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Bishop's Homily for the Twenth-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 24, 2023

[Immaculate Conception Church, Lihue (installation of pastor)]

I was recently speaking to one of our deacons who is having trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that he will soon be going to the wedding of his 90-year-old father.  We think that at that age, one should not be hired to go into the vineyard, so to speak, but God’s ways are not our ways!

I also was speaking to an 80-year-old who was raised as a Catholic, but drifted away from the Catholic Church while he was in college.  I invited him to come back, and he said he would give it some thought.  Many people would think that after such a long absence from the Catholic Church, we would just look the other way and leave the man in peace, not bothering to even invite him back.  But the Lord of the harvest can call people into his vineyard even at the last hour of the day and give them the same eternal reward that we who have never left hope to receive.

A few weeks ago I met a young man who spent about ten years of his life very involved in the gay lifestyle, having multiple partners, and always looking for love, but never quite finding it.  He was raised a Catholic, but it was drummed into his head that the Catholic Church hates him and that he has no place in it, so he stayed away and even became a vocal critic of the Catholic Church’s teachings on chastity.  But he reached the point where, no matter how many attempts he made to find love, he felt so empty he thought of ending his life.  Then Jesus, the Master of the vineyard, somehow opened the door to him, and for the first time he came to know Jesus not as a history-book personage, but as someone alive and active, and calling him.  He decided to come back to the Church and to live chastely.  Even though he still has temptations, he said he has never been so happy or fulfilled in his life, with so many friends who know of his same-sex attraction but love him for who he is.  It was very late that he realized that Jesus’s way is not hateful at all, but full of love and compassion, even for someone who entered the vineyard rather late in the day.

Most of us who are gathered here today have been around quite a while, have borne the heat of the day, and have worked very hard to be faithful to the Lord.  No, we have not been perfect in our fidelity, but we know we can confess our sins and get back to work.  But there are many others who are still standing outside the Church, either because they do not know that here we encounter the living Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the sacraments, or because they have been away for so long that it would be awkward to come back, or because they have strayed so far away from the laws of God that they think they could not possibly be welcomed back.  So, our work, the task assigned to us by the Master of the harvest, is to work to bring in a harvest for the Kingdom of God.

Our work – which is not always easy – is to reach out to those who do not know Jesus as risen and still living among us and tell them the Good News.  Our labor is also to tend the branches who have been neglected because they have been away for so long, and to bring them back to the True Vine, where they will find the fullness of life.  Our task is to witness to those who think we Catholics are only about restrictive and burdensome rules and regulations, and to let them know that once a person falls in love with Jesus, these yokes are easy, these burdens are light.

Now of course, we have to realize that those who come late into the vineyard may very well be given the same reward of love and eternal life that we have spent the whole hot day of our lives working for.  We could easily be caught up in the thinking of those in today’s parable who began work in the early morning, presuming that those who work harder and longer will be more richly rewarded.  But God’s ways are not our ways, and when we yield to God’s way of looking at reality, we actually become less bitter, less jealous.  We can actually rejoice that even those who enter the vineyard at a very late hour can come to the same reward that we have worked so hard to achieve,:  eternal life with the God who is love, who is revealed to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!