From the Deacon’s Desk: Prayer and Inspirational Thoughts
We continue this week with two more parables about vineyards. In the first reading, Isaiah is telling us about his friend – God himself. He has a vineyard which he plants, cultivates and takes great care with. The vineyard represents the people of Israel. When it came time for the harvest, the crop of grapes were sour useless wild grapes. The people had been unfaithful and gone astray despite the great care God had taken with them.
In our gospel, Jesus picks up on the theme of the vineyard – one which his listeners, the chief priests and the elders, would have been very familiar with. Once again a landowner (God) has a vineyard which He takes great care to protect and give every opportunity to produce good fruit. This time, God turns the care of the vineyard (the people of God) over to tenants who are to be the caretakers of the vineyard. He has given them everything needed to protect and nurture the vineyard. When it came time to harvest the vineyard he sent first his servants to collect the harvest, but they were beaten and killed by the tenants. Then He sent His Son who likewise was beaten and killed. By now the chief priests and elders would have recognized themselves as the tenants in this story and the people of Israel as the vineyard. The
In Isaiah, it was the people of Israel who had been blest by God that responded poorly. In the gospel, it was the leaders – the chief priests and the elders, who have been entrusted by God, – who failed to care for and even led astray the people of Israel. Jesus is “The stone the builders rejected, who has become the cornerstone.” Happiness and security was theirs for the taking, but instead they turn on God and lose their way. Sin took hold of them.
We are called not to squander what has been entrusted to us as God’s people.God has blest us in tremendous ways as a country, and yet we find ourselves with decaying values and crumbling relationships. Paul tells us in his letter that we must come “by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is here that we find the presence of God – the love of God. It is here that we become the good fruit that we are called to be. We need to pray for one another rather than ‘preying on’ one another. We need to promote what is good rather than focusing on what is bad. We need to act in humility remembering that we are dependent on God and trusting in His care for us. He calls us to work together for His glory and not apart for our own. We should have a singular focus on God, on His blessings on us, and His will for our lives.
As Vincentians, we too should have a singular focus in our ministry and our lives. We have a special responsibility to care for those Jesus has entrusted to us. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our faith and his care and concern for the poor and vulnerable is the model for our Vincentian ministry. We should seek the Lord’s answers to those situations he places before us. In prayer and humility, we are called to care for those God places before us. How are we grateful for the blessings God places in our lives? How do we keep our eyes squarely on God’s plan for ourselves and those we minister to when seeking answers to difficulties? How do we trust in God’s plan and seek to fulfil His will always? Is prayer a cornerstone of our lives?
Father, allow me to be a faithful caretaker in your vineyard. Allow me to nurture those in need, helping them to grow in there love and hope in you. Help me to never lose sight of your will, trusting always in your ways. Allow me to grow in prayer being ever focused on our Lord Jesus. Help me to serve in humility, selflessly and with great passion. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen
“Your ways are unfair!” We hear this complaint in our first reading from the exiles in Babylon who thought they were being punished for the sins of their fathers; but in reality, they were using this ‘complaint’ as an excuse to continue to sin themselves. How often has each of us voiced this same complaint? “Your ways are unfair Lord!” We see so often in society today people choosing to shift blame rather than be accountable for their own sinfulness. But God tells them “no” – you are each held accountable for your own relationship with God – turn from sin and you shall preserve your life. That is a message for us as well.
We have free will – the ability to choose the path we want to follow and the actions we undertake. At any time, we can choose to turn from sin and right our ship. Our pride and focus on self, so often cause us to buy into sinfulness like the first son in our gospel. The lesson of the gospel though is to turn from sin – like the first son! God in his mercy is patient as He waits for us to change. It is not the sin which condemns us but the refusal to change. The question is, how do we get past “your ways are unfair!”? We need to lessen ourselves that others might increase. When we do, it is God himself who becomes more visible. God rejoices in those who recognize their sinfulness and strive to transform their hearts wrapped in God’s mercy and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.
Saint Paul points to the answer in his letter. It is through humility – the humility of Christ which others have modeled since and to which we are called. Humility is a recognition and an acceptance that all things come from God, that we are nothing without him, leading to a desire to do His will in all things. It understands that God’s way is fair and leads to freedom which leads to hope! It calls us to focus on others over ourselves. It is the ability to lessen ourselves that others might increase. When we do, it is God Himself – the author of humility – who becomes more visible. Growth in humility leads to freedom and a growth in holiness. Humility leads us to seek to do His will.
As humble servants, He calls us to have mercy and compassion for the poor, for it is that same mercy and compassion he seeks to give to us. By seeking out the poor and all those in need, by coming to know them and looking them squarely in the eye, by seeking God in their very presence, we come to understand ourselves better – seeing in them what God sees in each of us. A need for forgiveness and mercy and compassion. A need for acceptance and hope and love.
God calls us to turn from our sinfulness embracing Him with a continual “YES Lord!” We just cannot say “yes” once in our faith journey. We have to repeat that commitment many times through our lives as we mature, and as life presents new challenges to test our faith. Faith is a day-to-day commitment, a “yes” said over and over again in large and small ways. Through our presence at liturgies and worship, through our continual prayers and development of our prayer life, through our care for the poor and each other, and through our participation in the life of the church.
As Vincentians, we come face to face with circumstances of injustice and unfairness. Many times people struggle due to circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes we meet people who struggle with accountability. But we also see time and again people who embrace their crosses, count their blessings, and thank God for what they do have. We are reminded that God didn’t promise us fairness – he promised us freedom – freedom to choose love – freedom to choose not to sin – freedom to choose to pursue hope! Through our encounters helping the poor we can learn how to accept our crosses, trust in God’s will and grow in humility. For as St. Vincent tells us ‘in the poor, in their struggles, we see God himself!’ They teach us humility by their living examples. They are not perfect – they make mistakes. Neither am I perfect. What those who are suffering have learned though is humility and gentleness in ways I can only aspire to. Watch those who are suffering and a common trait is care for others. Do I pay attention? Do I accept the gift they give me with gratitude? Do I set my pride and self-importance to the side that I might see the presence of Christ in all situations?
Father, I am a sinner who has offended you. Grant that my heart might be touched by your presence in the poor and the suffering. Help me to see the gift they offer me. Help me to let go of my pride, my self-importance, my lack of patience, my deceit of even myself that I might recognize you waiting in the distance for me to journey toward you. Allow me to embrace those in need that I might feel your loving embrace of me. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen
“These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” It is easy to feel the injustice of favoritism shown to those who do not deserve it – haven’t earned it. Why should the laborers who have yet to do any real work be rewarded with the full day’s wages? By human standards – it simply is not fair. But the landowner is not being unjust to those hired in the early morning. He does not reduce their wages or take anything away from them. Rather, He is being charitable, merciful, to those hired at the end of the day. He gave them more than mercy – he gave dignity.
Our parable this week reminds us once again to think not as humans do, but as God does. The prophet Isaiah tells us “seek the Lord…turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord.” God is speaking to us about His standards – and particularly as they apply to His mercy and love. He is generous beyond all telling! We are called to focus on how God thinks. Think of Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. She had done more, sacrificed more, suffered more, and been obedient more to God’s will than any other person in history. And here was Jesus her son, on the cross in his dying moments granting to a thief who had done only one act of faith, heaven that very day. The mercy and generosity of God knows no limits and places no one higher than another when it is asked for!
Our God takes outsiders and makes them insiders; our God doesn’t treat us according to our standards, but according to God’s. Each of us needs forgiveness and it is generously given to us; whether we thought we deserved it or not. God’s love is extended to all who desire it without condition for how much they have earned it. They only need to turn to Him, seek Him, and call upon Him. Those who wish change may have it and have it abundantly. For when we trust in God, we find His love is greater than our most profound hope. Likewise, we are called to share in God’s generosity as we deal with others – offering forgiveness and mercy to those who need it.
As Catholics and Vincentians, we encounter circumstances on a regular basis where people are asking for help who have done little to earn it. We also encounter many times – especially today – where people are in need through no fault of their own. We are called to extend help and His love and mercy as he has extended it to us. We are called to set aside our prejudices and our judgments responding to those He brings before us in complete Christian charity. “Are you envious because I am generous?” the owner says to those hired at sunrise, who protested that they did not receive more. The Lord is saying, ‘If you begrudge generosity to the less fortunate, then you cannot be a Christian.’ For injustice is not corrected by more injustice, but rather by mercy and compassion. When we extend help in this way, we are graced by Christ’s presence flowing through us. Am I able to set aside my judgements and freely offer assistance AND myself in love and compassion to everyone Christ brings before me?
Father, I pray for the humility to see your presence in even the most ‘underserving’ clients. Grant me the passion and desire to reach out in love and mercy as you reach out to me every day. Make my generosity of love blind to circumstance and free of conditions. Grant that I may respond to your will and trust in your Divine Providence as St. Vincent did. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen
From the Deacon’s Desk: Prayer and Inspirational Thoughts
We live in turbulent and uncertain times. Tensions can run high even among friends. Our readings this week addresses the issues of accountability and reconciliation with each other. Both are incredibly important in today’s world. Each of us will face times of disagreement and even intense discussions bordering on disputes. By being watchmen for each other, we find a message of hope through caring for one another and helping one another to navigate the challenges of life. We are called to do so with honesty and truth (simplicity), with kindness, patience and mercy, and with respect and love for one another. St. Paul’s letter offers us the pathway forward. He tells us that we have laws and commandments, a moral code of conduct to follow. Most importantly though, we are called to love one another! When we do, with Christian charity and good intentions, we will safeguard the moral codes –especially where it matters. We will have truth in how we treat one another and grow in relationship. He reminds us that we are to ‘love our neighbor as our self.’
It begins with love grounded in respect, kindness and gentleness, recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of each person and situation. We are accountable to help each other to grow in our love for God. We are accountable to help each other in our respective and unique journeys. We are accountable as the watchman that he calls Ezekiel – and all of us – to be. A watchman is on alert to help our brothers and sisters when they go astray. We are to quietly help them to see when their actions hurt us, or others. Not with hatred and anger and a desire to win. Not with harshness and hyperbole and exaggeration. That type of approach does nothing but harden the heart of others – and ourselves. Rather, we need to approach them with encouragement and persuasion, kindness and gentleness, generosity of spirit, and humility. Our goal should not be to humiliate –but to collaborate and build up. We are all sinners, and we all need to lift each other up, helping our brothers and sisters to regain the right path – the path of truth and Jesus Christ.
We need to remember though that relationship is a two-way street. We have an accountability to listen to truth spoken to us. Our Psalm says “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” The truth of God often comes to us through the encouragement from others. We need to hear that voice with joy and thanksgiving. We need to be sure not to let our hearts become hardened by our own sinfulness. A hard heart can’t feel, can’t respond and can’t love. A hard heart is a closed heart and so it can’t receive. Prayer, sincere prayer, can help to open our hearts. For where two or three are gathered, there He is in the midst of them. It is our Lord Jesus who can lead us to resolution and reconciliation of differences. This is because prayer – true, consistent and intentional prayer – opens our minds and hearts to God’s voice. Jesus never told us it would be easy – but he promises he will always be with us. When we come to the Lord, we must listen with open hearts and respond to his Divine Providence and guidance with humility and generosity of spirit. Simply put, we need to be God led and God inspired in all that we are about.
As Vincentians, we will face tough conversations with neighbors in need from time to time as well. This is particularly true during this time when resources are limited and need is enormous. Given the nature of the work we are doing, this is to be expected. The question is how we deal with these issues. Do our hearts harden as tensions rise? Or do I seek God’s mercy and compassion – God’s will in every situation? Do I always start in prayer for everything I am about to do? Do I ask God to help me to have an open and loving heart that I might be open to the help He wants me to offer to others? Do I always leave in friendship and love, even when we disagree? Do I come humbly, with patience and kindness in my heart?
Father, give me the grace and humility to love others as myself, recognizing within each person your presence. Allow me to set my pride aside so that I might see the full value of another’s thoughts and ideas. Help me to be continually in prayer with you Father, and to intentionally enter into prayer with others that you might be in our midst. Open my ears, my heart and my mind that I may listen to hear your voice and will for all things that I do. Allow me to be guided by your Spirit and to act in friendship and charity in all that you ask of me. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen