Usurpers of The Vineyard
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
6 October 2002
St. Thomas More Church
The past two Sundays we heard parables about a vineyard. This Sunday Jesus gives us a third vineyard parable, but unlike the previous two this one has an ominous, even violent character. Jesus now says that servants will rebel against the vineyard owner (God himself) and attempt to take it over for their own purposes. He predicts that there will be usurpers of the vineyard.
PBS (you know what PBS stands for: the “P” stands for “Pagan”... and everybody knows what “BS” stands for) gave us a glimpse into the current effort to usurp Jesus’ vineyard. This particular presentation of Frontline presented what was ostensibly a documentary about the papacy of Pope John Paul II. However, it seemed to be less of a documentary than a soapbox for dissenters from Catholic teaching, many of whom bitterly criticized the current Holy Father. My purpose here is not to question the use of tax money to produce what was overall an attack on the pope. After all, I recognize that they would naturally focus on controversy in order to make a more engaging program. Nor am I ungrateful for some beautiful, powerful scenes such as showing the Holy Father in intense prayer. Rather I would like to focus on what it revealed about “usurpers” in the Lord’s vineyard.
If you get nothing else out of this homily, please get this: Those who wish to take over the vineyard use two strategies to discredit Jesus’ teaching. Please catch these two strategies. Strategy #1 is to ascribe irrational motives to those who teach in Jesus’ name. That’s exactly what the Pagan Broadcasting System did in this particular Frontline. What we saw in that show was a constant probing of the psychological origins of the pope’s teaching. For example, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as his opposition to ordination of women are attributed to the early death of his mother and his failure to come to grips with that traumatic event. But wait a second. The devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the ordination of men have been the constant teaching and practice of the Church since day one. Are they saying that all the popes, for the past 2000 years, had the same psychological history? Of course not. The only rational explanation for their attempt to sweep Church doctrine under the rug of psychobabble is Strategy #1. They were attempting to discredit the Church by displaying her teachings on a psychotherapist’s couch.
So strategy #1 is to ascribe irrational motives to those who teach in Jesus’ name. Strategy #2 is to accuse the representative of the Church of inconsistency, even hypocrisy. Once again, that’s exactly what happened during this PBS show. The dissenters that were paraded across the screen kept repeating things like, “The pope defends justice and democracy outside the Church, but inside he promotes injustice and authoritarianism.” But wait a second. Suppose a university president criticizes some piece of government legislation, which he has every right to do. Do we then expect him to allow the faculty and student body to vote on every university policy, and call him a hypocrite for not doing so? Of course not. We recognize that every university (and hospital and corporation) is a voluntary organization with its own constitution and hierarchy. The fact they are hierarchies does not discredit them any more than it does the Armed Forces or functional families. Why then is it unjust or even undemocratic for the Church to have its own procedures and to be governed by a hierarchy? I have sometimes wanted to say to dissenters, “If you really hate hierarchies so much, then be intellectually honest enough to drop out of your HMO, quit your job at Microsoft, don’t send your son to the university, but please stop pretending the Catholic Church is the only hierarchical organization on the planet!”
On the PBS show, one woman who wanted to become a priest accused the Church of injustice and she did so in a most emotional way. Eyes brimming with tears, voice cracking, she talked about her desire to be a priest and how unfair it was to deny her this desire because of her gender. WRONG. That’s nothing other than Strategy #2, accusing the Church of inconsistency and hypocrisy. Her sense of justice is fine, but her sense of ecclesiology is massively flawed. She assumed that the Church should operate like a beehive or even like an efficient modern corporation (where gender is ignored, theoretically, in order to attain maximum production). What she and so many others fail to realize is that the Church should not be compared to a corporation, but to the performing arts like Broadway or even Hollywood. Similar to the Church, the purpose of the performing arts is to dramatically represent some human inner reality. In such work, gender is paramount. The only time a man plays the role of a woman or vice versa is when the incongruity of that is the message. The fact that as a male I would never be considered for a role opposite Tom Cruise is not discrimination; it’s obvious common sense. In the corporate world, gender usually does not (or ought not) matter, but in the performing arts and in the Church and in the maternity ward it is of great importance.
In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor Pope John Paul II spoke about the widespread and systematic dissent which has grown up in today’s Church. He wrote, “It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.” (Veritatis Splendor #4) My dear friends, this fulfills the terrible prophecy of Isaiah. God cleared a fertile area and planted a vineyard. He naturally expected full, sweet grapes, suitable for making delicious wine. But it yielded wild grapes, sour, shriveled, bitter. That concisely describes the results of dissent. The dissenter wants freedom from constraint to grow in any direction he chooses. To stay on the arbor seems so restrictive and dull. In response I would like to offer what I have learned from twenty one years of hearing confessions (not to mention my own divided heart). Sin, self exaltation and dissent all have the same attraction. From the outside they seem exciting and adventurous, but once we pursue them they become dreary, deceptive, and even cruel. Those who reach out for them actually become the illusion they try to grasp — sour, bitter, shriveled.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me; I do not want to make too much of the PBS documentary. They don’t need any free advertising from me. It’s just that it provides some useful examples for the usurpation of the vineyard that we face in the Church today. The usurpers are not only on TV. Be wary of them. Who are they? By their strategies ye shall know them: Strategy #1, attributing irrational motives to those who teach in Jesus’ name, and Strategy #2, accusing the Church of inconsistency and hypocrisy. Whenever you see people doing these things, be on your guard, for they are not merely enemies of God’s vineyard; they actually want to usurp it for their own purposes, and to do that they will kill God’s servants, and even His very Son.
When God planted His vineyard, He knew what He was doing. He took great care where he has planted each one of us. He expects a certain fruit in return.
“It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.”
To Dissenting Priests
by C.S. Lewis
--from Christian Apologetics by C.S. Lewis, Easter 1945.
(Reprinted in God in the Dock pp. 89-90)