For Dominicans, the study of Scripture leads us deeper in relationship with God and helps us perceive God’s grace at work in the world. Through prayerful meditation on the Word, we listen for God’s call impelling us to respond to the needs of our times. Every Thursday at the CDN, we devote evening prayer to lectio divina, or sacred reading. Together we read the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday, each of us listening silently and noticing what catches her attention, then reflecting on how God is speaking to her, sharing any insights with the community, and finally concluding with prayer. Last week, my meditation on the Gospel was illuminated by my two courses of study on the New Testament and the Vowed Life.
St Dominic Reading and Meditating on Scripture
Detail from fresco by Fra Angelico in the Convento di San Marco, Florence, Italy
In the Gospel for last Sunday, the 27th of Ordinary Time, Jesus told the chief priests and elders a parable: a landowner leases a vineyard to some tenants, expecting them to harvest its fruits. The tenants, however, refuse to hand over the produce. Instead, they kill all the servants sent by the owner, and his son as well, hoping to acquire the vineyard for themselves. Clearly, the murderous tenants are a figure for the chief priests, whom Jesus warns, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Mt 21:43). This parable exemplifies the particular vitriol against the religious leaders of Israel characteristic of the Gospel of Matthew (which I just read for class). Jesus condemns them for failing to produce the fruits of God’s Reign: justice, mercy, humility, and righteousness.
This parable speaks to me of stewardship, or how we make use of the gifts God has entrusted to us. For the Vowed Life class, we read Pope Francis’ Homily on the 24th World Day of Consecrated Life (2020). He writes:
This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands. The consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: “Everything is gift, all is grace.” Dear brothers and sisters, we did not deserve religious life; it is a gift of love that we have received.
As Pope Francis reminds us, religious life points to the truth that everything is God’s gift. Ultimately, human beings cannot claim ownership of anything. All comes from God, who entrusts to us the gifts of Creation and provides us with spiritual gifts for building up the church, tending the earth, and serving one another, especially people on the margins. If God’s gift of love to me is like the vineyard in Matthew's parable, I am prompted to reflect: Am I stewarding this gift responsibly for the sake of God’s Reign, or chasing my own agenda? Am I living in obedience to God’s will, recognizing my absolute dependence on God’s Providence? How is our society called to good stewardship?
Perhaps because the Season of Creation ended on Sunday, I then found myself taking the figure of the vineyard more literally. Earth, our common home, belongs to God and produces an abundance. That produce is meant to provide nourishment for all God’s creatures. But throughout humanity’s history of colonial exploitation and imperialism, people have claimed ownership of the land, displacing indigenous peoples and robbing them of their rights. In the Americas, the U.S. government has desecrated tribal land by testing nuclear weapons and leaving behind radioactive waste. Prophetic activists who have advocated for indigenous land rights, like Berta Caceres in Honduras, have been killed by former soldiers trained at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas. Matthew’s parable of the vineyard contains a dangerous message for the murderous tenants in our world today.
“Nuclear Energy” sculpture by Henry Moore, a Chicago landmark commemorating
the first controlled generation of nuclear power in an experiment by Enrico Fermi and colleagues
(Photo courtesy of Lorraine Reaume)
As we prepare to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on October 12, I am challenged to reflect on how our church and religious congregations have been complicit in the dispossession and exploitation of tribal lands. As Dominican Sisters committed to preaching God’s Reign of justice and peace, we are called to the work of reconciliation – asking for God’s healing, telling the truth about U.S. colonialism, pursuing justice by making reparations, and envisioning a future in which the land is reverenced and preserved for generations to come. Commissioned to be prophetic preachers, we must denounce any degradation of the earth, and announce the good news that equitable sharing of resources ensures the common good. May we help our world perceive the grace of God, pouring forth abundant life for all.
Every meeting of our Vowed Life class at Catholic Theological Union begins with an acknowledgement
of Native People and the tribal lands on which the city of Chicago now stands