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The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2020

Watch Father Ryan's homily (it begins at 33:30).

 

Photo by Frank Fullard     I treasure my memories of years past when I would visit family in Ireland at this beautiful season of the year. One of my most vivid memories is of rolling hillsides and rocky headlands as far as the eye can see blanketed with the brilliant red of wild fuchsias. They are everywhere and they are spectacular. Against the blue sky and the blue of the ocean they take your breath away. Years ago, an Irish priest friend of mine told me that the locals referred to fuchsias as ‘the tears of God.’ Only the Irish could come up with that! And, perhaps, only the Irish who have suffered so much over the centuries – and who have held onto their faith against some formidable odds – could have imagined that God would shed tears, that God would even cry.

     Has it ever occurred to you that God might actually weep, shed tears over us and our doings, over our world and what we have made of it?

     Part of me thinks that tears are impossible for God - that with God there is only serene joy, peace, and utter tranquility, but today’s reading from Isaiah suggests otherwise. The reading was a lament, God’s lament over his people, his beloved Chosen People, his vineyard over which he had labored mightily and squandered untold affection. To quote the reading, God “spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower and hewed out a wine press.” Sadly, however, when God went to harvest the grapes all he got was wild grapes. Love’s labor lost.

     The lament that follows is poignant and moving. God, the lover, pours out his anguished heart in words that should move even the hardest of hearts: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes did it bring forth wild grapes?

     It’s not stretching things at all, my friends, to say that God weeps, sheds tears as copious as those Irish fuchsias, sheds tears over the failings and infidelities of the people he loves with an undying love.

     Now, it’s helpful to know the context of a scriptural passage. Isaiah, in that particular passage, was prophesying during a time of great civil unrest – one of the most critical periods in the history of Judah. The great king Uzziah had died and with that, Judah’s prosperity and national glory had come to an end. And the mighty and superior forces of Assyria were now threatening her borders. But, serious as the political crisis was, more serious by far was the spiritual crisis that had overtaken the people. Greed, hypocrisy, and rank injustice were rampant. Judah’s kings, instead of administering justice were oppressing the helpless. The orphan and the widow, the neediest and most defenseless in society, were no longer being protected and cared for: they were left to fend for themselves. And, of course, this made a mockery out of temple worship, took the heart out of it, made it sterile, hollow, hypocritical, totally divorced from life. In Isaiah’s poetic imagery, wild grapes had overtaken the carefully cultivated vines, and the fruits that were harvested were sour and bitter - worthy of the tears of God.

     My friends, as I’ve said so many times, the scriptures live in the now, not in the past. God’s word is dynamic, not static. If Isaiah was speaking in God’s name today, I doubt that his words would differ much from those which he spoke so long ago.  That’s because God is still shedding tears over this world of ours – over the glorious creation that we are destroying and exploiting for our own selfish gain; over the billions of people living in poverty; over the billions who are discriminated against because of their race, religion, social status, or sexual orientation. Over countless lives systematically snuffed out or casually disregarded in this throw-away culture of ours; over immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers turned back at our borders. And on and on it goes. How is it possible that God is not at this very moment shedding tears, weeping over our world, lamenting our injustices?

     These are important things for us to reflect on these days before the election. The vote we will cast is one of our great privileges as citizens and one of our great responsibilities. And our vote is also a holy thing. It is. Our vote is a statement of faith, as well as an act of justice. In the letter I’ve directed to you today, I do my best to remind you of some of the things that we as conscientious Catholics must think about as we vote. I remind you that we are not single-issue people: we are people who believe in and profess what Pope St. John Paul II called the Gospel of Life, a gospel that champions all of life from womb to tomb and at every stage in-between. Every human being without exception – but especially those whose lives are degraded and diminished by extreme poverty, or discrimination, or injustice in its many forms – every human being needs to be our concern when we cast our vote. That is our responsibility and a solemn one it is.

     My friends, the tears of God will flow over our world and our nation until we heed the call of Isaiah to do the works of justice, until we heed the call of Jesus to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and care for the sick and imprisoned. We should scarcely need to be reminded that this is not politics - that this is religion - because as long as we do it for one of his least brothers or sisters, we are doing it for him.

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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