27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXVII per Annum A 

8 October 2017

In the Scripture the vineyard is always an image for the gathering of God’s People. As the Prophet Isaiah himself says, the vineyard is Israel. Later, upon Israel’s failure to recognize and accept Jesus as the awaited Messiah, the vineyard is the Church as the fulfillment of the gathering of God’s People, open to anyone who will produce the fruit of the kingdom. By faith and baptism we are called to be members of Jesus’ Body and we are called to belong to the only Church he himself established: the Catholic Church. But we are not called to belong to the vineyard of the Church for the purpose of our own praises or to simply be members, as if in a club. Rather, taking the plain lesson of the Scriptures, we are called to belong to Jesus and to his Church in order to produce the fruit of God’s Kingdom.  The obvious question for us then is: Will we produce the fruit of God’s kingdom?  Will we be a crop of “wild grapes” or will we produce the fruit of holiness and virtue that are signs that we are the cultivated and beloved vintage of God’s kingdom?

Two recent pictures I came across in the news serve as images to me that our world has us surrounded by wild grapes, bad fruit. The first is a picture from some mass protest.  A man associated with an organization promoting the abandonment of Christianity is pictured.  The organization claims Christianity and false beliefs about Jesus (things like Jesus is God) are responsible for many of the world’s problems. The kicker is this: the man is holding a sign reading “If Jesus returns, kill him again.” Let that sink in. “If Jesus returns, kill him again.” The second picture is from one of the recent hurricanes whose force ripped ships loose from their moorings.  I think the image of a boat ripped from its anchor, tossed about, and causing untold damage as it thrashes and beats against everything in its vicinity is an apt image of our world at this time. Christians and historic Christian lands have abandoned the true faith. In other cases, the label “Christian” remains but the substance is not the Gospel but rather a nonsensical, irrational “tolerance” that betrays the real point: that nothing is really so true as to stake your life on it, except of course for anything that it is fashionable to tolerate.  And the wild grapes are wider than the abandonment of Christianity. Other religions and even non-religious people seem to have lost the ability to reason and have become unhinged from the foundation of truth, tossed about like a boat torn from its anchor. Radical extremist Islam has a well-documented trail of blood demonstrating its violence. Yet it is not uncommon to find that secular elites can’t bring themselves to admit that, at the very least, this does present a problem for the whole of Islam that it must address in an authoritative way if it can be permitted for even a second to be called the religion of peace. The wild grapes of our world don’t stop with throwing off the moorings of Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. They even throw off clear undeniable facts in order to self- define and self-identify who and what they are, who they are with, who they marry and more. Most children learn from an early age and certainly by sixth grade science class that the reproductive system bespeaks the truth of male and female relationships. Not anymore. And there goes marriage too. Now not even the body gets to speak with any finality because despite the truth of genetic make-up modern man can claim to be the other sex and even alter his physical truth. But of course, it’s people like you and me who are the unscientific ones, believing all sorts of crazy fantasy. The irony is actually deeper than the intellectual force of these unhinged arguments.

Wild grapes are all around us. We are foolish if we think we can sit back and be generally nice and they won’t overtake us and choke us off like wild vines always do against choice vines.  So, let me ask again: Will we produce the fruit of God’s kingdom? The world needs disciples, and the Lord requires disciples, to be witnesses of truth and to produce the fruit of God’s kingdom. This is sorely needed in our time. There are many necessary responses to the crises of our time. I don’t pretend to know them all and I can’t overload you with many of them. But I do want to highlight one that has power and one that has historically been our uniquely Catholic response. It is invoking daily the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary who brought Truth in the flesh to this world, her Son Jesus Christ!  October is a month typically dedicated to one particularly strong and valuable spiritual practice – a spiritual weapon even – the Holy Rosary. October is dedicated to the Rosary because of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), which is itself directly related to the memorial of how navies from Christian empires defeated invading Islam at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Since the Christian navies were largely outnumbered by the Islamic navies the Pope called upon all of Christian Europe to pray the Rosary for success in the battle. The Christian victory was considered miraculous and attributed to Mary’s intercession. The pope then established an annual feast day called Our Lady of Victory, which later has come to be called the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In our modern age we can tend to forget that we are in battle. Most definitely we must be clear that each disciple is in personal spiritual battle to produce the fruit of God’s kingdom and to deny Satan and his kingdom. But we are also in a battle external to ourselves. A battle for culture. A battle for the meaning of human sexuality, marriage, and the family.  The Rosary is a weapon we would be foolish to ignore.  It will change you personally. It will also impact the world around us in ways we cannot foresee. 

I am not giving strong direction to learn and pray the Rosary as if it is the only prayer a Catholic should say. There are many ways to pray and we each need to pray in various ways. But I am saying that we should not ignore the Rosary. If prayed as it is intended, it is a type of meditation and it places us before the mystery of God’s saving plan for us, even as it invokes the Blessed Mother for our needs. In the 1950s Pope Pius XII released a document promoting the recitation of the Holy Rosary. But the title of that document might surprise you.  The document on praying the Rosary is called  Ingruentium Malorum, which in Latin means “In the face of approaching evils.” Pius XII’s description of the conflicts, the bloodshed, and the attempts to undermine the faith even of children in the 50s might make you think the document was written today. In this 100th anniversary year of Mary’s appearance at Fatima we cannot express surprise that one of the visionaries reported that the final battle between Satan and the Church would be over marriage and family life.  But Mary, being the fulfillment of the woman in Genesis who crushes the serpent’s head, is a powerful intercessor in this battle.  We should pick up our Rosaries.  Pick up a pamphlet from church that teaches its recitation. Go online for resources to learn how to pray it. Use it at home in your family. Pray at least some part of it even if you can’t keep small children’s attention for the whole Rosary. From personal experience I can tell you that if you have a drive of at least about 14 miles (that’s from Edmond to the Cathedral, by the way!), you have time to get a Rosary in.  Do not leave this weapon sheathed and dull.  The Rosary will change you. It will aid your personal battles.  It will help you produce the fruits of God’s kingdom. And, in so doing, it will help you be a valuable part in the battle for the soul of our world.