Every priest has at least three books he treasures: his bible, his breviary, and his book of somebody else's Sunday homilies. And of course I think he ought to treasure a fourth book, the Code of Canon Law, but that's just my biased opinion!
Actually, most of us have a few volumes of Sunday homilies on our bookshelves. I have four sets—two from the States, one from France, and one from Italy. As the years have passed, I consult them less and less, but this Sunday I came up a bit dry so decided to turn to my trusted books.
One of the Americans, Father John Jay Hughes, suggested that today's parable would have been very clear to the people of Palestine, because there was a real problem with land owned by foreigners. He also explained that three details in the parable—the fence around the vineyard, the wine press, and the watchtower—would also mean a lot to them, because they knew Isaiah's version of the story, which is our first reading this morning.
The people listening to Jesus wouldn't have had any trouble figuring out that "the vineyard story was a parable about God's loving care for his people, and about their ungrateful response."
The second American preacher, Father Stanley Krempa, tells us that this parable "looks backward and forward. Looking back, it sums up the story of redemption." Those who were given care of the vineyard didn't produce a yield for the Lord, and rejected the Son who came to help. The vineyard was then given to new tenants, called to produce the rich harvest the Lord desires. That's us.
"The parable also looks forward with a rich meaning for us. The vineyard is our world, our society. What are we doing with it? How are we caring for it?", Father Krempa asks in his homily.
And then he gets very specific: "Within this vineyard is the most precious gift of all, the gift of human life. Do we reverence life?"
That's not just a question in a book. It's a very immediate and personal question to all of us. As the years pass and we become more used to legalized abortion, we can forget that we Christians have a duty of care for the society in which we live; we have an obligation, not an invitation, to defend life from conception to natural death.
Our parish has accepted the challenge of providing enough people to pray from midnight to midnight at BC Women's Hospital on October 21 as part of a dramatic campaign of prayer to end abortion. 40 Days for Life is the largest and longest coordinated pro-life effort in history; Christ the Redeemer Parish has taken one of these 40 days as its responsibility—our people will stand for life during a peaceful vigil that's meant not only to change the hearts of those contemplating abortion, but to change us as well.
Before we brush off this challenge, we need to ask ourselves: am I producing the fruits of the kingdom? Is the landowner—the Lord of all creation—asking one hour from me?
A third homily, by the French Jesuit Albert Vanhoye, now a Cardinal, reminds us that this parable refers to the passion of Jesus, who is, of course, the Son killed by the wretched tenants.
It's the Father who speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, and He speaks with as much sadness as anger. What more could I have done?, the Father asks.
It's a question He must ask Himself every Sunday. When entire families skip Mass because it interferes with soccer practice, when we rush to Mass unprepared, when we say the responses and sing the hymns like we wish we were somewhere else, don't you think God is more than a little sad?
I suppose you could say that missing Mass—either by not showing up mentally or not showing up, period—isn't to be compared to killing the landlord's son and tossing him out of the vineyard. But nor is it what the landlord expects—a warm welcome and a ready offering of the fruits of our lives.
Today's handout on the Mass from the Archdiocese—which I hope you will all take home and read—reminds us that each member of the congregation has a role in the celebration of the Eucharist. The Church calls everyone to full, conscious and active participation in the worship of God.
This means that each one of us must make a sincere effort to be fully engaged in the liturgy. Those in the pews are not spectators but participants.
The changes in the Mass that we'll see next month are a real opportunity to take stock of how—and how often—we fulfill our baptismal calling to share in the priesthood of Christ. As the parable reminds us, we owe spiritual fruit to the owner of the vineyard, and anything less can amount to a rejection of His Son, our Lord.