The vineyard figures a lot in the parables of Christ. It provides the environment where the Kingdom of God takes root and the drama of salvation unfolds. There in the vineyard, the work is hard, patience is essential, the wages, as we saw last week, (Mathew 20) are unpredictable. The vineyard can also be a dangerous place to work. Scuffles between workers can erupt (Mark 9:33), and even blood is spilled (as next week's Gospel passage will show us, Matthew 21:33-43). "Go out and work in the vineyard" (Matthew 21:28). Our immediate attitude to such an invitation when we see the big picture is a certain reluctance. “You want to send me into the vineyard, into the midst of the storm, the conflict, battle, and bloodshed and even at the risk of my own life? (cf. Acts 13:46)
Sep 26, 2020
Sep 19, 2020
For the next few Sundays, the Gospel message brings us once again outside. This time, we are not following Christ to see what He is going to do next, hoping we’ll witness a miracle or taking delight in Him silencing the opposition. Instead prepare yourself for some heavy lifting for He talks to us about the importance of hard work, not just for a living, but also for the sake of eternal life.
Our salvation rests upon the solid foundation of our faith in Christ and the good works God’s grace allows us to do. Both faith and good works do not come naturally to us. They demand that we actively cooperate with God’s grace in every situation we encounter. Christ’s parable of the owner of the vineyard continually going out to search for workers, at dawn, then at noon and once again in the late afternoon and then in the evening giving every worker, regardless of how many hours the worked, the same salary, should remind us of a few simple but eternal truths.
First, we may often complain that God isn’t fair. But that’s true! He does not play by our own rule book. If we wanted Him to do so, we would be trying to fashion God in our own image and likeness according to our own standards of fairness and justice. A small child may complain to their parent that they are not being fair. The parent does not need to explain their rationale, except to assure the child that tough love is indeed love. God reminds us in this Sunday’s first reading:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6–9
Second, this Sunday’s Gospel will also remind us that we should be always grateful to God for sending particular individuals into our lives at different times or for sending us into their life when the time is right. Because only God sees all time and human history (past, present and future), each one of us exist and interact at a certain time, in a particular place, within a unique context, but never by accident. St. Paul accepted this, without understanding why. In the second reading for Sunday he writes:
I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. Philippians 1:20c–24, 27a.
In short, as we try to look at the big picture of the events of our lives and our nation that unfold before us, we can never see it from the perspective of eternity. Only God can and He does, knowing that His loving plan will unfold according to mind alone, not ours. If we trust Him, that makes God, in our sight, not reckless or laid back, but prudent! It’s always the right time to be prudent.
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it 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.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. 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?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Sep 11, 2020
Above: One of our own at the front lines. Keep them all in your prayers.
The Sunday Scriptures see us standing before many fires - pandemic, civil, political, religious, environmental, ideological and sociological.
Entering into this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The word “Gospel” literally means Good News, but not in the sense of “happy thoughts”. The word has Roman military overtones! With the defeat of an enemy, an imperial proclamation officially announced the “good news” of an new era of peace - that the war was over, hostilities have ceased. At the birth of Christ, an army of angels marched to the edge of heaven and proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.”
This does not mean that everything will now be rosy in the garden. A blossoming bougainvillea planted along a fence line with its bright colors but hidden thorns is a better picture of the reality of our landscape. The memories and scars of conflict are often still present. Battlefields still smolder, triggered by reminders of the stench of death and injury. But never forget the heroic and saintly efforts of those who endured or gave their lives defending the godly virtues to live lives “free from fear and saved from the hands of our foes” (Luke 1:74).
The heavens have indeed proclaimed the Gospel message of victory and Resurrected Christ Himself embodies it in the combat uniform of His body and blood, but there are still pockets of ongoing resistance, fighting and hostility. This comes to us even though “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins” (words from the text of sacramental absolution).
So what is there left to be done?
The final hotspot, fanned into flames by that relentless rebel, is often within our own heart and mind. Sunday’s Old Testament Reading (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 27:30—28:7) reminds us how, like a tinderbox, we are so susceptible to bursting into eternal flames because of the environment we create or tolerate around us. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” But the Gospel of Christ offers us the peace terms if we are to live in the Kingdom of God. When Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” And Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21–35). In other words, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us”.
It’s often easier to light a fire than to put one out. Let us pray for the strength of the firefighter St. Michael, the conviction of the messenger St. Gabriel and the healing touch of the medic St. Raphael - archangels sent before us to lead us onward and upward towards the mercy of God.
Father Cávana Wallace
Sep 4, 2020
As we discern what God is expecting us to say and to do during the coming weeks and months, Sunday’s psalm is timely: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”.
Fresh from anchoring seven strong metal columns around our gathering place outside the church, reflect on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as our secure pillars under which we can find shade from the heat of the day.
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Knowledge: We often have too much information at our fingertips that knowing what is truly good and truly evil often becomes distorted. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Understanding: When we abdicate our ability to think rationally, it’s easy to allow “experts” to do our thinking for us. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom: It is sometimes too easy to react to the message of a strongman, the activist, or the celebrity. It takes time and effort to see the “big picture”. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Right Judgement: The truth is alway attractive, but seldom popular. Christ’s whole life and His teachings bear testimony to this. There are times when we must swallow our pride and even change our minds. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Courage: Without meaningful sacrifice, love of God, neighbor or self falls flat. Without embracing our own cross or shouldering the weight of someone else struggling to carry theirs, we are dead already. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Reverence: All of creation, everything and everyone is gently marked by the loving fingerprints of God and aroma of His presence. If only our eyes could better see, and our words and actions always reflect His presence. Come Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wonder and Awe: We can spend too much time and energy trying to make progress, trying to catch up, always being busy, worrying or fearful about the future. Come Holy Spirit!
Sunday’s Gospel Acclamation
2 Corinthians 5:19
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Aug 29, 2020
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the Lord has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves.
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”
Aug 22, 2020
“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 16:19
Even though we are restricted from congregating inside the church for worship because of our battle with the Covid virus, gathering outside in the piazza and offering the daily Mass in front of the doors of the church allows us to reflect on how close we are to the doors of heaven itself.
Think about it. The church building is not merely a worship space. Whether it is crowded with people (as it was before the pandemic) or the pews are empty, within the church the substance of the real presence of “God With Us” always abides as long as the Eucharistic elements remain within the tabernacle. And that they do.
As I take out my keys to open the doors of the church in the mornings so that anyone can enter inside and privately pray in the presence of the Son of God before the sacred tabernacle, I often think of the passage from Scripture recalling Christ giving Peter the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. When I close the church, I often recall how the outside doors look every much like the tabernacle doors inside. A coincidence? I think not!
When we gather outside in the church piazza for Mass, we are very much like the pilgrims of old who made their way up to the Temple of Jerusalem and congregated in its courtyard to worship. They faced the great doors of the temple behind which the Presence of God abided. Only the Temple priests could unlock the doors of heaven and enter to commune with God face to face and offer sacrifices.
But now, because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of His own Body and Blood, now resurrected and in glory, and made present in the Holy Mass, all who are baptized and prepared, can walk through the open doors of the temple and enter into Holy Communion with God.
Whether the doors of the church are open or closed, the piazza itself is a sacred meeting place for the People of God. Christ taught the people in the temple courtyard. He cleansed the courtyard of the temple from the influences of commerce and politics. It was a sacred place where God reached out to His people from every tribe and nation.
When we enter the church courtyard, we do so to the chorus of the pilgrim people of old. They too endured trials and tribulations. But when they arrived at the threshold of the temple of Jerusalem they unlocked the doors of their hearts and souls and sang,
“I will give thanks to you O Lord, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple.” Psalm 138
Aug 14, 2020
Our Christian faith looks upon the human physical body not only with respect but also with reverence. The body is a sacred form, substance through which God communicates His love to the world. We first encounter this in the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. Humanity is formed first in a physical form from the moist earth. Only when the body is emerged and fashioned is it then infused, animated with the breath of God and Adam become a “living being” (Gen. 2:7).
In God’s original design, the body and the soul are not two opposites held together in an awkward relationship. God revealed his power and beauty through the human form of Adam and Eve, from their head to their feet. Think of a Danseur Nobel and a Ballerina, full of grace with every movement of their body and soul in tune to the music and their environment.
But sadly, the entry of sin into the world threw everything out of harmony, out of sync. Instead of heavenly music, there erupted noise. It’s damaging shockwaves permeated through all creation, even affecting time itself, which made new things old and old things to decay and die. (CCC 1008) Only God himself could push back this cosmic tsunami. And God does so through his Son Christ. The New Adam, to the rescue, came.
If Christ is the New Adam, then we see Mary also in a new light and involved intimately in the plan of salvation. At the first moment of her conception, her physical and spiritual existence resonated perfectly to the music of heaven. Her “dance” embodied the salvation of all creation in a very physical - a virgin pregnant with the Son of God. (CCC 148, CCC 411).
In the same way as the tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant resonated and radiated the Presence of God, so did Mary’s very body. Is it any wonder that both her body and soul, so perfectly attuned to each other in the song and music of heaven, that after the completion of her earthly life, Mary still sings and dances, body and soul in the heavenly realm. For all who have died and rest in peace, what beautiful music we sleep to. And when our souls awaken to our own physical resurrection, we hope to be able stretch out our bodies and dance to the harmony. (Maybe “Catholic heaven” depicted in the Simpson’s is right, after all!!!)
During this time of physical testing, concerns for our health and hygiene, let us pray that our physical movements, expressions, choices and actions will become, with God’s grace, more in harmony with the Spirit of Christ and the music of heaven. In short, as our salvation is through faith and good works responding to the music of God’s grace, keep stretching, work every muscle and keep dancing! And when we do finally rest from all our labors, when the Kingdom of God comes upon us, may we rise once again to enter joyfully into the final and eternal dance with Jesus and Mary leading the way.
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