Dear Father Augustine, brother priests, and dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
What a joy it is for me to be able to celebrate this Closing Mass at the annual conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
First of all, allow me to express my gratitude to all of you for treasuring God’s Word, for listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church (cf. Rev 2:29) and for accepting the gifts, charisms and ministries which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to bestow on you so generously (cf. 1 Cor 12). You are about renewal – a renewal that entails both personal conversion and bringing the love of Christ to the world. To be disciples and to be missionaries. That’s what Pope Francis called all of us to be in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”: to be missionary-disciples.
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EV 1). The Gospel brings joy, but it brings that joy to “all who encounter Jesus.” Jesus is the centre.
In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell points out that many Catholics, many, many Catholics say that they have no personal relationship with God. Nearly 33% of American self-identified Catholics believe in an impersonal God (p 43). Some are even surprised to hear that they can, let alone that they should have a personal relationship!
Pope Francis takes this as his absolute starting point.
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! (EG 3).
I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 1) (EG 7).
And once we admit this work of the Spirit within us, we must proclaim the Gospel to others.
It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights.We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in themidst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody (EG 266).
If you are going to evangelize – and this IS your calling – it must be a proclamation of the Jesus whom you PERSONALLY know: ““there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord”, and without “the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (Ecclesia in Asia, 19) (EG 110).
3. The Proclamation of the Kerygma
What we preach is not just the sacredness of life, the dignity of the human person, the need to care for refugees, homeless and the imprisoned – for the Church is not just an NGO with noble ideas of service, one of many benevolent agencies of social service – but what we preach is the heart of the Gospel message. We call this is the kerygma. This is the kernel, the guts, the core of what it means to believe as a Christian.
Without the kerygma in our hearts and in our minds we might well be missionaries of something good but we would not be missionaries of Jesus Christ.
The heart of its [the Gospel’s] message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (EG 11).
But back to Francis’s warning:
In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness (EG 34).
In a word, then, “the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing” (EG 35).
The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental (EG 165).
When To Treat Moral Questions
The living of the Christian life, including the love demands of the Gospel, make sense to people today only if they follow from an encounter with Jesus himself. Do not put them up front in talking with others. First you must gain their trust. Then they must be open to the changes and embrace the consequences by an intentional decision. In that light, the Church’s moral teaching makes sense.
When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk (EG 39).
Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction” (EG 14).
In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (EG 20).
The men and women of our time need the secure light that illuminates their path and that only the encounter with Christ can give. Bring to the world, through your witness, with love, the hope given by faith! As a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, you are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ. It is necessary that your discipleship become missionary and that you share with others this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us. It is the Holy Spirit who, at this moment, is speaking to the Church and guiding her along this path.
No Unemployment in the Vineyard: “You Go Too”
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we each have a call to mission in the Church.
The Gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord’s vast vineyard and those whom he calls and sends out to labour in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13 :38), which is to be transformed according to God’s plan in view of the arrival of his Kingdom.
From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus, “You also go into my vineyard too,” resounds in the life of the Church. It is a call addressed to all the baptized, without exception. Each one of you has likewise been personally called by the Lord. To do what? “To take an active, conscientious and responsible role in the mission of the Church.
The state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls urgently for your action. As St. John Paul II once wrote, “If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.
The first message of this parable is inherent in the very fact that the landowner does not tolerate, as it were, unemployment: he wants everyone to be employed in his vineyard.
Actually, being called is already the first reward: to be able to work in the Lord’s vineyard, to put oneself at his service, to collaborate in his
work, is in itself a priceless recompense that repays every effort.
Since the work to be done in the vineyard is so great, there is no place for laziness. It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and its hopes, its defeats and its triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural values pose problems and grave challenges which we know so well. This, however, is the vineyard; this is the field in which we are called to fulfill our mission to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (cf. Mt 5:13-14).
We are, moreover, more than simply labourers who work in the vineyard, but are also a part of the vineyard. Elsewhere Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (In 15:5). The Lord is himself the vine and we, his disciples, are the branches. He is the “true vine,” to which the branches are engrafted to have life (cf. Jn 15:1ff.). From Jesus we derive our life and the fruitfulness he enables.
The Landowner’s Generosity and the Workers’ Resentment
Now let’s look at the second half of the parable, which might well distress us. Some hard-working and enterprising souls started work at dawn. Subsequent workers, no doubt less resourceful, arrived later in morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, and late afternoon and they are put to work by the landowner. Finally, at the moment of payoff, those hired late receive a full day’s pay -and get paid first. Just imagine their faces. Hot anger in the ones who had slaved all day: This is not fair! We demand our rights! We put in the time and these oafs did nothing. The late ones smile sheepishly.
Those who started working at the break of day complain about this apparent lack of fairness: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Mt 20: 12). Surely they should have some compensation to match their efforts and achievement. By any just comparison or calculus of effort, they deserve more. But the landowner, claiming that no injustice was done or agreement broken, does not
accept their complaint. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with
what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt
What does the story mean? Obviously these wages are not a strict remuneration for hours worked. They more like a gift from a generous heart. Jesus tells this parable to show how God’s caring heart works, how he gives his love to each person, especially to ones who suffer and are left behind.
There comes a point in life when we spiritually struggle no longer with the fact of our own weakness and need for God’s forgiveness, but rather with the opposite: with the fact that God’s grace and forgiveness is overly-lavish, unmerited, and especially that it goes out so indiscriminately. The parable suggests that God’s lavish love and forgiveness go out equally to those have worked hard and to those who haven’t, to those who have been faithful for a long time and to those who jumped on-board at the last minute, to those who have had to bear the heat of the day and to those who didn’t.
What clearer example could we have of what we heard in today’s First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55 :8-9).
God’s love for us isn’t a reward for being good, doing our duty, or faithfully bearing the heat of the day, good and important though these are. God loves us because his love, as Scripture says, shines on the good and bad alike. That’s nice to know when we need forgiveness, but it’s hard to accept when that forgiveness and love is given to those whom we deem less worthy of it, to those who didn’t seem to do their duty.
Although deep down we know that God has been more than fair with us, God’s lavish generosity to others is something which we find hard to accept. Like the workers in today’s parable who toiled the whole day and then saw those who had worked just one hour get the same wage as theirs, we often let God’s generosity to others warp friendship with him and can so easily turn joy into bitterness.
As we continue this Eucharist, let us recall both the Lord’s call to us to be vigorous labourers in his vineyard, true missionary-disciples and let us remember with gratitude the lavishness of his generous love – a love which we have each received as grace upon grace (cf. Jn 1:16). Amen.
ª J. Michael Miller, CSB
Archbishop of Vancouver
 Francis, Message for World Mission Day 2013 (19 May 2013), 4.