Dear brothers and sisters, fifteen years ago when Pope Benedict XVI first stepped on to the balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, he expressed surprise that the Cardinals had elected him as Pope. In a reference to today’s Gospel story, he described himself as “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord”, who was comforted to know that the Lord can work “even with inadequate instruments”.
Father Martin, I am sure, like Pope Benedict and all of us bishops on the day of our ordination, you feel a certain sense of nervousness and trepidation, for we are all “inadequate Instruments” whom the Lord has called. But do not be afraid. God’s grace will guide and strengthen you, and you will be surrounded by encouragement and prayerful support.
You bring to the diocese of Kilmore a depth of pastoral experience and a particular understanding of how to encourage the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church. Your pastoral insights on this matter will also be of great value to the Irish Bishops’ Conference because we are committed to a ground-up synodal process for new evangelization and for revitalizing the Church in Ireland.
Pope Saint John Paul II once wrote (CL3): “The vineyard is the whole world which is to be transformed according to God’s plan”, and a “multitude of persons, both women and men” are “called and sent forth” by the Lord to labor in this “vast vineyard”.
As bishops, we need to find new ways of harnessing the tremendous gifts and charisms of our lay faithful. I think today of a young nurse who told me during the lockdown how the Covid19 crisis has opened her eyes to see her nursing work in a new way – as her vocation from God. Like thousands of other health workers and carers – many of whom are committed members of our parishes – she has been witnessing powerfully to the tenderness and compassion of God. Others, including many of our young people, have been willing volunteers during the pandemic, reaching out to the lonely and housebound. These are today’s laborers in the vineyard of the Lord. It is our task, as spiritual and pastoral leaders, to help more people to hear and answer the Lord’s invitation: “You go into my vineyard too”!
Today’s psalm response promises “The Lord loves us with an everlasting love”. In these days of Covid19, many people are struggling with uncertainty and worries about elderly and vulnerable members of their families. They are concerned about their own health, jobs, and livelihoods, about education and future plans. One exasperated businessman asked me during the week: “What are we going to do? What is this all about”? People are yearning for the consolation and hope that comes from an encounter with the Lord. They long to know in their hearts, as your own motto puts it, that “the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever”.
I encourage you then, as bishop, to love your people, pray for them and teach them to pray – especially prayer in the home. These past six months have reminded us of the importance of the “domestic Church” – the Church of the sitting room and kitchen! It has highlighted the vocation of parents as the primary teachers of faith and prayer in the home and family. That is why I am calling for a “Family Rosary Crusade against Covid” during the month of October. I would be grateful for your support in encouraging families here, and throughout Ireland, to pray the Rosary each day during October – or even one decade of the Rosary – for themselves, their loved ones, and for all those whose health or livelihood is being seriously impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
A striking feature of the Parable of the vineyard is the way all the workers are treated equally – from those who responded first and labored all day in the heat, to the latecomers who clocked in at the last minute. Understandably, I suppose, this gave rise to grumbling and complaints.
Pope Francis has explained that what Jesus is doing in the Parable is inviting us to “contemplate the gaze of that landowner: the gaze with which he looks upon each of the laborers searching for work and calls them to go to his vineyard. It is a gaze that is filled with attention, with kindness. It is a gaze which calls, and invites one to get up and begin a journey because he wants life for each of us; he wants a full, committed life, safe from emptiness and inertia. God excludes no one and wants each one of us to achieve his or her fullness” (Angelus 240917).
Similarly, we bishops are called to be like a loving Father, helping our people and priests to discover their personal vocation from God and be able to contribute their gifts to the growth of the Church. These days of restrictions and lockdowns are challenging us to find new ways of reaching out. Viewer statistics from our Church webcams suggest that many thousands of Irish people remain hungry for spiritual nourishment and for the comfort and consolation of God’s Word, even if they may not be regularly attending Mass or the sacraments.
The prophet Isaiah says: “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts”; “God’s ways are not our ways”. Could it be that during these days of pandemic the Holy Spirit is “tilling the field” again, preparing the vineyard for new growth, and calling new hands to the harvest?
New growth and fresh vitality in the vineyard of the Lord will of course only come about if we remain grafted to the vine, which is Jesus Christ. If we abide in Him we shall bear fruit. Apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
One of your tasks as a bishop, both during this crisis and in the future, will be to build unity and to foster communion. During the past six months, we have seen the amazing power of social media to build connections and facilitate worship. But sadly there are those who use social media to create, what Pope Francis has referred to, as “closed circuits” which generate prejudice and fear, pulling and pushing others to extremes. As bishop, you must discern wisely the will of God and build bridges – both online and offline. Be a reconciler, a healer and a peacemaker. Be like a skilled ‘pruner’ in the vineyard who can carefully cultivate new and healthy growth in the branches.
At times it will be your duty to correct error and proclaim the truth of the Gospel – whether it is welcome or unwelcome – to proclaim fearlessly, as Saint Paul did to the Philippians: “Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ”. So do not be afraid to speak up strongly for the dignity of the human person and for the protection of all human life, especially against public policies that fundamentally contradict the moral law – like abortion and euthanasia. Work for justice and peace, for solidarity with the poor and the homeless, and compassion for migrants and refugees and other vulnerable and defenseless people. Support marriage and the family and promote respectful care for the Earth, our common home.
In doing this, speak the truths of the Gospel with patience and mercy, understanding that nowadays our message must touch the human heart in order to inspire change and conversion. And keep in mind our own failings – there remains deep hurt and unhealed trauma in Ireland over the sins and crimes of people in the Church.
As you begin your first day as Bishop of Kilmore, there is good reason, then, to remember again those words of Pope Benedict XVI on his first day as Bishop of Rome, when he described himself as a “simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord”, an “inadequate instrument” always in need the help of the Lord and the protection of Mary, our Blessed Mother. Amen.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.