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Am I helping the Church be fruitful?

MAN HOLDING GRAPES
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This Sunday’s Gospel has some harsh words for Church leaders, but what about me?

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered Jesus,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.
—Matthew 21:40-41

As the end of the Church Year approaches (the Solemnity of Christ the King is only seven weeks away!), the readings proclaimed at Mass highlight themes that we often associate with the end of life, especially the theme of judgment.

One of the basic tenets of our faith is that, at the end of our life—and at the end of time—each of us will stand before God, who is both merciful and just.

The short, dark days of autumn and the falling leaves remind us that the end is never really far away, and the Church gives us these days to remember and reflect both on our mortality and on the promise of new and eternal life that God offers us in Christ.  

This Sunday’s Gospel—the “Parable of the Tenants”—picks up this theme of judgment. Continuing a conversation that was begun in last week’s Gospel with the “Parable of the Two Sons,” Jesus again addresses his words to the religious leaders of the Jewish people. In this Sunday’s passage, however, he builds directly on imagery used by the Prophet Isaiah (see the First Reading) and describes a vineyard that has been leased to tenants who have been entrusted with the task of producing a rich harvest for the owner of the vineyard.

In the parable, however, the tenants have claimed the vineyard as their own, and when the owner sends his stewards to collect the harvest, the tenants kill them. In the end, the owner sends his own son and heir. Seeing their chance to make a final claim on the vineyard, the tenants also kill the son.

After telling his story, Jesus asks the religious leaders what the owner of the vineyard will do. They give a hard answer: “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper time.” Did they know they were condemning themselves? We don’t know, but Jesus agrees with their assessment of the situation: “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Here, the judgment is made against those religious leaders who had forgotten that their mission was to serve the people and lead them to God. By focusing on their own status and power, they had turned the vineyard into their own little kingdom where they believed they reigned supreme.

This parable certainly has a lesson to offer anyone who holds a position of authority within the Church, but the lesson applies to all the Church’s ministers. In the end, our call is to serve and to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of those entrusted to our care. When we begin focusing too much on our status or agenda, we risk losing sight of the true purpose of our ministry and of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

As Pope Francis reminded us in Evangelii Gaudium, “Pastoral workers can [fall] into a relativism which, whatever their particular style of spirituality or way of thinking, proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism … This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist. It is striking,” he continues, “that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal or spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!” (80).

The coming weeks offer us opportunities to celebrate the memorials and commemorations of a number of saints, including those of three popes: St. John XXIII on October 11, St. Callistus I on October 14, and St. John Paul II on October 22. While each of these saints has his critics, each also embodies the spirit of self-sacrifice that is demanded of pastors and pastoral leaders in the Church. Let us use these days as opportunities to pray for the Church’s leaders. And let us also take time in these waning weeks and days of the Church Year to reflect on our own attitudes toward ministry and service.

The owner of the vineyard expected the tenants to produce a worthy harvest. What gifts has God given you to help the Church be fruitful?

How do you pray for the leaders of your faith community? In what ways to do you promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as well as invite others to take on new ministries within your community?

Words of Wisdom: “The owner of the vineyard symbolizes God himself, while the vineyard symbolizes his people, as well as the life he gives, so that with his grace and our hard work, we may do good.”—Pope Benedict XVI  

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