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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. For the third successive Sunday, the image of the vine is at the center of our readings. It is found this week in the first reading, the psalm and the Gospel. In Jesus’ time, there were vineyards everywhere and since the time of the ancient prophets and psalms, the vineyard was the main symbol for the ‘House of Israel’ or the Jewish people that God had chosen. But in the Gospel, Jesus uses the story of the vineyard to point out a major problem that had arisen. While the Jewish people remained the vineyard of the Lord, they had forgotten who owned the vineyard. The people had forgotten that they were mere tenants and had began to assume the rights of an owner. And what was the result? From the first reading, instead of the vine producing fine grapes, it produced sour grapes and became over-grown with briars and thorns. In the Gospel, when the tenants took the place of the owner, there followed violence and the abuse of power.

Does any of this sound familiar today? Are there parallels with what is happening in our culture as we speak? Take the crisis of the environment for example. What has caused it? The environment has been gravely damaged by the false assumption that we have the right to do whatever we please. As Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si, when this happens ‘the harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole is disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations’ (Laudato Si, 66).

Another example is the respect for life or the lack of it. In May 2018, we voted by majority to remove the right to life of the unborn 12 weeks or younger. For most people who voted for repeal, the reason was because choice trumped everything, even the right to live. The same logic is being used today to push an assisted suicide bill through the Oireachtas, paving the way for the introduction of euthanasia in Ireland. It comes down to the same slogan used in 2018 and with equal effect: ‘My life, my death, my choice’. At this moment, the introduction of euthanasia seems inevitable. Voices who oppose it are few and are drowned out. It seems that a Christian culture that has existed for centuries in Ireland is being quickly dismantled in a matter of a few short years. Yet few seem to care, protest or cry ‘STOP’.

All of this has an effect on our culture, our values and our sense of being a nation. In an age when unlimited personal freedom trumps everything, and the choice of everyone is absolute, then our society begins to decay from within. In short order our nation that is called to be a fruitful vineyard will yield only briars and thorns as we sink deeper into a culture of death.

If you think this is extreme, then look what happened in Russia with the murder and mayhem in the last century caused by atheistic Communism. Seeing the bloodshed, the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn's response when questioned about the decline of modern culture was simple: ‘Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened’. In other words, when God was removed, people of power seized ownership of the vineyard. They forgot they were tenants, not owners. This is precisely what is happening here in our country too. We are quickly forgetting God in the measure that we mistake ourselves for gods. And when we do, we begin to destroy ourselves.

Yet there is hope. At the end of the Gospel today, Jesus promises us that his vineyard will bear fruit once it is taken out of the hands of those who would destroy it. It will be given instead to the humble, the poor and those who reverence life, God and all he has made. In the meantime, Christians must step up the fight against the relentless push to empty our nation of its Christian heritage – before it’s too late.


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