St. Paul urges us to “have no anxiety at all.” That’s a bit hard with all that is going on in our world – destructive weather, violence and shootings, terror and civil discord. Our hearts go out to all those hurting and all who worry about them. We pray in a special for those affected by the shooting in Las Vegas.
These realities can lead not only to anxiety, but fear, even despair. St. Thomas Aquinas labeled despair “the sorrow of the world.”
How in the midst of all that can we be not be anxious? St Paul provides the formula: he wrote “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God.” In other words with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through His church which Paul helped build we can look beyond the heaviness to the many beautiful and uplifting things that are around us as well, most significantly the reality of God’s love for us reflected in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In response to destructive weather and violence and discord in its many forms, we see the generosity, the acts of kindness, and the heroic efforts to save and support those in harm’s way and in need. The harshness of life can be put into perspective when we take the broader and higher view.
Prayer lifts us beyond ourselves and into the arms of God. Our readings from Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew remind us what happens when man focuses is in on himself and rejects or neglects God.
Someone said creation is God’s vineyard and that we are the stewards of all that we see. In the first reading from Isaiah, the story is told of a vineyard that was planted on fertile ground. Yet the result was not what was expected. Wild grapes were produced, bitter to the taste. So the vineyard was abandoned. Scripture scholars tell us this describes the nation of Israel without justice, without God at the center. They were poor stewards of God’s creation including themselves. The result was despair and eventually destruction.
In response to the denial of Him, God did not destroy the vineyard. Rather He simply turned it fully over to the stewards, to man. It is not hard to imagine given the world we live in what happened over time when the vineyard was left in human hands alone. When God is absent we experience all the things that create anxiety because there are no standards, no moral principles, no higher things to lift man’s vision and offer hope.
In the Gospel Jesus tells of the vineyard that was well cared for by tenants as temporary stewards, knowing they were under the guidance of the landowner and they would receive their reward. Good fruit was produced but the tenants became greedy and self-centered thinking only about themselves, refusing to the give the owner his just due, even killing his son. That too led to destruction because God was absent from their thoughts and actions.
October is Respect Life month. It gives us the special opportunity to ask ourselves: do we as individuals and as a nation give God his due. He is the giver of life, our landowner. He is due our gratitude and our homage which is reflected in how we respect our brothers and sisters. This underlines the truth that every person from natural conception to natural death is ordained by God to have the opportunity to live his or her life as God created them to do.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once put it so simply: “Each of us is willed; each of us is loved; each of us is necessary, because each of us is the result of a thought of God.” How beautiful an image: God thought of each of us.
In the fifth century, gladiator competitions to the death were still held in the Coliseum in Rome to the amusement of crowds. One day a Christian hermit named Telemachus jumped into the arena and threw himself between the fighting gladiators. He urged them in the name of Christ to stop their fighting, but one of them struck him with a sword and he fell to the ground dead. The 80,000 spectators who had been jeering him for interfering in their fun became silent. We are told the games never occurred again. He witnessed the presence of God to his death.
To respect life sometimes means we must wake up to what we are doing or condoning, then jump into the fray and call others to a moral standard that respects them so much we want to protect them from anxiety, fear and despair, not imposing but not looking the other way either. We must not pull back from standing up for the truth. Deep down we know that injustice and disrespect, treating others as objects or obstacles or economic tools is wrong. Prayer, referencing our lives to God can guide us through this messy world facing the reality but not despair.
This week Congressman Steve Scalise who was shot while practicing for a charity baseball game returned to Congress after months of multiple surgeries, grueling physical therapy, restless nights and surely much pain. When asked how he endured all of that, the congressman, a practicing Catholic, said it “starts with God.” He recalled that while down on the ground, unable to move, not knowing if he would live, he began to pray. He said it was incredibly calming knowing that God was in charge.
St Paul urges us: “’whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there ever is any excellence and if there ever is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. . . Then the peace of God will be with you.” Look at the good in our midst while facing that which needs conversion.
Creation is God’s vineyard. We are the stewards of all that we see, including one another. May we have the wisdom and courage each day to be respectful of God the creator, so that all who are “a thought of God” may have life and have it to the full, free from anxiety, filled with hope.