Wicked Tenants, Right and Wrong

In the parable of the Wicked Tenants, the vineyard owner had fully equipped the vineyard ahead of time. He had developed it expertly, and he leased it to the tenants only when it was ready to produce plenty of wine annually. The tenants just had to put in their daily work. [Spanish]

grape vine mosaicOf course the tenants owed the landlord his rent, the portion they had agreed to pay when he leased the vineyard to them. Paying up would not have caused them any problems, provided they had worked diligently. They would have had plenty to live on, even after having paid the rent.

We read in the parable about how the tenants not only refused to pay the rent, they even became murderous in their refusal to do so. What made them neglect their duty, to the point of such violence? Had they gotten lazy, failed to work like they should have, and wound up with too little to pay the rent and also survive? Had they grown greedy and selfish? Did they want to keep it all for themselves, even though they had more than enough? Did their greed make them resent the landlord’s demand for his rent, even though he had every right to it?

Maybe the explanation for the tenants’ wickedness has to do with the landlord’s absence from the vineyard. The tenants did not know where he was. They assumed that he sojourned far away. His role in their lives impressed itself upon them every day, since it was the landlord who had provided them this well-appointed vineyard in the first place. The landlord remained present there, in the orderly rows of grape plants he had cultivated, and the equipment he had built.

But the tenants did not see the landlord. In their shortsightedness and self-centeredness, they grew to distrust him as an absentee. They resented him for going away, and they abandoned their loyalty to him. ‘He has nothing to do with us, so we will have nothing to do with him! He does not deserve our rent payments, and when he sends emissaries to collect the rent, they deserve death! And now he has the temerity to send his own son, as if that will win us over. No way! We will relish killing the son and casting off the bitter yoke of this absentee landlord forever.’

There are two ways of looking at what God demands of us. When our souls rest in spiritual consolation and peace, we can perceive that Almighty God has given us everything, and that He has done so freely, out of infinite love. All He asks is that we love Him back. And He asks for our love not for His sake, but for ours. By believing in God and loving Him, we save ourselves from giving our hearts to something beneath our dignity.

There is another way of seeing all this, however. It starts with: Where is this God? Not here; we see nothing of Him. Maybe—just maybe—He started this whole mess, back at the Big Bang. But we have not seen hide nor hair of Him since. What’s more, He is impossible to be friends with. When you give Him a chance, He demands too much. For Him to expect us to submit completely to His will? And accept that His absence and invisibility is not only ok, but actually for the best? He demands that we gaze at an ancient crucified carpenter, and offer our entire lives to that man? We must be willing to die for such a dreamer as Jesus of Nazareth? Come on. Too much.

Two perspectives on the one, actual, real God. Both 100% on-the-money. It is perfectly true that God demands nothing from us and only gives. He gives us the duties of religion only to benefit us. But it is also perfectly true that God demands the kind of faith and devotion that ultimately costs us everything. His demands are extreme; there’s no middle way, no real way to hedge our bets. Either you go all-in, bound to Christ unto death, or you wind up cursing God and hating Him, when the comforts of this passing life inevitably fade.

All the exterior “vineyard equipment” in the parable represents the interior powers that the Lord has given us to work with in life. We have inside us the capacity to seek the truth. We have the capacity to behold beauty. We have the capacity to love—to love not just comfort, not just a full belly and a warm bed–but to love another human being for that human being’s sake; to desire the happiness of another, not just my own.

The good Lord equipped us to do these things with our souls. When we do them, we wind up producing plenty of “produce.” The more we bestir ourselves to seek the truth, the more zeal we have for it. The more we quiet ourselves and behold beauty, the more beautiful we ourselves become. The more selflessly we love, the more love we have inside ourselves.

Then the rent seems like no burden at all—to give God the glory. We owe Him everything. When we give Him ourselves, He gives us much more than we had before.

Cornerstone of Indestructible Edifice

Resurrection tapestry Vatican Museums

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

The Lord has built something eternal for us, an indestructible stronghold. It is wonderful in our eyes. Our eyes of faith, that is.

It is the Body of Christ, risen from the dead.

In the parable we read at today’s Holy Mass, they didn’t kill the son and heir because he came from China or tested positive for anything. I think we can imagine that he came unarmed and humble, in peace. Seeking concord, seeking friendship. He did not try to compel anyone to do anything, but rather appealed to the tenants’ consciences. He believed in their sense of fairness and duty. He looked to them to acknowledge what they owed to their landlord.

This infuriated them. Because they had long since given up caring about the truth, or about love, or about God and His eternal justice. Instead, they lived for short-term satisfactions.

Which left them desperately unhappy and hopeless. The son and heir came to them with such beauty, that they hated him. Just like our ancestor Joseph’s brothers hated him and wanted him dead, because Joseph had the beauty of inner harmony with divine wisdom.

But the stone they rejected became the cornerstone. Joseph saved the Israelites from starvation. And the Son of God rose again from death to build the edifice that will endure through absolutely everything. It endured through the Spanish flu, which actually started in Kansas. It will endure through this.

Bishop has lifted the obligation to attend Sunday Mass from everyone sixty or older. Also, anyone with a chronic illness or immune-system deficiency. Also, anyone caring for those in these categories.

We will get through this. Christ has conquered.

People Don’t Change, Except When They Do

In the second reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, St. Paul tells us to have the same attitude as Christ. [CLICK por español.]

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Which attitude, exactly? He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself. God Almighty–the Creator, eternal Wisdom–became obedient unto death, in the holy Incarnation. The attitude of humble devotion to the will of the Father.

Now, speaking of attitudes–what’s one rule of thumb that a wise observer of human nature lives by? People don’t change.

The bride who imagines that her obtuse, self-centered, thuggish fiancee will miraculously change into a prince, by virtue of marrying her–that’s a woman living in a dangerous dreamworld.

Or the employer looking to hire someone who thinks: Well, her old boss says she’s lazy, and a complainer, and a gossip–but if she could work here, she could become diligent and creative and motivated! That’s a self-deluded boss asking for misery.

People don’t change. Except…

They do. The prophet Ezekiel:

If he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall surely live. (Ez 18:27)

Catechism puts it like this:

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God, who makes our hearts turn to Him. God gives us strength to begin anew. When we discover the greatness of God’s love, our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending Him… [paragraph 1432]

Interior repentance is a return to God with all our heart, an end of sin. Conversion entails a desire to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy, and trust in the help of His grace… [paragraph 1431]

The same Holy Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion. [paragraph 1433]

People don’t change. But God does change people. By His holy Incarnation, and the Redemption He won for us, by humbly doing the will of the Father.

We encounter an exquisite irony here. Certainly, beyond a shadow of doubt: God does not change. What He is, which is the all-in-all: it’s eternal. We might think grandpa is stubborn and stuck in His ways. But that’s nothing compared to the immovable-rock-like permanence of the divine Being.

That said, what St. Paul declared did, in fact, happen: God took upon Himself an attitude, the attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. God didn’t change by doing this. He did, however, touch our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace by doing it. He touched our stubborn and weary human nature with His grace in order to overcome our stubbornness and weariness. The Unchanging entered the human race to change us–to change us back from bad to good.

So let’s never kid ourselves. Imagine you were the father in the Parable of the Two Sons (which we will read at Holy Mass on Sunday), and you had a son with such a sullen attitude that he simply spitted out No! whenever you asked him to help you. If you had to contend with such a miscreant son, you would want to tread very lightly when it comes to investing such a brat with any real responsibilities. People don’t change.

But: On that particular day, the day of the parable… On that day, this person did change.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe punk made his usual petulant reply. “Help? No.” But then he thought better of it. Some new vision of things entered into his mind. The son saw what he had never been able to see before: His stubborn self-centeredness was wronging his good and kind father. Not to mention the fact that he was condemning himself to shiftless misery by being too arrogant to take a risk.

For the first time, the son perceived: I don’t have to live like this. It would be better; it would be happier; it would even really be easier, for me just to get up and walk out into the fields and see what’s going on. Let me see what contribution I can make. Maybe I could learn how to do something helpful.

So the son strode out into the field…

God’s grace can convert even the hardened sinner. Because the life that Christ embraced in His incarnation–the humble life, dedicated to obeying the heavenly Father–that life alone offers a human being genuine happiness. Whenever, by God’s gift, we catch a glimpse of the Christ-like life, we want to live it. We want that peace–the genuine, unshakable joy of co-operating with God.

Young ladies–give up the idea that you’re gonna change your man by your own magic arts. It won’t happen.

But may none of us ever give up on the idea that Christ can change people. Christ can, and does, turn sinners into saints.

Parable of the Two Sons

Luke Skywalker Tatooine

A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. (Matthew 21:28-30)

In the parable, the second son seems much more familiar to me than the first one. “Son, go and work in my vineyard.” “Yes, sir!”

Then: Well, let me just eat this donut before I go. Let me watch five more minutes of the Today Show. Just a quick facebook check. Let’s see, Google, who won that game last night? You know what, working in the vineyard does not exactly put all my real talents to use. I haven’t had a day off in quite a while. Let me just take a quick little nap before I head out…

See what I mean? We can write the script for the second son—who said he would, but didn’t. The un-kept promises of weak-willed individuals litter the earth like empty plastic water bottles, after all.

But the first son? “Son, go and work in my vineyard.” No.

A generous soul got a ticket for your humble servant for Friday night!
(PS. A generous soul got a ticket for your humble servant for Friday night!)

The boy had an attitude. An unusually strong negative attitude. Maybe he had multiple earrings and hair dyed blue. Let’s give him this: He engaged in no flimflam; he just said No. Can’t you see I’m a rebel? I’m edgy. I ain’t about to conform to your vineyard-working conventional bourgeoisie existence, dad!

But, then the first son changed his mind. Maybe he pulled his nose out of his video game for two seconds and saw that the sun shone beautifully on the rows of grape vines outside, and he could see himself out there, alongside his father.

Or maybe we could use a Star Wars analogy? On Tatooine, Luke Skywalker had an attitude about working Uncle Owen’s farm. But then, when the storm troopers came, Luke embraced his true destiny.

Anyway, that’s divine mercy. He gives us adequate time to think better of ourselves. We can have all the attitude in the world, but then, if we cry out, ‘Abba, Father, forgive me. I want to serve You, as I was made to do, so that I can really be happy!’ Then it’s like the No we initially gave never happened.

The Ready <3

Passion of the Christ scourging my heart is ready

We hear at Holy Mass today: Jacob loved Joseph, but Jacob’s other sons rebelled, and they sold Joseph into slavery. The owner made the land serviceable for the tenants, but they rebelled. The owner sent his son to make peace, and the tenants killed him.

Rebellion against a kind and loving authority, against a kind and loving father. The prophet Jeremiah put is to us at Holy Mass yesterday: “More torturous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy. Who can understand it?”

In our hearts, we find rebellion—the human version of Satan’s response to the heavenly Father. Non serviam. Again, we read in the book of the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 2): The Lord laid a yoke on the neck of Israel, the yoke of faithful obedience. And Israel replied, “I will not serve.”

Today we celebrate our only First-Friday Mass of this year’s Lent. Four weeks from today is Good Friday. So let’s mediate on the remedy God has given us for our rebellious hearts.

sacredheartIn The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson put Psalm 57:8 on the lips of Christ, as they bound Him to the scourging post. “My heart is ready, Father; my heart is ready.” Mel didn’t pull that out of nowhere. St. Augustine taught that Psalm 57 is “a song of the Passion.”

The ready heart: our Lord’s, and our Lady’s. No rebellion, no pride, no ‘mine!’ Only: “My soul proclaims God’s goodness.” Only: “Praise be to you, Father, for revealing your wisdom to little children.” Only: “Thy will be done.”

In our Lord’s Heart, and His mother’s, we find the original peace of prelapsarian Eden. We find the Spirit by which we sinners can become adopted children of the heavenly Father. In the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart, we find no rebellion, no ego. We find a human will and human affections that reverberate in harmony with the eternal and infinite divine will. We find: True citizenship in the Kingdom of Reality.

The grace that flows out of the Sacred Heart can quell all the rebellion in our hearts–the rebellion that actually only serves the Overlord of the Kingdom of Lies. The grace that comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the flesh and blood of God: it can heal the tortuousness that we find whenever we take an honest look inside.

Jeremiah lamented, “The human heart is beyond remedy!” But God heard that lament, and He gave us the remedy. The Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Good out of Tenants’ Evil

The crown of thorns Pope Pius sent to Jefferson DavisOur Sunday gospel readings work out very conveniently for us. Just a fortnight ago, we meditated on a fruitful vineyard at harvest time. We imagined the workers, and how they got hired, and how much they got paid at sundown.

Our parable this Sunday has one very significant difference. A difference involving the owner. Last time, we saw the vineyard owner jog up and down the road to the town square, and back to the vineyard–not once, not twice, but six times. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, on the other hand, the owner decided to go on…a journey. Where? Far away.

Continue reading “Good out of Tenants’ Evil”

2,011 Years of an Uncommon Era

Last Sunday after Mass someone said to me, “Father, it’s too bad we had to have the Diocesan Appeal. I missed your homily, because I could not make any sense out of that parable about the vineyard and the wicked tenants.”

Perhaps some people are saying to themselves right now, “The parable about the wedding guests makes no sense to me, either. But what are the chances that this joker will be able to explain it?”

Before we get to these parables, I have a couple questions for you.

What year is it?

Continue reading “2,011 Years of an Uncommon Era”

Yes. Liturgy. With Heavenly Songs.

Last week, we talked about our upcoming transition to a new edition of the Missal, our prayerbook for Mass.

The Lord be with you. –-And with your spirit.

Well done.

We will start using the new Missal on the First Sunday of…? Advent. November…? 27.

When we get together to pray and offer the Mass, the ceremony we perform has a special name: Liturgy. The word comes from ancient Greek and means “public work.” The common work we do together in church: the liturgy.

Our heavenly Father beckons us to do this work of prayer together. When it comes to adapting ourselves to this new Missal translation, maybe some of us are thinking, like the first son in the parable: “No! I will NOT re-learn how to go to Mass!”

Let’s think about it. The first son’s reply may have come from honest fatigue. Maybe he had intended to rest on that particular day. Maybe his lazy, good-for-nothing, con-artist brother had not done a lick of work for months or even years. Who knows? The second son may very well have had a good reason to resist his father’s directive.

Continue reading “Yes. Liturgy. With Heavenly Songs.”