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Sunday 26, Year A

In early 1979, primary school teachers in Poland were told to tell their children that a man who was about to visit their country was their enemy. The man was Pope John Paul II. The communist authorities tried to make sure the turnout for the visit would be low. Instead, it turned out to be one of the largest gatherings of people in history up to that point. The communists let the Pope come because they thought he would have the sense to behave himself. But he didn’t. He loudly and roundly condemned any system that would exclude Christ from people’s lives. When he said that during his homily in the public square in Warsaw, the crowd roared in reply as one man for fifteen minutes, “We want God! We want God!” Many identify that cry as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

Today’s Gospel is really about God asking me what I want. What do I really want out of life? What do I want that will not perish with me once I have died, or not long after me? The two sons in the parable represent the two, the only two, responses human beings can make to the will of their father, of God Himself. That will is for us to work in the vineyard. The vineyard can refer to many things, but they all come down to the Father’s plan of beatitude for the human race and for the cosmos itself.

But is this what I want? To give my freedom to the plan of another and work for it to come about? The first son says no, it’s not what he wants. He is honest. It is perhaps that honest disposition which later makes him change his mind actually to go and work in the vineyard. He had spoken first and thought later. Whatever prompted him to think differently, we do not know, but he had the courage to do it and the humility to withdraw from his first reaction. He may have said no, but he did yes.

The other son also fears losing his freedom. But he is dishonest about it. His yes to his father is a lie. He does not go to the vineyard because he never had any intention of going. Nor is he moved by the fact his brother changed his mind and went. He is closed in himself.

I would like to think that all of us here are working in the vineyard, working with God for the salvation of the world. Maybe some days we are a bit lazier than others. Maybe occasionally we step outside the vineyard due to some distraction. I suppose what we need to watch out for is that we don’t add to the parable another category of son, i.e. we say yes to the Father, we go to the vineyard, but then we leave it again.

This parable of Jesus elaborates on these words of the Our Father: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The coming of the Kingdom is advanced by our doing the will of the Father on earth. If God’s will is ignored, if God himself is denied on earth, then we become subject to other gods, other wills and other fake heavens. None of them can possibly deliver the true fulfilment of the human person and the human race. When God is taken out of the equation, history proves that tyranny of one kind or another will ensue. People may think they are free without God, but the power and evil of some men will prevail over the freedom of others and subject them to slavery. That is true also in the life of an individual. If I withdraw my freedom from God, I am likely to become enslaved by the things I choose.

The very nature of the human person and human race longs for God. It is a longing which can be frustrated by many things in life: by psychological problems, by dysfunctional family life, by trauma, etc.. It can, of course, be consciously and freely rejected, a tragic position to be in if done with full knowledge and consent. Yet, the fundamental yearning for God cannot be extinguished in anyone, no matter how persistent the denial or radical the indoctrination to atheism. Like the crowd in Warsaw, if we endorse that yearning, we all still want God.

That is why it is important to witness to your faith. It is now accepted, and wrongly, that religion is a merely private affair. But Christ clearly tells us that our light must shine before others so that they may give the praise to their Father in heaven. There are probably thousands of people living in the dark, enslaved by the false promises of materialism and atheism, for whom your witness would be a ray of light that would give them hope and even freedom. To witness does not mean to barge into anyone’s space, nor is it a kind of fanaticism by which you browbeat people into some sense of guilt because they don’t believe. That would be the opposite of true witness.

True witness is to let it be seen in your life that you want God, that you have found God, that God is your life and light and strength and joy. It is to let your way of living, your style of engaging with others, your decision-making and your behaviour be inspired by the Word of God and empowered by the Sacraments. Think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and of how much light and hope her witness gave to millions. Certainly, witness will sometimes attract ridicule or rejection, but there’s nothing new in that. In fact, as St. Peter says, “it is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ because it means that you have the Holy Spirit on you.” A true Christian expects opposition and persecution.

More than 50% of Scots now say they are of no religion. Between Catholics and Presbyterians, we are 34%. I am unsure about the Episcopalian numbers and those of other Christian denominations. It is a sobering statistic, but not one that should discourage us. The haemorrhaging of Christians will have as many reasons, I suppose, as those who have gone. But what we can assert without any doubt is the 100% of Scots have been created by God and therefore have deep within them the beginnings of that cry, “we want God!” 100% of Scots have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ and will one day meet Him face to face. Because of these facts of our faith, we must not sit and bemoan low statistics. On the contrary, the harvest being so great, the vines being so heavy with grapes, we must get working in the vineyard with all the more dedication and love.

The future of Scotland cannot be reduced to politics or to ideologies more or less hostile to the Church and, if we are honest, hostile to some degree to the true dignity of the human person. Scotland is a nation, yes, and we are its citizens, but even this is a limited way of looking at the people of Scotland. In the end, the future of Scotland, as the future of the entire earth, is in the hands of our loving God. Every person in this land is His creature. There are many things the Bishops, the priests, our Catholic organisations and initiatives can and should do to play their part in forging the future of Scotland. But the bottom line is what you and I do every day, the yes we give to the Father every day. This is the stuff of the Gospel lived out and shining out, salt to the earth and light to the world. Powerful though that scene of one million Poles chanting “we want God” must have been, more powerful still will be our daily work for God in his vineyard. Let it show that we do not just want God, but that we have found Him!