25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; September 20, 2020
Readings: Is 55:6-9; Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18; Ph 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16
Seek the Lord while he may be found. That suggests there might be a time when it will no longer be possible to find him. Call upon him while he is near. That suggests there might be a time when he will no longer be so near, no longer so ready to listen to our voice. That time might be closer than we think. In the terms of today’s Gospel, we might have already arrived at the last hour of the day.
While we have the chance, we must take the time to pray, to go to Confession, to go to Mass, to adore Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. The time might come when we are no longer able to do these things.
The secular left, moved by an ardent religious faith, but not the Christian faith, has no problem in proclaiming, in apocalyptic terms, that it is the last hour. We are living in the apocalypse of climate change and systemic racism, supported by the vast right-wing conspiracy that ‘denies the science’. Covid-19 and wildfires are the revenge of the mother-earth goddess. Unless we repent, we shall be destroyed; they might even be willing to act as the agents of destruction. At the same time, some of them proclaim the ‘great reset’ that take place after the tribulation of the pandemic. This will bring about a new order of human relations, a ‘new normal’, in which the experts in their distant command centers will provide for all our needs, while local communities will be transformed by consensus decision-making that will free us of the need for police. That is the apocalyptic Gospel of the secular left.
Of course, there are Christians too, who interpret current events in apocalyptic terms, some Catholics as well. Our Lady of Fatima would certainly give us every reason to do so.
Nevertheless, by and large, Catholics, from top to bottom, seem to give little more than a shrug. Well educated Catholics very easily will seek to calm people’s fears, affirming that it has always been like this, since the time of Christ. They quickly affirm that the Church has seen bad days before and will see them again. In the meantime, we must just hunker down, wear our masks, and do our best to continue business as usual until the current crisis passes. God is with us and everything will work out for the best.
That is of course very true, but, lacking context and specification, it is practically meaningless. It is merely a tranquilizer that lulls people into a false sense of security.
Seek the Lord while he may be found.
Well, I don’t know if it is actually ‘the last hour’, but the present apocalyptic crisis, which is uniquely global in its scope, should remind us of the ordinary urgency of Christian life. We know neither the day nor the hour, but our Lord is clear that we should live as though it could come at any moment. Jesus said, The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness does not overcome you. (Jn 12:35) And: The night is coming when no one can work. (Jn 9:4)
Indeed, the hour, the hour of death might come at any moment for each one of us. None of us knows for sure that he will live even for another minute.
Seek the Lord while he may be found.
We can only find the Lord while we are in this present life. When the hour of death arrives, if a person has not found the Lord as the Savior and has not lived in his grace, he will meet him only as the Judge. The sentence will be severe: I never knew you. Depart from me you evildoers. (Mt 7:23) Then he will be cast into the outer darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth. (cf. Mt 22:13) Then he will be cast into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (cf. Mt 25:41)
No one should think that he is secure. St. Paul warns all of us: Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:12)
Does someone think he is a ‘good person’? Does he mean ‘good’ in the sight of the holiness of God, or ‘good’ in the sight of human mediocrity? Do we really put God first in our lives? Do we let our thinking be formed by his word? Do we really do his will in all things? Do we really follow Jesus upon the way of the Cross? Do we live from his grace and by the light of his teaching, or do we live rather by our own ideas and from our own strength? Who among us can be so bold as to say with St. Paul, For to me life is Christ and death is gain?
In today’s Gospel, the landowner goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. The landowner is Christ himself. The day can refer to the whole time of the Church, from the day of Pentecost until Christ’s return in judgment; the day can refer to the life of particular communities within the Church that rise and fall, like the ancient dioceses of North Africa that no longer exist in reality, but serve only to give auxiliary bishops a ‘title’; the day can refer to the life of each one of us. The work in the vineyard is always for the salvation of souls; that is the Lord’s work; that is why he came; that is the purpose of the Church.
How about the workers?
We could refer this to the priests. St. Gregory the Great, commenting on the words of the Lord, Pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the harvest, (Mt 9:37) wrote: “Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God’s harvest a laborer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfill its demands.” (St. Gregory the Great, Homily 17,3)
Yet, each Christian, each baptized soul, must in his own way, be a worker in the vineyard. Just as it is one thing to be a priest and another to fulfill the demands of the priesthood, so it is one thing to be a Christian, and it is another thing to fulfill the demands of the Catholic faith.
The first work that anyone must undertake in the Lord’s vineyard is the salvation of his own soul. This not selfishness, this is proper self-love.
St. Catherine of Siena, in her “Dialogue” records God the Father teaching her: “Each of you has your own vineyard, your soul, in which your free will is the appointed worker during this life. Once the time of your life has passed, your will can work neither for good nor for evil; but while you live it can till the vineyard of your soul where I have placed it.” And: “These are the true workers. They till their souls well, uprooting every selfish love, cultivating the soil of their love in Me. They feed and tend the growth of the seed of grace that they received in holy baptism. And as they till their own vineyards, so they till their neighbors’ as well, for they cannot do the one without the other. You already know that every evil as well as every good is done by means of your neighbors.” Indeed, true service of neighbor is nothing else than sharing with him the fruits of our own vineyard.
So, unless someone is living in the grace of God, sharing the life of Christ, living as a child of God, striving to grow in holiness, desiring eternal salvation and the vision of God’s face, he will be useless as a worker for the salvation of others.
There are those who do not even work and so show they have no real desire for the reward of eternal life; there are those who work, but continually grumble and complain, as though bearing the labor of the heat of the day, so in the end they will not accept the reward; there are those, like the laborers of the last hour, who are grateful to be able to serve in the Lord’s vineyard, and will be pleased with the gift that he gives, which is his very self.