Today’s Gospel Story is about two brothers and a vineyard. In the Alleluia Verse we hear, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me”. We listen to both of these, and the Spirit speaks to us in the setting of what is going on in lives here and now. These thoughts are for me in my life as I pray this Gospel Story, and are not an attempt to sway any others in their belief. We might each pray the Parable ourselves and go where it takes us. And since this whole CLE issue began as a Catholic matter it would be better to respond to it from our Catholic traditions and beliefs.
In my life these days I’m becoming disturbingly aware of the suffering caused by the recent Cleveland Diocese Policy. Whether or not it was intended, and probably it wasn’t, this pain and suffering is real. Good people are hurting, and their suffering is allegedly caused in the name of Jesus who never did anything like that to anybody. This is wrong. Jesus healed people’s suffering as we who would be his followers are called to do today. So what am I called to do in this? I don’t know how I can just sit idly by and do nothing. It really disturbs the soldier in me, a part of my life and journey I don’t want to forget. It’s in our Army DNA to help those who for whatever reason cannot help themselves, and this is not intended as put down for anybody, but is a reminder of our tradition and my responsibility. Just don’t know how to do it.
An unfortunate reality of church politics is that when church managers issue statements like this policy, groups of self-appointed “morality police” make the rounds of parishes and chapels to see how the pastors and parishes are or are not following it. Any parishes, and especially pastors, who are not acting as these groups think they should are in for a rough time. These groups are very effective with their courageous “anonymous” complaints, and church management often responds forcefully. Their lack of courage is the polar opposite of the courage shown by pastors and parishioners who are doing their best to live the Gospel of Jesus with their people where they are.
In the Parable a father asks his two sons to work in the vineyard. One son says “yes”but doesn’t do it. The other son says “no”, but changes his mind and does the work. In the light of our current situation, which is part of the vineyard Jesus asks us to work in, can we hear Jesus saying, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me”? Is he calling us to condemn and judge these hurting folks, or is he calling us to do something about their hurt? When he asks us to work in his vineyard do we say, “Yes, I will”, but then decide we don’t want to get involved? Or do we say, “This is dangerous for me, I’ll just stay out of it”, and later decide that this causing hurt is wrong, and I’ll get involved and do what I can to help”? What does it mean for me/us to live as a disciple of Jesus here and now in these circumstances? The ministry of healing is not something only for ordained ministers or sacramental rituals. It is the role and responsibility of the entire Body of Christ, in other words, our/my responsibility too, so what do I/we do to help bring Christ’s healing to these hurting folks?
Jesus says “tax collectors and prostitutes (the unacceptable outcasts of his day) are entering the kingdom of God before you”. We might pay attention to our brothers and sisters who are hurting, and how they are trying to address their hurt. In effect, and whether or not it is intended, the Policy has made them some of todays outcasts. Could it be that they are entering the Kingdom of God before us who feel we have all the answers for how they have to conduct their lives?
In the Opening Prayer of the Mass we pray: “O God, you alone judge rightly and search the depths of the heart. May we be swift to do your will and slow to judge our neighbor, that we may walk with those who follow the way of repentance and faith and so come into your kingdom”. Maybe the best response to living this prayer is from folks who realize the hurt and are trying both to ease the pain and learning from the people who are suffering. All of us on all sides in this issue are created in the image of God, and as we are, reflect God in a way that no one else ever can., so where do we go? Spend time with those who suffer, learn from/with them, share their pain, be open to the Spirit.
Jesus didn’t start an institution or teach law, he formed a small community and taught Gospel. The law approach came later after him when the church began to see itself as an organization and system, with its most important value being to protect the institution and its prerogatives and keep the people in line. It’s like “we already have all the answers for how you, whom we do not even know, are expected to live, and we will decide if you are living well. We will not accept you as images of God until you change and live by our rules”. The ugly phrase “hate the sin and love the ‘sinner” these days only applies to certain people and “sins”, yet makes many feel good about judging some others. For all of us growing in awareness of who we are is a long process, happening in fits and starts. The system is causing good people to suffer because of who they love or how they see themselves. Each of us knows who we are better than anyone else can.
These aren’t easy days for any of us, and is a time for trusting and growing. This is where Pope Francis is trying to move the church – to be Synodal Church, a listening church, all of us listening to what the Spirit is saying through every one of us, a new way of “being” church. Can any of us say my way is the only way? Might we learn to be a listening community, open to the Spirit? The Gospel is not a zero sum game. The Body of Christ is not static, but always on the move, growing, listening, learning, adapting, following the Spirit. Judging, accusing, labeling just add fuel to the fire. This is a time for being open to the Spirit, listening, trusting, growing. There is no “us” and “them”, there’s only “us and the Spirit”, and we, all of us on all sides in this matter, are in this together, by the providence of God. Yet again Jesus is telling us, “do not be afraid“. We are not alone in this. Just sayin . . . .