On September 5-15, I was in Rome to attend a course for new bishops. The course is held every September for the bishops named over the past year. Some call it “Baby Bishops’ School.” There were 114 bishops with 21 from the U.S.A., 20 from Brazil, 12 Italians, and others from around the world. We met with Pope Francis who had a black eye from hitting his head in Columbia. As a young man he worked as a bouncer in a bar. So he joked about his black eye by saying that someone punched him.
The focus of the course was on the Bishop as one who discerns, or who listens constantly for God’s will. Pope Francis emphasized a few aspects of this discernment. First, the Holy Spirit is the protagonist of discernment. Only the Holy Spirit knows God’s will, so we need to be led by the Spirit. He said, “Only those who are led by God have the title and authority to be proposed as leaders of others. One may teach and grow in discernment only if familiar with this inner teacher who, like a compass, offers the criteria to distinguish, for himself and for others, the times of God and His grace.”
He emphasized the need to PRAY, to bring the situations of our diocese to prayer. That has been one of my practices…. to pray over the situations that arise. People have told me that they are praying for me, and that encourages me. Please pray that I will be “led by God.”
Second, Pope Francis said that discernment is given by the Holy Spirit as a gift to the whole Church, so as a bishop I need to listen to other bishops, our priests and lay people. On the one hand, as a bishop I need to listen to others in the Church. On the other hand, it means that all of you need to be strong in prayer, so that you will speak as people guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to pray daily, so that together we can help each other walk with the Spirit.
Do you pray every day to be “led by God” in your work or at school? Do you ask God to lead your family? Do you pray for God to guide you as a disciple in the Church?
The Pope invited us to cultivate an attitude of LISTENING so that we “grow in the freedom of renouncing our own point of view, and seek God’s point of view.” We find God’s point of view in the Gospel. Reading the Gospel keeps correcting my attitude. Do you read the Gospel daily so that you live by God’s point of view?
Francis said, “Discerning therefore means humility and obedience. Humility with regard to one’s own projects. Obedience to the Gospel [is] the ultimate criterion. . .” Let’s take a few minutes to be obedient to the Gospel so that we are renewed in God’s perspective.
Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who hires workers for his vineyard. Biblically, to “work in the vineyard” is to belong to the people of God. It is to live in the covenant of his faithful love and imitate his justice (Is. 5:1-7). To work in the vineyard is to drink from the chalice of mercy and to pour out his mercy for others. God wants his people to taste the JOY of his wine and commands them to bear fruit by loving one another after the example of Christ (Jn. 15:11-13).
Because God wants us to taste the JOY of his wine, he urgently hires laborers for his vineyard. I remember the urgency of my dad at harvest time. We pushed hard from dawn to dusk, which meant that we worked many 12 hour days. But there is an interesting twist in the Lord’s vineyard. God works the hardest. He goes out again and again to find laborers ….. at dawn, at 9 o’clock, at noon, at 3 PM and 5 PM. God is constantly searching for more laborers. Why?
Not because he is greedy for grapes. Rather, he wants everyone to experience the JOY of life in the vineyard. God doesn’t want anyone to miss out. He longs for us to drink deeply from the life of his Son. As Jesus said, “I have come that you may have LIFE and have it in abundance” (Jn. 10:10). Another time he said, “I have told you this so that my own JOY may be in you and your joy be complete (Jn. 15:11).
As a new school year starts and you are busy with so many activities, do you take time to be quiet in prayer each day? NOT because you have to pray as a duty before God, BUT to rest in his peace … to find strength in turmoil … to be guided by his light.
Jesus tells us that God constantly invites people to work in his vineyard. He is always seeking to get our attention. Catherine of Siena said it this way, “Don’t you understand? God is running after you day and night, as though he has nothing else to do but simply to occupy himself with you.”
Do you see God’s initiative in your life? The Holy Spirit is constantly whispering in your ear: “Let me guide you. Take some time to read the Gospel today. Stop and pray so that I can help you.” God takes that initiative with everyone …. even those who have been standing around idle all day. To be IDLE in the vineyard is to fail to produce fruit (2 Pet. 1:8). It means to be living without God and acting selfishly.
Even if you are not hired until the last hour of the day, even if you have been idle or living without God, you still get full pay when you agree to work in the vineyard. This is another parable on Mercy. God bestows his Life and Mercy on anyone who responds to his invitation. That makes the workers hired at dawn grumble: “The last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.”
Do I see myself as an equal with every person? Or do I see myself as better than others who may not have been raised with the gift of faith that I have known?
Jesus’ response gives us the greatest lesson here.
“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?”
Have you let the generosity of Christ sink into your heart? God keeps on loving you even when you ignore him. Today at the Eucharist, let that generosity fill you. Second, ask for the grace to bear fruit in the vineyard – to love selflessly and generously.