By Fr. Glenn Jones
So … Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (commonly a.k.a., “RBG”) finally succumbed to the cancer that’s been plaguing her for so long; may she rest in peace. No matter what political flavor you might ascribe to, you certainly can’t fault her dedication. Lots of people say that they want to “die in harness”, but she fought and did it. But, inevitably … we’re in store for an even more “interesting” time in the political arena just before the election … much like a tornado adds “interest” to a thunderstorm.
We all have an instinctive fear of death … the great unknown. “What’s it like?” we wonder. Even atheists often fear death … which may belie their trust in their beliefs. “What if all that Christian stuff is actually…true?!”, they may find themselves asking in that too-often sudden and unexpected moment before death.
Waiting until one’s potential earthly end to explore the truth of life after death, however, is foolhardy in the extreme, especially with eternity hanging in the balance. And yet … we Christians believe that God’s grace cannot NOT but work in everyone’s life, for our very existence is dependent upon that grace, and until the end of life—whether it be long or short—His grace seeks to strike deeper root within us.
We see this in the Gospel parable of the Catholic Mass this weekend—that of the vineyard owner who hires workers all during the day, and rewards them equally at the close of work (Matthew 20). Likewise, the master of the eternal vineyard comes to each of us innumerable times in our lives, seeking to “hire” us to labor in His vineyard—not for a paltry wage, but for eternal life. The “hire” is our acceptance of His call.
Now, we all have God’s basic law imbued within us at our creation—that which is called “natural law”, basic principles of right and wrong, justice and injustice, morality etc., which are universal. This is explicit in the 10 Commandments, as well as in other religions and philosophies: respecting the Creator, parents, the other person—our neighbor. Yet we are also called to labor in the garden to improve the world for our fellow Man—those both working with us and those not—as part of our “hire”. The constant “Help Wanted” ad is human conscience … ever goading us to do what is right and to avoid that which is wrong. Even those not exposed to Christianity have this unrelenting goad of conscience to follow what God has imbued within us. We can suppress conscience, but it is relentless.
But laboring in God’s vineyard by no means is easy; in fact, the faithful Christian (or one faithful to conscience) is often a “lone ranger” either in our family, among friends or in society at large. Imagine the difficulty of having to break from one’s whole family in order to do the right. And yet … with great courage, many do that very thing, like many others who refuse to compromise principles, come what may. RBG, for example—right or wrong, loved and reviled—remained faithful to her own principles. Most people respect such persons infinitely more than those who blow with the prevailing wind.
And we remember that it’s much easier to follow the good when we keep ourselves in like company … to labor alongside our fellow workers in the field. As St. Paul emphasized: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) But even if we have to go it alone, God gives us the grace to do so, for “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength…” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Such is not a challenge uncommon in our day: to not lie when so many do so, to not disparage others while many are, to not click on websites or watch programs or listen to media which denigrate others, etc.
But the primary point of Jesus’ parable, I think, is simply to relay God’s unbounded generosity … emphasizing His love for all who sincerely seek Him—whenever they find Him during their lives. God—the vineyard owner—calls everyone one way or another—even from birth because of that natural law ingrained within us, and even those who may never even have heard of Jesus. No person is created simply to be rejected, otherwise, how could St. Paul claim that God “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
Remember the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15) … angry and jealous of his younger brother who squandered his father’s wealth, and yet returned home repentant to the joy of his father. The father assures the resentful older brother: “Son…It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32) So let us rejoice with those who find God whenever they find Him … because many people never do. And rejoice that we are privileged to work in our Father’s vineyard even now.
God may call to the harvest at different times and in different ways—perhaps with a special prodding of grace that finally breaks through our deafness … ends our blindness. We are created Good, but it is our own choice to remain in that goodness … or not.
We are not our competitors in the spiritual life, but rather teammates … or, better yet, family.
Some run faster … some slower … some may have to stop and walk a while. But our desire should be to get all across the finish line. And leadership is not just getting yourself across the line, but helping and encouraging your teammates along the way.
That’s the way to look at others who may be struggling in the faith, or even in basic morality—not to be superior, not to berate, but to encourage and to support, and to point out the obstacles and dangers in their path. They may have to lean on you a while, but that’s what Christianity is: helping others, and to “…preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2) … keeping our eyes fixed on the goal and striving to help all to reach it.
That is the leadership to which we are called … to be the “…salt of the earth and the light of the world.” (cf., Matthew 5:13, 14).
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.