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20 September 2020 Homily - Collapsible Text
Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2020
Fr. Rick Lorenz
Phil 1:20-24, 27
At first glance, today's Gospel seems unfair. The workers who started early in the morning were paid the same as those who began at nine, noon, three, and five o'clock. "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." But God's ways are not our ways. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." We're all created in his image and likeness, we're all equally and infinitely loved, and he "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4)."
We can understand the parable as a metaphor for salvation; and the wage received as going to heaven. God welcomes those who choose to answer his call with thanksgiving, trust and repentance: fruits of a righteous life that ripen at what we call "Last Rites" - the continuous sacrament of penance, anointing and viaticum (or communion). But some might "grumble against the landowner", and wonder what is the point of obeying the commandments, striving for holiness, and following the precepts of the Church, when you can just do what you want and receive the sacraments at the end. What's the point?
Fr. Jon Kelly was ordained this summer. We started formation at the same time, but he finished high school and went straight into philosophy. God willing, he will have many years as a priest. He's like one of the workers who started early in the morning. He will carry many burdens through scorching heat, but will have special gift: being able to look back on a life of serving the Lord.
I was ordained when I was 48...like a worker who began at noon. People say that I "had a life" before I became a priest. Good times and heart breaks; effort in industry and community; valuable experiences. The rector of the seminary acknowledged this when I began. "Experience! You've had to pay rent." Some say that I'm a late vocation: to me it was right on time. While Fr. Jon will look back on a life of serving the Lord, my special gift is certainty. The workers in the parable who started at noon spent the first half of the day insecure and anxious, and were then relieved and grateful to have work; they received certainty.
But their gratitude is exceeded by those who began at five o'clock, who stood idle all day. There are people who were raised in the faith, but didn't practice it; who made choices against the teaching of the Church; who didn't nourish the faith of their children and grandchildren. They ignored the early morning call, and again at nine, noon, and three. They ignored it but didn't forget it.
Before the pandemic, at my two previous churches, I went to the hospice regularly. One fellow had a conversion experience after we talked. He called to me with a polite and possible interest mingled with years of doubt and skepticism. But after that he always had his cross in his hand. He could not look back on a lifetime of service to the Lord. He didn't enjoy half a life of certainty. His salvation was obviously unmerited. All he could do was give thanks. But his gratitude was complete; it was his special gift. In a sudden way, knowing his time was short, he could say with the psalm "Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever." He could say with Paul, "living is Christ and dying is gain."
And this points to why we obey, follow and strive; not just for ourselves, but for others; planting seeds that just might flourish at the end of sad and faithless lives, yielding gratitude beyond what we ourselves will ever know.
For this Eucharist, we pray for those who go into the hospice or hospital, "with no faith practice", that in a way known only to God they too can experience thanksgiving, repentance and trust. We can have this hope, because "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."