Permit me to begin with a word of thanks to all of you who joined me yesterday at the Seminary or who accompanied us in prayer as we spent the afternoon in prayer and fasting for Peace in the Middle East! In those four hours before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for our adoration, we affirmed in song and prayer and reflection that peace is possible and prayer is powerful. We thus sought to make ourselves faithful peace seekers knowing that this great gift of peace ultimately depends on God who inspires us to be men and women of peace.
Let me turn now to the first reading and the Gospel because too easily we can see them as one and the same and they are not. Isaiah’s vision compares Israel to a vineyard and thus he calls the Chosen People to produce good fruit or they will risk their own ruin. It is God who has chosen his beloved people. It is his vineyard which he loves. In the time of Isaiah Israel had turned their backs on him and followed false gods. For this reason God, through Isaiah, admonishes them that so long as they turn away from him they will suffer. He can even let them slide to their own destruction if they refuse his love.
Jesus takes the parable and introduces something not present in Isaiah: the people in charge of tending the vineyard. Now the parable takes on a new meaning. The Jewish Christian community of Matthew who knew Book of Isaiah very well would have caught the difference right away. “Wait a minute, they’d say. This is not about the Israel of Isaiah’s time turning their back on God’s love. This is about today!” This is about the prophets who were spurned! This is about religious leaders who are not faithful! This is about us, the disciples, who need to have spiritual leaders who will encourage us to live as true disciples of the Son of the Father, Jesus. He is that Son who suffered death so that we might flourish as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father!
Today the Church brings these two readings together. We see both the unity of God’s revelation from Old to New. Pope Benedict liked to remind us that the Bible is one book with many parts. The Old and the New are one for us. Like Matthew’s Jewish Christian community, we too can grasp the newness of the parable of Jesus that takes a familiar prophecy of Isaiah, gives it a new twist and invites us to be caught up in the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is the Son who is put to death so that he can rescue us from our slavery to sin and death. He is the One who takes care of God’s beloved vineyard and calls all of us to see him as true foundation of our lives!
How often have we sung at Mass, The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord! Today he claims that title that is rightly his and his alone. He gives to his Church, his vineyard, his own life as the sure source of our life. He charges us to build our lives on Him, the true foundation of life that gives glory to God and offers hope to the world. And in a way that is sobering to us who are bishops and priests, he charges us with the solemn duty to be true shepherds by tending the vineyard of the Lord. Our lives must be faithful in caring for you so that all of us might bear good fruit for the Lord. We in turn must do this together because the world needs to be nourished and fed by the lives and the example of us all, the one Body of Christ, His Bride, the Church!
This morning, Pope Francis opened the Extraordinary Synod on the Family with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. He told the bishops, and us all, that in both these readings, God’s dream is his people whom he wishes to be a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of Justice. And he reminds the bishops that we, as the caretakers of the Church, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard…and so, we must be led by the Holy Spirit to care for the family which from the beginning has been an integral part of God’s loving plan for humanity…To do that wisely, we bishops must always seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit that gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.
My dear friends, there are two things I would ask of you today that stem from these words. First I would ask us all to be of one mind and one heart these next two weeks in praying daily for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. I appeal especially to you who are elderly or watching the Mass through Telecare for your prayers. The prayers of the elderly and those who are “shut ins” reach the ear of God so quickly and so effectively! The Synod fathers from every part of the world will be discussing all aspects of family life as it is present today. This will be a preparation for next year’s Regular Synod on the Family. Pray that we bishops will faithfully teach what God has revealed. With a shepherd’s heart may we bishops, and especially those at the Synod, bring that truth to enrich the lives of all families under our care as good caretakers of God’s vineyard.
Second I would return to yesterday’s day of prayer and fasting. May I ask that we be equally one in prayer for peace in the Middle East. The spiritual power of prayer is never stronger than when we seek to be peacemakers. My recent experience in the Middle East convinces me that prayer is powerful and peace is possible. But the second, peace, depends on our being constant in our prayer and encouraging in our witness by lives that proclaim peace as God’s gift.
For what St. Paul wished for his beloved Church in Philippi I wish for all of us of this beloved Church of Rockville Centre. His words I make mine: In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of Go which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen…Then the God of peace will be with you! Amen.