This excellent and timely sermon was delivered today by Canon Michael Wiener, ICRSS, Rector of St. Francis de Sales Oratory:
We enter the vestibule of Lent: The architecture of the liturgical year allows us to prepare ourselves for the entrance into the most important penitential season in the Church’s life.
“The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.”
The householder is Christ who calls us from the early hours in the morning until the evening. We wouldn’t have known what to do without being hired by him when we were “standing in the market place idle.” He gives us the reward he had promised, eternal life, the penny for a life’s work.
In this parable God’s mercy is glorified, and we are allowed to look on the beautiful edifice of our salvation.
The all merciful God, made man, is the good and responsible householder who looks for His creatures from the morning until the evening. He goes out to the market place, which is the world, to call men into His vineyard which is His Church.
He does this from the early hours in history, beginning with Adam to Moses and to the vocation of the Gentiles. And He does it also from the early hours in our own lives: From the morning of our childhood to the third hour of our youth and the ninth hour of the old age in our life.
God goes out and looks for us. Only He can hire us, without Him we are lost in the marketplace of this world, victims of our sinfulness and the attacks of the devil.
God isn’t obliged to hire us - but He did. God continues to go out into the world to bring us to His vineyard, so much so that the apostle says in his letter to the Philippians:
“But [He] emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” (Philippians 2:7).
Without grace nobody can be saved and grace cannot be merited by natural works. The first part we are quick to believe, but do we really believe the second part?
We are “justified freely by His grace” says the apostle. The council of Trent teaches that our justification can be achieved neither by works of the Old Testament Law nor by observance of the natural law, but that it is a free gift of the love of God. In our days, again filled with Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian empty activism, this dogmatic truth is not favored. But this truth must be known to learn humility. And only true humility makes us love God and our neighbor with sincerity.
“… Not evil-doers alone are called idle but also those who do not do good,” says St. Thomas commenting on the parable of the householder and workers. Knowledge of the teaching about the absolute necessity of grace for our salvation forbids us to live in idleness: “Through idleness we come to lose the good that lasts forever.”
The Church urges us to engage more often and more generously in prayer, in works of divine charity, in answering to the call of Our Lord now and today. The work in the vineyard to which we have been called should have quality, carefully executed, using all our skills given to us by God. The sincere effort counts, and the love with which we make it determines the quality of it.
There is a lot to do for all of us: do you spend every day a certain time in prayer, that is, in the presence of God?
“Inasmuch as prayer places our understanding in the clearness of the divine light, and exposes our will to the warmth of heavenly love, there is nothing which purges our understanding of its ignorance and our will of its depraved inclinations,” says St. Francis de Sales about prayer.
That is what we were hired for in the first place; this is point one in our job description.
This daily effort will make our actions supernaturally fruitful in all spheres of life. Unless we live our lives in the shadows of the divine vineyard, cultivating the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity by fertilizing them with the sacramental graces of Christ, we stand around idle in the marketplace - even if we are hyper-active in all kinds of “socially relevant” activities.
Lent will be the time when we can renew the contract which earns us eternal life. Don’t expect more than a penny! The penny is what you get: it’s all you need to enter heaven. Don’t expect a pay raise! And don’t expect to be paid more than others: eternal life is for all equally eternal.
That doesn’t mean that there is not a difference in the degree of perfection in the beatific vision: “Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.” (I Cor. 3, 8).That is, the man who worked from the early hours of the day enters heaven probably with greater merits, and will have a higher place in heaven. But that is not what the parable is about.
Be assured: there will be no envy on account of the unequal glory in heaven, since perfect love will reign in all and produce perfect unity among us.
God calls us from our earliest years, let this time ahead of us be then the time when we accept the offer God makes us, an offer too good to be refused.