When Pope Benedict XVI began his pontificate he described himself as just a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. And certainly we must keep him – and our world in our prayers – especially in these days when some have taken words he spoke during his recent visit to his homeland out of context and are using them as an excuse to foment violence. As Father Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, said: rather than to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful, the Pope’s talk was a warning addressed to Western culture to avoid ‘the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom’. And he rightly call all people – whether Christian, Muslim or other – never to make religion the motivation for violence. As I said, we must keep him and our world in prayer.
Now, my vineyard is certainly a bit smaller than his, (and perhaps, in these here parts, we see more grapefruit than grapes); but, let me say that I am so happy that, in spite of my unworthiness, God has called me to this vineyard – to these nine counties of Central Florida that make up this Diocese of Orlando. Here in this vineyard as well, this local Church, Christ is the vine – and we, all of us, are the branches, branches from which the vine grower, God our Father, looks to harvest much fruit.
18 months ago, I convoked the first general synod of our Diocese with the theme, “Starting afresh from Christ”. The purpose of the synod was not just to develop new projects or new programs – but to initiate a pastoral revitalization of our parishes, schools and our diocesan institutions. The Synod was to help us to, more effectively and more coherently, in other words, more fruitfully, proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ. In Novo Millenio Ineunte, one of the basic guides for our Synod reflections, Pope John Paul II reminded us the program already exists – it is the gospel.
Pope Benedict said last week: I came to Germany, to Bavaria, to re-propose the eternal truths of the gospel as present day truths and strength, and to strengthen believers in their adherence to Christ, the Son of God who became man for our salvation.” The pope continues: “I am convinced, in the faith, that in Him, in his word, is found the way not only to attain eternal happiness, but also to build already a future worthy of man upon this earth”.
In other words, we are not saved by programs but by a person, namely Jesus Christ; and, he is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
The hoped for fruit of our Synod – through the implementations of its many recommendations – is to help all of us, priests, deacons, religious and members of Christ’s faithful, to become more Alive in Christ – so that we can be his witnesses, witnesses to hope, to a hope that because it is centered in Christ will not disappoint.
On Sunday, at Mass in the second reading, St. James reminded us that faith, of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Although it is true that faith is the beginning of salvation and that without faith we cannot please God, it is also true that a living faith must yield fruit in the form of deeds. We are called to be alive in Christ – with a firm faith working through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). Sharing in Christ’s life through his grace, we cooperate with him in his work of redemption so that the people living here in Central Florida may encounter Christ, the way to conversion, to communion, to solidarity.
The crisis of our times can be described as a crisis of hope. Many people – in our communities, in our nation, in our world, are angry, many people are fearful, too many others are despairing. The social problems of our age betray this hopelessness – can we not say that drug abuse, promiscuity, divorce and the breakup of the family, abortion, are all symptomatic of a lost of hope. A person who would poison himself through drug abuse is someone who has no hope for himself. A mother would will kill the fruit of her womb has lost hope in the future – for children are the hope of the future. The exclusion of God promoted in the ideologies of the past century – whether of the collectivist bent of communism
or of the individualist bent of consumerism – were hopeless. All point to a loss of the sense of transcendence – to the fact that we are call to something more than this life, that we were made for more than just to die. This what hope calls us to. Even the abuse and manipulation of religion as we see among the terrorist reveals the despair of a world that has forgotten its proper relationship to its Creator.
More than ever, the Church – and that means all of us baptized into the Lord Jesus and thus constituted as members of his body, as branches on the vine that is the Lord – more than ever we must witness to the hope that is ours in our Lord, Jesus Christ – for he is a hope that does not disappoint.
As a diocesan community of faith, hope and love, we must recommit ourselves to our baptismal vocation to holiness. Remain in me, Jesus tells us, as I remain in you. This is the gift and the task before us –as we seek to bring to fruit the promise of our synod.
But, as Pope Benedict, said: we must be humble workers in his vineyard. As we move forward to implement that various plans and proposals that came from our 20 synod commissions, we must be fully conscious of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “without me, you can do nothing”.
And so as we move forward, we keep in mind what the Pope wrote in Deus Caritas Est: “In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: ‘The love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5: 14). #35 Deus Caritas Est.