of the risen Jesus to Peter and some of the other apostles on a morning after the men have spent a night fishing fruitlessly in the Sea of Galilee. Fr. Yatkauskas noted that the apostles exemplify how slow most Christians are to develop a lively faith: Even after the apostles have seen the risen Lord twice, their thought is to return to their old way of life. Their work’s nightlong failure, and the minor miracle of the huge catch to which the Lord alerts them at dawn, shows that he wants them to become “fishers of men.” By eating breakfast with them, Jesus also assures them that he is no ghost or figment of their imaginations.

The climax of this rich passage is, of course, Jesus’ asking Peter three times whether he loves him. This gives Peter the opportunity, which he takes, to expiate his three “denials” of Jesus after Jesus’ arrest. Fr. Yatkauskas effectively applied this lesson for each individual believer. But he did not say what is significant for the Church as a whole about the commission Jesus gives to Peter with the words “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.”

According to Catholic understanding, Peter was the first pope, and the role of the papacy is precisely to tend the universal Church as “pastor,” or shepherd. At a time when the pope is under ferocious assault for what is perceived as a major failure in this regard, it would have been quite timely for the homilist to explain to the faithful how it is possible for popes to correct and atone for such failures.

City: New York
Borough: Manhattan
Address: 404 Eat 87th Street
Phone: 212-289-6030
Religion: Christian
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Main Service: 11:00 a.m. Sunday
Pastor: Fr. James Boniface Ramsey; celebrant and homilist at this liturgy, parochial vicar Fr. Matthew Yatkauskas

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