The Sole Question

(Homily for Twenty-Fifth Ordinary Sunday - Year A)

Bottom line: The sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it.

We just heard the parable of the vineyard workers: Some start early in the morning, others at midday and a few right before sunset - what they use to call the "eleventh hour." In the end they all get the same wage. What does this mean? The great nineteenth century thinker, Blessed John Henry Newman, went to the heart of the parable. Here is what he said about the vineyard workers:

"this was the sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it; these were the two things. So will it be with us after death. When we come into God's presence, we shall be asked two things, whether we were in the Church, and whether we worked in the Church. Everything else is worthless."*

All of us can probably think of people who worked in the Church, then at some point abandoned her. We may also know people who embraced Christ at the final hour. I heard about a man who scoffed at the faith all his life, but as he was dying his wife handed him a small crucifix. In front of his family, he lifted the crucifix to his lips and gently kissed it. It must have taken tremendous humility to make that gesture.

One of the most famous people who entered the Church at the final moment was Oscar Wilde. He had written plays like "The Importance of Being Ernest" and novels such as "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Wilde lived a notorious lifestyle and was associated with the phrase, "The love that dares not speak its name." Some people today consider him a hero, a public advocate for a certain dissolute way of life. What most do not know, however, is that at the end of life he converted to Catholicism! On his death bed Oscar Wilde received the sacraments of forgiveness. As in today's parable he entered the vineyard - the Church - at the last hour.

Some might consider this unfair. They might feel like the workers who started early. We bore "the day's burden and the heat." Don't we deserve something more? One thing Jesus warns about is envy: comparing ourselves to others - he's got easy and I've got it so hard. Comparisons are odious - and in the spiritual life they are poison.

If I can put it this way, the devil wants us to stew, but God wants Stewardship. The devil wants us to compare ourselves to others and to stew about how unfair things are. God wants Stewardship: Whatever I have, God wants me to recognize it as a free gift that I must invest for his glory and the good of others. What matters is that when the Lord returns, you and I are working in the vineyard.

In the Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah says, "Seek the Lord while he may be found." The key word is "while." It implies that a time will come when he will not be found. By falling into a serious sin such as envy, a person may be digging an unbridgeable chasm between himself and God. I will say more about that next week. For now I would like to use the words of Blessed John Henry Newman to sum up:

"Whether we have been rich or poor, whether we have been learned or unlearned, whether we have been prosperous or afflicted, whether we have been sick or well, whether we have had a good name or a bad one, all this will be far from the work of that day. The single question will be, are we Catholics and are we good Catholics?

"Then will it be found who are the real movers in the world's affairs, those who sustained the cause of the Church or who influenced the fortunes of empires, were not the great and powerful, not those whose names are known in the world, but the humble despised followers of the Lamb, the meek saint, the man full of prayer and good works whom the world passed by; the hidden band of saintly witnesses, whose voice day by day ascended to Christ; the sufferers who seemed to be living for nothing; the poor whom the proud world thought but an offence and a nuisance. When that Day comes, may it reveal good for each of you, my brethren, and may the blessing of Almighty God come upon you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

**********

Here is a more complete quote from Newman's sermon:

Observe in the parable the Master of the Vineyard did but one thing. He told his servant to "call the labourers and give them their hire." He did but ask what they had done. He did not ask what their opinion was about science, or about art, or about the means of wealth, or about public affairs; he did not ask them if they knew the nature of the vine for which they had been labouring. They were not required to know how many kinds of vines there were in the world, and what countries vines could grow in, and where they could not. They were not called upon to give their opinion what soils were best for the vines. They were not examined in the minerals, or the shrubs, or in anything else which was found in the vineyard, but this was the sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it; these were the two things. So will it be with us after death. When we come {39} into God's presence, we shall be asked two things, whether we were in the Church, and whether we worked in the Church. Everything else is worthless. Whether we have been rich or poor, whether we have been learned or unlearned, whether we have been prosperous or afflicted, whether we have been sick or well, whether we have had a good name or a bad one, all this will be far from the work of that day. The single question will be, are we Catholics and are we good Catholics? If we have not been, it will avail nothing that we have been ever so honoured here, ever so successful, have had ever so good a name. And if we have been, it will matter nothing though we have been ever so despised, ever so poor, ever so hardly pressed, ever so troubled, ever so unfriended. Christ will make up everything to us, if we have been faithful to Him; and He will take everything away from us, if we have lived to the world.

Then will be fulfilled the awful words of the parable. Many that are last shall be first, for many are called but few are chosen. Then, also, will it be seen how many have received grace and have not profited by it. Then will be seen how many were called, called by the influence of God's grace, called into the Church, yet how few have a place prepared in heaven. Then will be seen how many resisted their conscience, resisted the call of Christ to follow Him, and so are lost. This is the day both of divine grace and of patience. God gives grace and is patient {40} with us, but when death comes, there is no more time either for grace or for patience. Grace is exhausted, patience is exhausted. Nothing remains but judgement, a terrible judgement on those who have lived in disobedience.

And oh! what a sight it will be, what an unexpected sight, at the last day and public judgement to be present at that revelation of all hearts! How different persons will then seem, from what they seem now! How will the last be first, and the first last! Then those whom the world looked up to, will be brought low, and those who were little esteemed, will be exalted. Then will it be found who are the real movers in the world's affairs, those who sustained the cause of the Church or who influenced the fortunes of empires, were not the great and powerful, not those whose names are known in the world, but the humble despised followers of the Lamb, the meek saint, the man full of prayer and good works whom the world passed by; the hidden band of saintly witnesses, whose voice day by day ascended to Christ; the sufferers who seemed to be living for nothing; the poor whom the proud world thought but an offence and a nuisance. When that Day comes, may it reveal good for each of you, my brethren, and may the blessing, etc.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 7 (Summing Up)
2011: The Sole Question
2008: They Thought They Would Receive More
2005: Day Laborers
2002: Why Do You Stand Idle?
1999: Are You In or Not?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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