Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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September 20, 2020
[St. Ann Church, Kaneohe]
Recently I was speaking to a young adult who is a man of great faith with a desire to serve in his parish. He recounted to me how some of the elders in the parish say they want new people involved and talk about the importance of having young people in the church, but often the young people are given the subtle or not-so-subtle message, “We have been doing it this way for decades, and we really don’t need any new ideas or new blood.” And so the young people drift away, because they feel they are not really welcome. I have heard the same story in other parishes as well, and while I hope it is not true in this parish, I think it has a lot to do with today’s Gospel. Those who worked all day, even though they were paid a just daily wage, thought they should have more than those who had just begun to work an hour two before. Yet the owner of the vineyard – that is, the Lord himself – pays everyone the same amount. It reminds us that the Lord is not counting the years we have done a particular ministry and our feelings of entitlement to dictate how that ministry will be done, but he invites all to take their part and to share their gifts and talents as stewards of the Gospel.
This dynamic can take place in the way we welcome newcomers into our churches, especially during high holy days. I know someone who still goes to Mass, thank God, but not in her own parish, because one day she went there, sat down, and was told, “I’m sorry, you can’t sit there. That’s where I always sit.” The person who told her that obviously had an attitude of ownership because of her many years having attended the parish, rather than an attitude of hospitality that welcomed a perceived newcomer with the graciousness to sit somewhere else. On Christmas and Easter, when the church is typically packed with people we only see on those holy days, the “regulars” can often be rude, displaying the attitude that “I come here all the time. How dare you take up my space, when you only come on Christmas and Easter!” The one who feels that attitude is highly unlikely to return for regular Sunday Mass, while someone who feels welcome just might do so.
Yes, it is true that God’s ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts. When we think that God welcomes equally the person who has struggled to be faithful all his life and the one who only finds conversion later in life, we may think that unfair. We may say, “I worked harder! “I contribute more!” Or “My family and I built this church!” But God pours out his graces in abundance to the most recent converts, blessing them with the same love he gives to those of us who have been around a very long time.
Of course, this same dynamic can apply to immigrants, when we who have been here forever express resentment for those who recently arrived, or when we keep them “in their place,” so that they never really feel they are a part of our community. If we look at the world the way God does, we will see that all are his children, and he pours out his love gratuitously on all, the old-timer as well as the newcomer, the devout as well as the sinner.
We often hear the saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” which is to be found nowhere in Scripture. In fact, the Scriptures teach us that God helps even those who do not help themselves very much, and sometimes even has a special preference for them. His generosity and his mercy are beyond our comprehension. Of course, he wants us to live with the same kind of generosity and mercy toward one another, not counting faults or hours worked, but giving generously to all. If we could all develop such a godly attitude, wouldn’t this be a more peaceful world, with fewer conflicts and fault-finding?
This challenging parable of Jesus is not just about justice in the workplace, but has implications for everything we do. Sometimes we work very hard, and sometimes grace is just given to us more freely than we deserve. But in all cases, it is good to give thanks to the Lord our God, from whom all blessings flow.