When we listen to Jesus speaking in the Gospels,
and we hear him hit a subject hard – as he does in this passage –
we might say, like kids in school, “wow, he sure burned them!”
And, yes, he did!
But I don’t think the Apostle Matthew tells this story for that reason.
The point isn’t so we can hear what Jesus had to say to other people.
Rather, the point is, what is he saying to you and me, here, now?
So if you ever have trouble understanding a Bible passage,
this is a way to make things much clearer.
Just ask: what does this passage say about me? To me?
As we saw, Jesus was hitting the chief priests, the spiritual leaders.
So this hits home with me, at least;
I hope it hits home with our bishops.
What I’m going to say next is going to be a little tough,
and not pleasant to hear, but I think it needs to be said.
In recent decades, I’m sorry to say that
your spiritual leaders didn’t serve you very well.
After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,
there was all this enthusiasm for “reform” and reorganizing everything.
A lot of folks got carried away.
A lot of it really had nothing to do
with what the Church actually decided at Vatican II.
And now, looking back after 50 years,
while there were good things we can point to –
and I’ll highlight one in a moment –
there were some real problems.
For example, the Holy Mass itself underwent change;
again, some good effects, but some bad.
We had a period of wild experimentation,
and as a result, there was a loss of reverence in many places.
This is something Father Amberger worked hard to restore,
and many, many parishioners have told me
how important it is that our Mass is reverent.
Many who visit here say the same.
But if you visit other places,
you will see a real loss of reverence.
Worse, it was our spiritual leaders –
priests on orders from the bishops –
who removed beautiful altars and statues;
and built some really strange-looking churches.
At the same time, there was this mindset
that anything old-style had to go.
People were told, don’t worry about going to confession,
and penance on Fridays, and many forms of devotion.
Thankfully, these trends have reversed.
Worse was the way handing on of the Faith was derailed.
A whole generation of Catholics grew up
without really knowing the Faith.
I know, because I belonged to that generation,
and I know I’m not the only one.
Worst of all – and this is the ugliest fact to acknowledge –
was the failure to deal decisively with offenses against children.
As a priest, I am deeply ashamed of what happened,
and on behalf of those who ought to apologize, I beg your forgiveness.
Now, this is a sad litany, but the point is
that what happened in the Gospel, still happens;
sometimes our spiritual leaders fail us.
The good news is, that unlike what happened in the first reading,
where God seems to walk away from the vineyard,
what Jesus does is to send new leaders,
who will give him the “produce at the proper times.”
And this brings me to one of the really good things
that has happened since Vatican II.
A theme Vatican II emphasized
was that the mission of the Church
is not merely the task of bishops and priests.
Rather, it belongs to every single one of us.
If you are baptized, you are a Christian;
If you are a Christian, you share in the mission of Jesus Christ.
And while in many cases bishops and priests
dropped the ball in recent decades,
it was the lay faithful of the Church who picked it up.
One of the fruits of laypeople stepping up was to push back,
asking for accountability;
asking for their churches to be beautiful again,
asking for Eucharistic adoration, which was discouraged for awhile.
What’s more, the bishops and priests
who have corrected these mistakes
started as laymen who decided they needed to step up.
So, if you are ever frustrated by our bishops, our priests –
by the pope – then remember what you can do.
You can speak up – with charity and prudence;
You not only can, but you must pray.
If there is one thing that we learned
in the last few decades is just how powerful the Rosary is.
It was the Rosary that won the Cold War – Mary predicted it! –
and there are many, many people here, right now,
who witnessed that miracle:
of the Cold War ending not with nuclear annihilation,
but with barely a shot being fired.
And if you ever think we could have better bishops or priests,
you are absolutely right!
We need men with backbone
who want to give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves,
who aren’t concerned about whether they have an easy life
and lots of money, but who want to be coworkers with Jesus Christ.
So, young men, maybe the better priests we need include you!
Parents, maybe it’s your son or grandson.
And whatever our bishops and priests say, or fail to say;
do, or fail to do, there is a whole lot that can be done
in the Vineyard by you, the baptized faithful.
Look at EWTN: it was founded 31 years ago.
What a change it has brought!
Look at the many great Catholic resources on the Internet.
With a few exceptions, these were created,
not by bishops and priests,
but by ordinary Catholics who just got down to work!
The Holy Spirit did powerful things through them.
Just to give a very simple example here in Russia.
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is trying gather funds
for food for our area soup kitchens.
We’ve done a lot, but this time around,
there hasn’t been a great response,
so can we all give them a helping hand?
They are making it easy, just a financial contribution,
and they will get the food at the best prices.
How about this week, writing a check?
You can make it payable to the parish,
but mark it, “food for the poor” so we know where it should go.
In recent months, it seems like we’ve been hit with too much bad news.
Terrible violence as in Las Vegas. Natural disasters.
Political polarization, some of which is affecting the Church.
It is so easy to get weighed down by all that.
We don’t ignore these things,
but it is the devil who wants us to be discouraged.
Instead, listen to what Saint Paul said in today’s reading.
What is true, what is just, what is “worthy of praise,
think about these things.”
There is one priest in this parish; there are 1,500-1,600 laity.
There are a couple hundred priests
and three bishops in our archdiocese; there are a half-million Catholics.
That is a mighty, mighty army.
Armed with faith; armed with courage;
clothed with grace from the sacrament of confession,
and made strong by the food of the Eucharist,
you and I are powerful coworkers of the Lord.
So don’t ask what Jesus is saying, in this Gospel,
to somebody else.
What is he saying to you?