Roman Missal: How Does the Translation Change the Meaning of a Prayer?

Last week, we discussed the different ideas of how we translate things, both with dynamic equivalence, a more general and everyday translation, and formal equivalence, a more literal or direct translation of the original.  Just think of Mr. Schaberg and his sixth grade class!  Well this week, I had the idea to give you a sneak peak of one of the new translations of a prayer…before it even comes out!!!  I know, I know, it’s pretty outstanding, but just try to contain your excitement.

This is the opening prayer (called a collect) for this Sunday, the 31st Week of Ordinary Time:

Current Translation

New Translation

God of power and mercy,

only with your help

can we offer you fitting service and praise.

May we live the faith we profess

and trust your promise of eternal life.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,

your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Almighty and merciful God,

by whose gift your faithful offer you

right and praiseworthy service,

grant, we pray,

that we may hasten without stumbling

to receive the things you have promised.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity

of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

So lets take a look, shall we?  At first glance, we can definitely see that the new translation has much more complex and formal sentences and words, while the current translation is a bit easier to read.  But the new translation is a much more exact translation of the original Latin text (I wanted to print the Latin words here too, but I was afraid the parish secretary would kill me if I didn’t get in my article in time.).  That’s dynamic and formal equivalence in action!

What about the meaning?  The new translation prayer has a slightly different meaning than the current, and what a rich meaning it is!  Let’s look, for example, at the line: “May we live the faith we profess” versus “that we may hasten without stumbling.”   The current version is certainly an important part of our faith – living out what we say in church – but the new translation makes us think of a race, an image that St. Paul uses in his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:7).  Our life of faith truly is a race, with us each striving toward the goal of being with God forever in heaven.  Unfortunately we know that there are obstacles in our lives – hurdles like sin and failure – that cause us to stumble and slow down.  But like a good runner, we get back up and do what we can to move faster and closer to our goal!

The more exact translation of the Latin gives us this imagery that the looser translation doesn’t.  This is not to say that the current prayers don’t have value, but I think this is a good example of how the new translation might give us a new perspective.  Tune in next week!

Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to spend a little time out at our parish Trunk-or-Treat.  Now, of course, I bailed on them after a while to go inside in the heat and watch Game 7, but that’s not the point.  I just remember seeing the excitement of some kids at wearing masks.  You’ve got scary masks, funny masks, and rather disgusting masks.  It didn’t matter if the mask was hot, sweaty, smelly, or uncomfortable, those kids loved wearing masks!  And they covered just about every topic out there from presidents to ghosts to serial killers.  Now, maybe some of you parents can prove me wrong, but I doubt your 8 year old is a serial killer.  But they wear that mask for others – to entertain them, and ultimately, to get whatever sweets and attention they can out of them.

Well, your child is a hypocrite!  I mean that purely in the Greek sense, of course.  In ancient Greek theatre, a hypocrite was an actor.  They would wear masks with huge exaggerated expressions on them, in order to hide who they were and to draw emotions out of the audience.  That’s actually where we get this term “hypocrite”.  It’s somebody who acts like they’re wearing a mask.  They’re outward appearance doesn’t match what’s underneath the mask.

In the Gospel today, Jesus is correcting the priests and Pharisee of the Jewish people for being hypocrites.  He invites the crowd certainly to adhere to the teachings and practices of Jewish law and worship, but he’s criticizing those who interpret the law for their own benefit.  He is talking about them building up their outward appearance for themselves.  Some of them were carrying around these large and very noticeable phylacteries, containers that they would tie to their forehead, which contained passages from the law.  They were meant to be a symbol of keeping the law in the forefront of the person’s mind, but in some cases, these Pharisees had used them to gain more prestige.  The larger the phylactery, the more impressive you were, and the holier people expected you were as well.  But Jesus is pointing out to them that it isn’t what is worn on the outside that makes a person a follower in God’s ways.  Different titles like “teacher”, “father”, “mother”, or “master” aren’t what make a person holy.  Rather, it is what is coming from the interior disposition.

Jesus is certainly not saying, “Just do whatever you want, as long as you’re a good person.  It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside.”  Rather, he’s pointing out that holiness comes from our hearts, and then it’s manifested to everyone else by the things we say or do.  As human beings, we’re inside-out people.  In fact, we’re in contradiction with ourselves if we go outside out.  Let me tell you what I mean by that.  The question for us isn’t about whether I wear a cross, but rather whether I bear the cross.  It isn’t about whether others see us going to Mass, but about leaving to live what we’ve received.  As a priest, I wear all sorts of fancy vestments of different colors and beautiful fabric.  I use a fancy golden chalice.  I practically read my homily to you every Sunday.   But these things aren’t so I look good (although I certainly do).  These nice things are here and are important because they reflect what’s going on here (pointing to the altar).  Something glorious and beautiful and incredible and miraculous is going on!  And so my job, just like any priest, isn’t to show you Fr. Awesome so that I can be everyone’s favorite person.  It’s to show Christ, and the extraordinary love that he has for each one of us, most especially displayed to us through the Mass.  And each of us are called to the same.  We’re called to remove those masks that we use to hide who we are and fool others, and to show them only one thing: Christ.

The day after Halloween is of course All Saints Day.  And this is important for us because we celebrate all of those who put aside their natural pretenses, and lived to show Christ within themselves, inside-out.  Running around with masks and costumes is fun, but removing our falseness and showing others Christ is a joy.  We don’t pretend what we’ve received, or pretend that we’re only a costume of a Christian.  No, you and I are called to give what we’ve received, by loving God with our whole hearts, and manifesting that love to others.


Thanks to Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ for the inspiration!

The Roman Missal: How Should We Translate?

Last week, we were discussing some of the changes present in our new translation of the Missal, but one of the biggest for us will be the language we use.  So let’s take a look…

Earlier this week, I was visiting Mr. Schaberg’s sixth grade classroom, and I asked the students what they had done the previous week.  I got the usual responses: “Nothing”, and “I dunno”.  They told me they had read part of the Bible, and talked about Abraham, and Sarah, and a few more figures from the Bible, and that they had “drawn some lines.”  So then I asked Mr. Schaberg if this was true, and he explained that they had been talking about the book of Genesis, and that they had made a diagram to speak about the different Patriarchs and their families.  They were talking about the same thing, but describing it in much different ways.  In translation of texts, this is called dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence.

Dynamic equivalence is how the sixth graders described their day at school.  It has the same basic effect of the original, but it’s not verbatim what Mr. Schaberg said.  In translation, dynamic equivalence uses more everyday language, which is good because it makes it easier to understand.  But the problem with this form of translation is that it doesn’t cover the whole picture, and may be missing some important elements of the original.  This is what we find in the current translation of Mass.  Formal equivalence, on the other hand, is a much more literal translation, much as Mr. Schaberg’s description of the day was much closer to what actually happened, and is the approach we’re taking in the new Missal.  Sometimes this method can use terminology that is unusual or uncommon, as we’ll see in the Missal, but that same elevated and unusual language reminds us of what we’re really doing.  We’re not sitting on the couch chatting with each other; we’re praising Almighty God!  It also allows us to use and learn about some important vocabulary from our faith (such as in the new translation of the Creed).  If we think about the new translation in this way, I think we can see that although it might sound strange at first, it is a much-improved translation of the original.  Tune in again next week, and we’ll see some examples!

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

What is love?  It’s a hard thing to explain.  My computer’s dictionary says that it is an “affectionate greeting offered to another on one’s behalf.”  Countless musicians and artists have taken their stab at it and have come up with very little, with one musician even answering the question by beseeching the listener, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.”  The reality is, I think, that there is no form or instructional manual that tells us what love is and how we exercise it.

Our first reading from Exodus today suggests a few ways to show it, or to live the live that God is calling us to.  It says to treat aliens with respect.  Not the Area 51 type aliens, obviously, although I guess we should probably respect them too, but still, we’re called to treat immigrants with respect, as we do all people.  But is that love?  Not really.  The first reading also calls us to treat others fairly when we lend money.  But is that love?  Not really.  In fact, the Books of Exodus and Leviticus are filled with laws and precepts that are meant to help us treat others with respect, such as the Ten Commandments.  But is that love?  Not really.

Love is a complex thing.  And in fact, in Greek, there are four different words that translate into English as love.  Philia is sort of love, but its more friendship or brotherly love than anything.  Storge is kind of love, but it’s more of an affectionate parental love.  Eros is sort of love as well, but its more of a passionate, driving, and desiring love.  The one given to us in the Gospel, and the one that I believe ultimately is the foundation of those other kinds of love, is agape.

Agape is an unconditional, undeserved, self-sacrificing love.  It desires union, and leads to the total gift of self to another.  You see, when you say you love Steak and Shake, and oh, do I love Steak and Shake, you’re saying that you love the way it tastes, and you wish you could eat it all the time if it didn’t lead to congestive heart failure.  That love that you might have for Steak and Shake isn’t about Steak and Shake, it’s about you.  But when you say that you love someone else, like a husband, wife, child, parent, you’re saying that you love spending time with them, getting to know them well, sharing your experiences with them.  You’re saying you love them so much and are willing to give your life for them.

Using this word “agape” is good, and it helps us to understand kind of what Jesus is talking about, but it isn’t enough.  And so Jesus tries to show us how we’re supposed to express that love in our two key relationships – with God and with others.  He tells us that the most important commandment is love of God.  But what does that mean?  It’s easy to love someone when they’re standing there for you to see and touch.  But how do you love a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ultimately invisible?  Love of God means loving him with our heart, mind, and soul.  We desire what God desires – that’s loving God with our whole heart.  We understand and value the things that God values – that’s loving God with our whole mind.  And we live in a way that shows those desires and those understandings that we just talked about – that’s loving God with our whole souls.  But Jesus isn’t finished there.  He says that the second commandment is like the first, and that is to turn that love for God around, and treat others as we ourselves long and desire to be treated.

Loving God is tough, but loving others can sometimes be even more difficult.  Again, there is no instruction manual, no song, no magazine article that will give you the secret formula for loving others better.  But think of it like swimming lessons.  We have a great instructor in the Holy Spirit, but He can’t make any progress with us if we’re standing on the side of the pool.  We need to take the risk of wading into the water.  So the first thing we need to do is to tell God that we truly and sincerely wish to follow his commandments of love and to love like him.  That little walk on your way up to receive Holy Communion is a great time for this, so take that time to renew the commitment!  But after we decide to take the risk, we have to learn from our instructor, being open to his teaching and removing anything that is blocking us from following it.  Without that instruction, without God’s grace, we can’t make any progress.  Take that second step remove those things blocking God’s grace and try to make use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, God’s gift of love and peace.  But then, the third step, after wading in, and receiving that instruction, is to get to work, exercising and improving, beginning first with the basic strokes and moving to more advanced ones.  The best way to improve in loving others is by starting with those closest to you, treating them with the respect and attention that they deserve – family, friends, coworkers, teammates, and classmates.  And as you grow stronger in the basics, you can go to the next step, in loving others.

The love that Jesus shows us here isn’t some passing, self-indulging emotion, one that just wants to get what we can out of something – like Steak and Shake.  It’s a courageous, sacrificial, and enduring lifestyle that we learn through the gift of ourselves to others.  And this lifestyle is summed up in one symbol – the crucifix.  So as we approach the Lord in the Eucharist today, that sincere gift of Himself out of love for us, let us strive to live that same lifestyle, and give that gift of ourselves to God and to others.

Homily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

 If you mention the term “organized crime”, probably one of the first names that will come to mind is Al Capone.  In a lot of minds, he is the epitome of what it means to be a gangster, and was involved in everything illegal from smuggling and bootlegging illegal liquor during Prohibition, to bribing government authorities, to ordering assassination.  But as much as the police knew of Capone’s involvement in these illegal activities, they were never able to pin him to anything with proof.  So what was it that brought down the great Al Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters in history?  That’s right.  Tax evasion.  Capone failed to report a number of things, and in doing so, didn’t give what was owed to the government, and ultimately, it cost him his life.  So is Jesus in the Gospel telling us today to “render unto Caesar” so that we don’t end up in prison for tax evasion like Al Capone?  Well, yes, I guess.  But this Gospel is about more than that.  It’s about rendering to others what they are owed.

We hear about Jesus’ encounter with these Pharisees and Herodians today.  These two groups hated each other, but were willing to put aside their differences to focus their energy on bringing down Jesus.  And so they try to trap him.  If Jesus says that they shouldn’t pay taxes, he will be arrested and imprisoned by the Romans.  But if he tells people that they must, he’ll come across as unpatriotic to the people of Israel.  So what does he do?  He takes the coin and utters that timeless phrase: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus focuses here a lot on images.  Caesar’s image was the image of the realm.  It was the face of power, a face that represented more than just Caesar, but the power of Rome itself.  It was the currency of the great Roman Empire, and Roman coins were spread throughout the entire known world.  But ultimately, the empire ran it’s course and fell apart.  Now, Roman coins are worth more for their rarity and antiquity than their value.  Like Caesar’s coins, the things of this world are temporary.  We know that we have a responsibility to render to the world those things that belong to it, like paying taxes, voting, and buying things to provide comfort and flourishing for our lives here on earth.  These things are important, don’t get me wrong!  So go out there, and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – but know that it is temporary.

But as powerful as Caesar’s image is, there is another image that is even more powerful, and that carries even more responsibility – the image of God.  But it isn’t coins or dollar bills that bear the image of God, but our souls.  Each of us, when we received the sacrament of baptism, received an indelible, irremovable mark.  And that mark shows us that baptism doesn’t just make us card-carrying members of the Christian community.  It doesn’t just remove the stain from original sin.  It also marks us, seals us, with the mark of God, indicating that just as those coins bearing Caesar’s image belonged to Caesar, we ourselves belong to God.  And that mark won’t fade away with time like the Roman Empire.  It will last forever – we are God’s forever if we choose to be.

I would venture to say that most of us don’t have too many problems giving Caesar his due, and in fact, you’re probably feeling like you give him enough already.  That’s not the issue here.  It’s the second part that is challenging.  Giving to God what is God’s – living out our baptismal dignity and making that indelible mark, that image of God on our souls actually mean something.  So what do we give God?  What is it that is God’s that we can give?  The answer is shown to us right here in the Cross.  The gift that we give is the gift of ourselves.  It is a gift of self-sacrifice, a gift of self-emptying love.

“Give to God what belongs to God.”  It is the gift of a mother or father to their children, providing clothes, shelter, education, faith, and despite the exhaustion and strain on the checkbook, doing it out of love. “Give to God what belongs to God.”  It’s the gift to the poor – whether donating canned food to the food pantry or Scouting for Food, or offering a day to work with the Vincent De Paul Society to help those in need. “Give to God what belongs to God.”  It is putting God first in our lives, by taking that one hour to go to Mass (even less if I preach shorter) even if it is a busy day of soccer games or watching the Rams lose.  But it’s about more than that hour, it’s about giving the entire hour, putting aside distractions, or tiredness, or that desire to go to First Watch with Fr. Grosch in order to simply praise God, as he deserves.

As we approach the Lord in the Eucharist today, we realize the need to live in the world, but we know in our hearts that we no longer belong to the world, but to God.  May we have the grace to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what he truly deserves, the gift of our whole hearts.

So…About that Roman Missal…

Happy Anniversary!  This past Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  What an amazing blessing for us to see the ways in which the Holy Spirit has worked in our Church since then!  And yet, it is said that it takes give or take 100 years to fully implement an ecumenical council!  As we are approaching the season of Advent, we anticipate taking the next big step in reaping all the fruits of the Council, the introduction of our third edition of the Roman Missal.

But if you’re like me, you probably have been pretty curious as to what this is all about.  I mean, what is the new translation?  Why do we need one?  Was there anything wrong with the way we’ve been doing things, that all of a sudden, we need something new?  What’s with the new vocabulary, and what the heck does “consubstantial” mean?  Well, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at these things, and hopefully all of us can come to appreciate what’s going on with the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.

The name “Roman Missal” comes from the English translation of Missale Romanum, the name for the version of the Mass that was released for the entire world by Pope Paul VI in 1970.  But even today, the universal language of the Church is Latin, so the Missale Romanum had to be translated to English, which it was in 1973.  A new version of the Latin text came out in 1975 to fix a few things, and a third was released by Pope John Paul II in 2000.  So now, eleven years later, we’re finally getting around to translating the third edition into English.  There are a few things different about our new edition, with one of the most noticeable being the addition of extra saints into the liturgical calendar.  Some are
those made saints since 1975, like St. (Padre) Pio or St. Andrew Dung-Lac.  Others, like St. Catherine of Alexandria, are introduced as examples for Christian living.  There are also extra prefaces for our Eucharistic prayers, the reintroduction of some beloved feasts like Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Name of Jesus, and more prayers for special needs and occasions.  But the big change for us in the English-speaking world is the different look we’ve taken in the way we translate things, so tune in next week for more!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

I don’t know if many of you have had weddings lately or big events where you have to send out invitations, but if you haven’t, let me tell you, it’s a bit of a pain.  I had experience with this sort of thing not too long ago, when I was ordained to the priesthood, and had to send out invitations for my ordination, First Mass of Thanksgiving, and reception.  Now, to be honest, my mom and dad did most of the work, but I think we all felt frustration during the process.  But people receive invitations in different ways.  You have some very enthusiastic guests who respond within a day or two, usually with some cute message like “Congratulations!  LOL!!”.  Then you have some that respond quickly, informing you that they can’t come, but they send a little gift, which is always fun.  Then you have some people whom you wait a couple weeks for, and once they discover they have nothing else better to do, they send you their affirmative response.  But the most frustrating of responders aren’t the ones who respond negatively, but who don’t respond at all.  I mean, how hard is it to send something back?  Well, in Jesus’ parable today, he reminds us that we receive an invitation as well – the invitation to the divine banquet of the Lord in heaven.  Most of us who are here, I would imagine, check the column for “Yes!  I want to come!” whether enthusiastically or not at times.  But as Christians, we who have responded positively to that invitation, we also have a special responsibility to check another box – number of guests.

This is what we call evangelization – the spreading of the Gospel to the corners of the earth.  Evangelization is a major part of our lives as Christian men and women, but I think at times, it’s somewhat neglected.  In ages past, spreading the faith was a very important part of people’s lives.  We think about the Early Church – St. Peter went to Rome, St. James went to Spain, St. Paul spent his life travelling around the Mediterranean, and St. Thomas went even as far as India.  We think of the time as the Church expanded and flourished, with St. Francis Xavier travelling on mission to Japan and others who spread the gospel far and wide.  Even with the exploration of men like Christopher Columbus, who we remember tomorrow, came missionaries like Bartholomew de las Casas, who used exploration as a means to teach the Gospel to those who had not heard it.  Like the individuals in the Gospel, these missionaries were sent to gather all, good and bad, to the wedding feast of Heaven.

But today, I think many of us have a negative view on it.  Our faith is something that has become private and individualized.  Going door to door talking about Christ is something foreign to most of us, and it makes us uncomfortable (it does for me at least).  We feel that we don’t want to intrude on other people and their beliefs.  But evangelization isn’t about pushing our beliefs on others, it’s about an invitation.  You and I have received that invitation, and now we are called to invite others.  And so we live and act in a way that points to Christ, so that when people ask us what it is that makes us who we are, we can answer, “Well, it’s my faith.”

You see, evangelization, extending that invitation to others, is an essential part of the Christian vocation, and in a special way, it is essential to the vocation of the laity.  As a priest, I can preach fiery homilies, zealously teach children and adults the glorious teachings of our faith, be present in the school or community.  But the closest I can come to preaching the Gospel in your workplace or family is putting a big sign out in front of the church.  I mean, you should see the looks I sometimes get if I go to the grocery store or a restaurant in my clerics.  People clam up, thinking that I’m going to pull out my metaphysical notepad and write down their sins to report them to God later.  But when you sit down with them, or chat about the weekend with them, or report on the soccer or volleyball games with them, you send a totally different message.  If we live our lives as Christians, there is something very different about the way we appear.  And it’s attractive.  One of the greatest inspirations for me is seeing large Catholic families that are trying to live their lives open to life as Christ and the Church teach.  It’s not that those large families are any better than smaller ones, but they’re definitely noticeable, and sometimes they catch flak from coworkers or friends.  How do you possibly deal with a family that large?  What could possess you to live like that?  But the answer to that question is based in their faith, and it is attractive to others.  A single solitary role in the Church like a priest can’t complete the mission of Christ alone.  It’s impossible.  And that is why the vocation of the laity is so important!  We have to work together, assisting each other in our vocations to spread the Gospel.  Indeed, the mission of evangelization that Christ entrusts to us is impossible without the laity.

Now, please know that I’m not saying you should go knocking on your neighbors’ doors and asking them if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, or that you should cover yourself in religious articles so that people know you’re a Catholic.  The best way that people can know that we’re Catholic and that we can invite them is through being warm, welcoming, and loving.  It’s about saying hello to that person next to you in the pew, especially if they’re not parishioners.  It’s about doing something special, like offering a prayer before meals when you’re out to eat.  That goes a long way!  One of the greatest opportunities to evangelize is coming up in December and January with the Catholics Come Home initiative in the Archdiocese.  This is really an all-hands-on-deck affair too.  Imagine sitting down in the evening to watch your Desperate Housewives or NCIS or Monday Night Football or Glee or whatever you watch, and seeing a commercial about being Catholic, inviting viewers to come home.  The main thrust of this will be a media campaign that is very vast and visible.  It’s a time to be proud of being Catholic, and a time to live in a way that invites others to come home to the banquet.

You and I have received the Lord’s invitation to the banquet, and hopefully we’ve responded “Yes” with a number of guests.  Let us then take to heart these words from Almighty God, our banquet host: Go out, therefore, into the main roads, and invite to the feast whomever you find.

Homily from the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

So, I just wanted to take this moment before I begin my homily to admit to you…this is not the best homily I’ve ever produced.  To be honest, I was rather distracted this past week, and wasted to much time watching some  baseball game on Wednesday…so you’ll have to forgive me.

I’ve always thought that vineyards are beautiful and amazing places.  When I was in the seminary, I had the opportunity to go to Germany in 2005 for World Youth Day.  And while we were there, our group had a chance to do some sightseeing.  Germany is filled with beautiful places and atmospheres,but one that sticks in my mind was the morning we spent in the town of Rhudesheim.  Rhudesheim is a beautiful little medieval town that sits on the banks of the Rhine River in Germany, and one of the most beautiful things about it, in addition to the wonderful church and a magnificent statue commemorating German unification, is the fact that it is surrounded by vineyards.  Rows and rows of grape vines and greenery cover the hills around this small German town.  It was beautiful!  What a privilege to be there, but what a privilege also to be entrusted with such beauty!  What an honor it would be to have the opportunity to make the vineyard even more beautiful than it already is!

Today Jesus uses the beauty of the vineyard as well, and he draws on the ancient imagery of the vineyard of Israel that we heard from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, our first reading.  He explains that someone plants a vineyard, which represents the House of Israel, just as it did in Isaiah.  But in that vineyard, he adds a few things to make it better.  There is a hedge, which provides beauty and fruitfulness.  There is a winepress, which increases the productivity of the vineyard.  And there is a large tower in the center of the vineyard, which assures everyone working and living there that they are being cared for and protected.  But then the landowner goes off on a journey – to the Bahamas or something, I don’t know – and he gives the vineyard to tenants to look after.  These tenants were given the opportunity to use the land for their own purposes, but they were also given the responsibility to give some return to the vineyard owner on his return.  That’s a real privilege, but a real responsibility as well!  But of course, these tenants don’t provide much fruit.  They had either taken all the fruit of the vineyard and selfishly kept it for themselves, or they had failed to produce much of anything.  Whatever the case, the tenants didn’t come through on their responsibility to give some return to the landowner.

Now, I think when many of us read this story in the Gospel, we focus on the end result – that statement that the wicked tenants should be thrown out and killed, just as they had done to the landowner’s son.  But what we’re really supposed to get out of this, what we should be thinking about is the landowner’s generosity.  He sees that his first messengers or servants that he had sent are rejected, beaten up, killed, etc.  But rather than coming in with the army like many of us would have done, and which the landowner could have done justly, he simply hopes for the best and sends more.  But these servants are beaten up, stoned, and killed as well.  Ultimately, the landowner decides to send his son.  But he doesn’t do this to exert his authority, but he does so as a statement of trust in the tenants, that they would take care of his beloved son.  It is a statement of hope that these tenants would turn from their ways and reconcile with the landowner.  But the tenants do not, and so Jesus asks the opinion of the scribes and priests what to do with the evil tenants, and by their own words, the leaders condemn themselves.

So what do we get out of this parable?  What is the meaning for us?  Well first of all, this is a parable of the story of our salvation.  Time and time again throughout the Old Testament, God sent the prophets to teach the nation of Israel His ways and to redirect them to the ways of right living, free from corruption and sin.  But time and time again, Israel rejected these prophets, beating them, stoning them, and in some cases, killing them.  And so, ultimately, God sent his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is likewise rejected, and literally dragged out of the vineyard of Jerusalem, nailed to a cross, and killed.  God is the good landowner, who hopes and trusts in Israel’s tenants, the priests and scribes, but when they fail to produce a fruitful return, He chooses to give leadership of the vineyard to new tenants, the Church.

But this message is also for us.  It is a call to be good stewards of the vineyard of the Church that God has entrusted to us.  It is a reminder that we are given the huge responsibility to be stewards, tenants of the Church.  We have the opportunity and the privilege, like those tenants, to produce a fruitful return and to make the Church even more beautiful than it already is.  We watch, we tend, we keep guard of the vineyard, but in the back of our minds, we have to know that we are not the owners.  We are tenants and stewards, but not the landowners.  Our lives, our minds, our creativity, our talents are all gifts to us from God, and we have the responsibility and privilege to use them to produce a return for the praise and glory of God.  In fact, the spiritual life at its heart points to the fact that our lives are not about us.  We’ve been given them for God’s purposes.

God continues to send servant after servant, giving his message and calling us to be good tenants in the vineyard.  He does this through the example of the saints.  He does this through the words of our Holy Father and the bishops.  He does this through the homilies of our priests (heaven help us!) and our liturgy.  He does this through the words and actions of those seeking to spread the Gospel in their work, whether through the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, Room at the Inn, or the faith formation programs at our parish.  And he does this through the example of the poor and downtrodden, who hold strong to their faith and by their example call us to be servants.  But the question we must ask ourselves as tenants in the vineyard of the Church, my brothers and sisters, is whether we hear what these messengers have to say.  Do we listen, or do we reject them?  The ultimate moral of the story this week is that we don’t want to be like the tenants!  They were shown limitless mercy by the landowner, as we are every day, but they chose to reject that mercy.

The question for us to meditate on today is what kind of tenants are we in the vineyard of the Church?  What kind of fruit do we produce for God, the landowner?  How do we respond to the voices of God’s messengers that call us to something greater?  What are those areas in our own lives that need conversion?  May we be given the grace to be good and faithful tenants in the vineyard, and to bear much fruit.