Editor’s note: This week, Bishop Lucia shares the prepared text of the homily he preached Oct. 4, Respect Life Sunday.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious …, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
Brothers and sisters, there are actually a lot of things to think about on this first Lord’s Day of the month of October. It is Respect Life Sunday and the beginning of Respect Life Month. It is the beginning of the delayed 2020 HOPE Appeal in our diocese. It is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi and the conclusion of the worldwide observance of the newly designated Season of Creation, drawing attention to our care for all of God’s creation. And finally, it is the month of the Rosary, as this Wednesday we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, also known as Our Lady of Victory.
Atop of all of this, there is an intensity in this Sunday’s Scripture readings that mirrors the times in which we live. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah is in the form of an allegory. God plants a vineyard and tends it lovingly, but instead of producing good fruit it yields wild, also translated “rotten,” grapes. At the end of the reading we are told that these “rotten” grapes are “bloodshed” and the outcry of the oppressed. Despite the teachings of the Law and the prophets, the people of God have turned their back on God’s commandments. In the rest of the chapter, Isaiah outlines the many sins of the people, including debauchery, corruption, and depriving the innocent of justice.
Much like the vineyard described in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, a crop of wild and unsavory grapes, which we might name COVID-19, abuse of power, and social unrest, threatens the very vitality of the vineyard that is today’s human society. It may seem that those to whom the vineyard has been leased are not taking proper care of it, abusing not only their authority but forgetting that it is the Lord’s vineyard, and threatening as well the very dignity of the sons and daughters of the vineyard owner.
In the midst of the upheaval, both Jesus and Paul appeal to our roots, our mission as citizens of both the Kingdom of God and of society itself. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls to mind for his listeners a basic lesson of Scripture, rooted in the incalculable value of the human person: that the rejected one has the innate potential to be the cornerstone.
I looked up exactly what it meant to be a “cornerstone” and this is what I found: a stone uniting two masonry walls at an intersection; a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building, usually carved with the date and laid with appropriate ceremonies; something that is essential, indispensable, or basic; the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed.
In other words, sisters and brothers, the indispensable building block of our world and of the Kingdom of God is the human person. And it is in the human person, made in the very image and likeness of God, that heaven and earth intersect. Whether a diploid cell known at the time of conception as a zygote, or a more advanced embryo, or the fetus in the womb, or the frail elderly or the terminally ill, or the most vulnerable of our society — each and every life, no matter its sex, no matter its color, no matter whether it is healthy or unhealthy, bears the imprint of the divine. Each and every human being has the innate potential to be a cornerstone in the building of a just social order and of the Kingdom of God itself.
This truth challenges then the tenants of the vineyard to guard and protect in all possible ways its occupants and to avoid mismanagement in all its forms, whether it be abuse in all its appearances; abortion; euthanasia; physician-assisted suicide; the death penalty; embryonic stem cell research; racism; unjust war; failure to help the hungry, the homeless, or those lacking health care; unjust immigration policies; discrimination; redefining the God-given institutions of marriage and family; lack of care for the environment; or any other morally flawed position.
In turn, sisters and brothers, you and I pick up this mission of stewardship in our daily living.
One way is through our own care for the poor and needy of our society. A way we can do this is through our local Church and its annual HOPE Appeal. Every year the programs and services supported by the HOPE Appeal touch countless lives in every city, town, and rural area throughout our diocese. Let me be clear when I say that the money is not used for litigation or the settling of legal claims. It is used solely for the care of the Lord’s vineyard in Central New York, which of course is the People of God.
A second way is our own care for the environment and the recognition that in God’s eyes, we are brothers and sisters all. This Lord’s Day, Pope Francis gives us a new encyclical letter titled, “Fratelli Tutti.” In a note personally sent on Friday to the bishops of the world via email, Francis states, “Its title is the message of Jesus encouraging us to recognize one another as brothers and sisters and to live accordingly in the common home that the Father has entrusted to us.”
Certainly, in this month dedicated to our mother Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary, we could use this reflective prayer to advance our own Gospel living while praying for the unity and care commended to us by our Holy Father.
A third and final way, very much on our minds these days, is our upcoming national, state, and local elections. That is why it is important, brothers and sisters, when considering the choices for our nation’s leadership, to form properly our consciences by reflecting upon the moral and social teachings of our Church, and to pray for guidance as suggested by St. Paul in today’s second reading.
Heed the call of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”: “As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square. We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all. … For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around” (Introduction).
Sisters and brothers, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious …, think about these things … then the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8). Amen.