As best I can remember, it must have been Holy Thursday, 1963. In any case, I was about 12 years old. The memory itself is very clear. As an altar server on that special evening, I was lined up with eleven other servers all decked out in our red cassocks just  inside the communion rail at St. Benedict Church in Evansville, Indiana. Back in those days, a common liturgical practice on Holy Thursday was to have twelve servers, representative of the twelve Apostles. When the time came, the celebrant would wash the feet of the servers, rather than drawing from the larger assembly. But, that’s not what was important that night for me.

What was important was what was said. In his homily, our pastor Father Garbriel Verkamp, OSB said something that literally changed my life. At the very least, he affirmed the most fundamental of truths and I have never forgotten it. First, it should be mentioned that Father Gabriel was not a particularly good preacher. He was aging and slowly going blind and he spoke with the hint of a German accent, which wasn’t uncommon for older people from Jasper, Indiana in those days. But, Father Gabriel was a holy man and he spoke with the certainty of deep faith that night.

This is what hit me: he said that it has been the consistent teaching of the Church down through the ages that “if I was the only person on earth who was in need of salvation, the Son of God would have come and died on the Cross just for me”. The Truth of that statement hit me like a ton of bricks: He loves me that much!  There was no fancy talk; no impassioned oratory. There weren’t any soft angelic choirs singing in the background (at least none that I could hear). Just the simple Truth. He loves me. He really loves me. By the gift of His grace, I simply knew that I had just heard the Truth… That’s the timeless power of the kerygma, the core of our Christian faith. It didn’t have to be dressed up. Just spoken plainly and with conviction.

Is it too much to say that my life changed that night? I don’t think so. I still think of it often… over fifty years later. And I still thank Him for loving me that much.

Deacon Vince Bernardin
Evansville, Indiana