Peace be with you on this 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the feast of Francis of Assisi! Vineyard. The owner of the vineyard is our Creator who expects a fruitful harvest from the vineyard, our Common Home. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God expected sweet grapes of honesty and justice but the people produced the bitterness of dishonesty and bloodshed. What is God to do with this people? In the Gospel parable, God sends His only son to reap the harvest, but he is killed by the renters of the vineyard. To whom will God entrust the vineyard?
When I think vineyard, what comes to my mind are the beautiful vineyards of Napa Valley in California. While thinking of the picturesque panorama, concerns crop up; are they in danger of wildfires? Of sufficient moisture with weather changes brought on by global warming? What about sufficient healthy workers for harvesting the grapes with the border control impeding migrant workers compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic. While these anxieties begin to cloud the photo of a perfect vineyard, the second reading from Philippians provides the antidote to worry: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”
It is no easy matter to turn over our anxieties, or concerns for our family and our work, to God. Jesus went off in the early morning to pray, Francis of Assisi would go off to hermitages in the mountains to pray. What are our practices? This summer I made my annual retreat at a Jesuit retreat center on the shores of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. It was not easy to turn off my mental anxiety switches and surrender to the goodness of God. Paul wrote to the Philippians that there would be peace that surpasses all understanding. What does peace look like?
For some, a statue of Saint Francis holding a bird or having a bird on his shoulder. How peaceful would we need to be to have birds come to rest on us? This inner peace that we yearn for is what God yearns for us to have.
As I sat by the shores of the lake quieting my mind I reflected on the life of Francis and the lifelong journey of turning completely to God. Just as fruit needs to ripen to become sweet, so Francis needed to change and come into God’s light to bear good fruit in God’s vineyard. He was an ambitious young man who got outfitted to be a knight fighting with the nobility. In his first battle he was captured and after a year of suffering the inhumanity of a medieval prison he was ransomed and returned home to Assisi, a troubled person suffering PTSD. One day while roaming the hills he happened into the rundown San Damiano chapel. While he was emoting and praying before the life size icon of Jesus on the Cross, he was startled to hear the audible voice of Jesus speak: “Francis, go rebuild my house; as you see, it is all being destroyed.” (I am speaking to you standing beneath a replica of that icon.) Naturally, Francis was deeply shaken by this personal encounter with Jesus that drastically changed the direction of his life. He began to rebuild chapels but this evolved into rebuilding the Church that is the Body of Christ. The means of restoring the vitality of the Church members was two fold, - his words and his example. His preaching awakened in the hearts of the faithful the goodness of God’s love for them. His joyful spirit caught the attention of the public. Why was he joyful? He owned nothing, begged for his food, went to leper colonies to serve them, and he had no place to call home. His demeanor attracted the laity to consider their own relationship with God, the source of joy. Francis’ example and his preaching of God’s love God awakened the dormant faith of the faithful and a renewal movement ignited in the Church. Francis would be walking on the streets greeting people, “Buon Giorno, Buone Gente!” which means “Good Day, Good People.” Imagine these illiterate workers being told by this holy preacher that they were good. What startling news when they felt oppressed on every level.
Isn’t this what we are longing for today? A new awareness of our own goodness, the peace of God in our inner hearts? Just yesterday, October 3, Pope Francis signed a new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, - All, Brothers and sisters. I am looking forward to its publication, to read, study, and appropriate its message. No doubt this new teaching will exhort us to develop practices of care for others without exclusions.
A dramatic story in Francis of Assisi’s life was his embrace of a leper early in his conversion story. Lepers were abhorred for fear of contracting the disease, yet Francis tended lepers witnessing to his universal love for everyone. As we desire to develop a vineyard that pleases God and deepens our inner peace we come to realize that there can be no fences around the perfect vineyard. We are being called to be in relationship with all of creation and all peoples and creatures. Lest we get frightened by the expectation to be so magnanimous, keep in mind that God planted the law of love in our hearts. I quote again from today’s reading, Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
May you have peace enjoying life in the vineyard today!
Ramona Miller, OSF
Ramona Miller, OSF
Sister Ramona Miller began her pre-Vatican II ministry as an elementary school teacher. She widened her horizon with numerous experiences in pastoral ministry in parishes as Director of Adult Faith Formation, and Pastoral Associate and at retreat centers. She served as Director of Spiritual Formation at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California (2002-2006) and on her congregation’s leadership team (2006-2012). For over twenty-five years, she was a staff member of the Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs leading pilgrimages to Assisi, Italy. The interactions with pilgrims from around the world further expanded her awareness of cultures and spiritualities. Sister Ramona served as the president of the National Franciscan Federation (2009 – 2012) and she continues to offer presentations on contemporary aspects of Franciscan spirituality including virtual pilgrimages to Assisi. Currently, she is the elected leader/president of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota. She is a graduate of Seattle University (master’s degree in Ministry) and the Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University (master’s degree in Franciscan Studies). In addition, she is the author of In the Footsteps of Saint Clare, and co-author of Praying with Clare of Assisi.