Sunday, October 05, 2008

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Like I said, I've been preparing homilies during my pastoral year at St. Athanasius in Louisville, KY. Every Friday I have a supervision meeting with the pastor and during that I present a homily for the following Sunday's readings. Below is the homily I prepared for today. Here's the readings. Works consulted: A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, A Commentary on the New Testament, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, and In Conversation with God.

Today, our readings continue, in a very explicit way, the theme of bearing spiritual fruit in the vineyard of the Lord. But, there is another theme emerging as well: one of spiritual protection. If you went to daily Mass last week you will remember that on Monday we celebrated the feast of the archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. St. Michael is my patron saint and is a good, dear friend of mine. Then on Thursday we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels, the guardians, and guides that God so generously has given each one of us. Today we heard of spiritual protection in the first and second reading, the responsorial psalm, and the Gospel! And finally on Tuesday of this week we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary: Our Lady being the Queen of Angels and the Rosary being our spiritual sword against sin and evil. The Church has sort of encapsulated us with this theme. Therefore it seems clear to me that the Holy Spirit would like us to contemplate more deeply the protection He has given us as we strive to bear much fruit for God. Let us then look deeper at our readings.

In our Gospel we have another very striking parable, this time the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Did you catch how closely it paralleled with our first reading from Isaiah? In both there is a landowner who plants a vineyard, cultivates it, and protects it and hopes for good fruit to come from it. The landowner is God and the vineyard is Jerusalem. The hedge that was put around it is meant to protect from thieves and wild animals that would destroy the vineyard. St. Ambrose teaches us that the hedge represents divine protection from spiritual predators. Similar in function is the tower that was built as an elevated and sheltered outpost in which one could watch over the land. And the wine press was used to collect the grapes to be prepared for wine. Isaiah adds that the landowner built the vineyard on a fertile hillside, spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines. Thus much hard work was put into it and it was well-prepared to bear much good fruit.

But, the tenants that the landowner put in charge of the vineyard while he was gone were wicked and we hear of the awful things that they did. First it’s obvious that no one trustworthy was manning the watchtower! For when the landowner sent three of his servants to collect the grapes, the tenants seized them and “one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned”! Here the tenants represent Israel’s leaders and the servants are the prophets that they beat, stoned, and killed throughout their history. Whenever the prophets would warn them of their sins, they were often met with violent rejection. But, the landowner, like God, had superhuman patience with the tenants of his chosen vineyard and sent still more of his servants to call them to make an account… “but they treated them the same way.”

Nonetheless, God, the landowner, to show his great love for Israel, his vineyard, sent his last messenger to them, his only Son in the hope that surely “They will respect my son.” “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ This son, of course, is our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just as the landowner’s son threatened their possession of the vineyard and its fruit, so to God’s Son threatened that position of the Jewish leaders and their reign over the souls of God’s people. Finally, we heard that the tenants “seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” This is a stark reference to the coming crucifixion of Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem. In John’s Gospel we read: “Then [Pilot] handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull… near the city” (John 19:17, 20).

This last point of the parable is where he really nails them down. Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of the people, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” Rather than provide them the answer, Jesus had a way of drawing in his audience to make the final word and thus realize the full implication of their answer. They answered him, “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.” Then they knew exactly what Jesus meant, he was referring to them. And we know that those wretched men were put to a wretched death when Roman troops marched on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and destroyed the city and the temple. After the parable the Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus but the multitude of his believers prevented them.

Earlier in the Gospels, we see God transferring his kingdom from the leaders of the Old Covenant to the shepherds of the New Covenant when Jesus calls his apostles and especially when he sets up Peter as the rock on which his Church is built. And so we have become the new vineyard and we, with the Son, are the heir of the Father’s riches. But, like the wicked tenants before us, our sins too are intimately related to the death of the beloved Son. We are now expected to render a timely account. Will we yield much good fruit or will we allow sin to yield what Isaiah called “wild grapes,” or what the Hebrew literally means, “stinking things”?

God has prepared us well. We are grown on the fertile hillside of grace. We have the choicest vines, the blood of the grape, the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are spaded and cleared of the stones of sin through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. The tenants are our priests and bishops and the watchtower is the Magisterium. Despite all of these things, we can still rise up against the Son through our sins. That is why we must rely on the hedge… Ah, the hedge! Remember what St. Ambrose said about it? Rather than protecting from thieves and wild animals, he said that it represents divine protection from spiritual predators. Can the Lord find abundant fruit in our lives? If we are to bear good fruit then we must ask the Lord for an aversion to sin and protection from sin. We must entreat daily the spiritual protection he has given us… in our guardian angel.

These aren’t nice and fluffy angels that I speaking of. No, this is serious theology, serious spirituality and not something we should feel childish about contemplating. Angels aren’t childish. Everyone from the strongest man here to the smallest child needs the help of his guardian angel. Do you ask your guardian angel for assistance? Have you befriended him? Really he is your closest friend. You are a beloved child of God. He stands before the face of God on your behalf. Do not be afraid to pray to your guardian angel throughout the various trials and joys of your day. Before a test, make the sign of the cross and ask him to help you remain calm. In the dark, ask him to be your companion. When your alarm first goes off in the morning, ask him for courage and hope. When you are tempted to sin, ask him to guard your heart. Before you go to Confession, ask him to kneel beside you. On your way to Communion ask him to help you approach reverently.

And when you get a good grade, make the sign of the cross and thank him for helping you study. And when you get up on time thank him for rousing you. When you face rush hour and the other frustrations of the day with serenity and patience thank him for his strength. When you are able to choose good over evil thank him for his direction. When you make a good Confession, thank him for helping you remember those sins you needed to confess. He is your constant companion and God’s instrument and conduit of grace in your life. At the end of the day, thank God, for such a special friend. With the help of our guardian angels we can grow to overcome even the small sins in our lives and be able to offer to God the fresh grapes of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever us pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,” and whatever is excellent and worthy of praise – rather than the wild grapes, the “stinking things,” of sin and rebellion.

On Tuesday, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, pray that she send you her angels and especially that she let you know your guardian angel. With him, through her, you can at last embrace the Son rather than throw him out. For Christ has told us in John’s Gospel, “He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… by this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:5-8). Therefore, let us pray: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side: to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.” Amen.


Amy M. said...

Rock on. In my Christian Spirituality class, Dr. Miravalle said that the greatest gift of thanks we can give to our Guardian Angels is to go to Eucharistic adoration. Their greatest joy is in gazing upon the Lord and adoring him, but their mission is to watch us, so if we go to adoration we give them the opportunity to do both at the same time!

Hopefully I'll get to take his Angelology course next semester and gather more interesting facts in that same vein. I'll have to send you copies of my notes ;-)

Wylie said...


I found you through the St. Blog's Parish webring. I am glad you started posting again. I do not know why you stopped but don't stop again. Many need to read good homilies like this one. I was already encouraged, even before I read the post because of your "works consulted" list, especially the Ignatius Study Bible and even more so the In Conversation with God. Opus Dei, what a gift to the church. In Conversation is the best daily devotional I have ever seen.

Keep posting your homilies. Many need to hear the truth, even if they don't like what they are hearing.

At my parish we have a young priest(under two years as a priest but older than you)whom I am trying to convince to post his homilies to my "Take Courage, My Friend" blog. It would give him exposure for his preaching beyond the Masses he celebrates.

Study well. The world needs courageous priests willing to speak the truth unabashedly but with charity.

My prayers will be with you in your vocation.

Your Friend in Christ,

Wylie Hartwell

Matt1618 said...

Amy, what an awesome thought, thanks! Do share what you learn in Angelology!

Thank you too Wylie for your encouraging note and prayers.

Amy M. said...

Sadly, they seem to have removed the Angelology course from the list of classes for next that makes the third class I won't get to take before i graduate from Franciscan. Amy is bummed.

Laura H. said...

is cheering and clapping inappropriate at the end of a homily? it's a good thing you aren't giving these to congregations... or at least that you aren't yet and i'm not yet one of your parishioners.


kidding. we have some awesome new seminarians! cant wait until they're priests!

p.s. how long before your ordination? i've "known" you for what? four years? so you've been there for what? roughly 3 1/2? 2? i'm bad with time. help me out here...