Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19

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Bishop's Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 4, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]

Could God have given us a more beautiful vineyard?  When we look at the deep blue ocean that surrounds us, we are moved by its beauty and its power; and we can only imagine the thousands of spectacular creatures that live beneath its surface.  If we look at the mountains, the pali, and the contours of our islands, we can imagine how they were formed with the mighty power of volcanoes; and with winds, water and time sculpting them with breathtaking beauty.  If we think of our bodies, and how they grew from a single cell in our mothers’ wombs to the incredibly complex organisms they are, all systems working together in amazing harmony to keep us alive and healthy, it is truly awesome.  When we think of the human community, each one of us different in gender, race, language and personality characteristics, yet with one human longing for communion with each other and for peace, it can move us to tears.

These are just a few of the characteristics of the vineyard that God has created for us.   In this vineyard, the Lord plants the choicest vines, his greatest achievement in creation, the human race, so beloved that he became one of us.  He protects us with the watchtower of our consciences, builds the winepress of our work to allow us to share in God’s own creativity, and sets the defending wall of our faith to protect us from the incursion of the evil one.

But like the tenants in the parable, it is very easy for us to turn from gratitude for all that we have been given, a gratitude that is multiplied by not only appreciating the great gifts we have been given but by sharing them as a fitting sacrifice to God.  It is much too easy to develop a sense of entitlement, and to begin to think that we are the owners of the vineyard rather than its stewards.  And just as in the parable, when we do this, we think we will gain much more, but in the end we hurt ourselves by ruining the great and diverse beauty of the vineyard.

With regard to our own bodies, for example, we can easily let the defending wall against the evil one crumble and erode.  Then we begin to think we can do whatever we want with them.  If a woman becomes pregnant, participating in the awesome beauty of God’s creation, she can decide that the beautiful child in her womb is not as important as her own body and its pursuits, and so she believes she can abort that child with impunity, only to discover that the beauty of her own vineyard is destroyed by guilt and an inner knowledge that she has not produced the fruit of the vineyard that is due to God, its owner.  If someone wants to enjoy life to the full, he might turn to drugs to enhance his euphoria, but in the end he becomes addicted, and the beauty of his vineyard is overrun with misery and hopelessness.  If someone hordes the goods of the earth without thinking of those who have none, he may enjoy life for a time, but in the end, the communion with the rest of humanity is eroded so severely that loneliness and self-loathing take over, diseases that no amount of money or power can cure.

If we think only of ourselves and not the other tenants of the vineyard – and even less of the owner of the vineyard -- we find ourselves having to build our own walls against other races or people who are different from us.  Or we overuse our common home, the earth, without caring for it, so that in the end everyone suffers from the destruction that is wrought.  Or we emotionally or even physically abuse the members of our own families, forgetting that when we work together in harmony, we can all have more fruitful lives.  We can even shut people out of our own parishes by thinking we own a particular ministry or are entitled to a certain status, meanwhile not rendering to the Master of the vineyard the produce he expects to collect from us – always so that he can give it back to us in greater abundance.

As we navigate this pandemic and hope that its end is near, we will have choices to make.  We can become the masters of the vineyard, thinking that, since we have been deprived for so long, we are entitled to good things, even if others suffer.  Or we can share the good things we produce -- the love, the care, the compassionate outreach – so that we can render to the Lord of the harvest the fruits of the love he has so carefully planted and nurtured within us.  As we face the challenge of the upcoming election and its aftermath, we can contribute to the destruction of our country and the erosion of the God-based principles on which it was founded, or we can insist that if we truly trust in God and give him his due, we will be able to thrive in this beautiful vineyard he has created for us.  There is, of course, the alternative, in which we beat up the messengers of hope and kill the Son of God himself.  And the consequences of that are the destruction we bring upon ourselves when we make ourselves gods, when we think we are the owners rather than the stewards of the vineyard.

And so today and always, our loving Lord reminds us of the wonders that have been given us and of the dire consequences if we misuse or horde these gracious gifts.  It is always his hope that we will turn from our own ways, and give thanks to him for all the wonders the has done.  It is his great desire not to destroy the vineyard and those who work it, but to enlighten us all with the hopeful thoughts he conveys to us through St. Paul:  “If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard ….  Then the God of peace will be with you.”