Regal tenant: Elizabeth I claims the world for herself
In our Gospel today we are told by Jesus that he has come to save the world, not to condemn it. It is an interesting teaching that should lead us to reflect on our place in the world. We often hear about the "values of the world" and how we should not make them the foundation of our lives, and that is true. The "values of the world" are those grounded in the merely materialist, eschewing the divine and transcendent, fallen human values rather than those of God. But, in a way, these "values of the world" are actually alien to the world, since the world was made by God and he has impressed his divine artistry on it. The world is passing away, but rather than turning into itself, as the "values of the world" do, it points to something greater than itself, to the Creator whose signature we see in the beauty of nature, in the wonder of the stars, in the fascinating host of creatures.
As Christians we can tend towards shunning the world, we keep to ourselves in order to be pure - we might think we have to sit it out and await the Second Coming. Well, St Paul tackles that attitude in his letters to the Thessalonians - we cannot and should not withdraw from the world, we must live in it. And living in it, we are to change it. Let us not forget that the world belongs to us - it was made for the children of God and so it is ours - Jesus reminds us of this in the Beatitudes when he says that the meek shall inherit the earth. We do not make the world our basket (again, the meek - they are the ones who can see things correctly), but we make this world a better place, a forum in which our souls are prepared for heaven and all those wonderful gifts given to us by God can be used for his glory and the encouragement of our fellow pilgrims. We never forget that we are passing through, but as on every pilgrimage, the journey is important too.
Of course we cannot forget that the tenants have taken over the vineyard and many many times down the centuries the tenants have tried to dispossess the children of God. The tenants are themselves children of God, but in their way of life they have turned their back on him and so renounced that status. They take the world for themselves and seek to change it to suit themselves and those who still adhere to God's plan and way of life are alienated. It is through these tenants that the "spirit of the world" and the "values of the world" come into being. On conquered land they establish the city of the world while the children of God struggle to maintain the city of God, if I may use Augustinian terms. But our task, as children of God, is to reclaim our inheritance, our world, and Jesus announces this mission in our Gospel today. However we have to be careful and discern as we engage in a mission of reconquest - it is not for the sake of the world, but for the souls of the tenants. They have built their cities, their fortresses, but they are more akin to prisons where they hold themselves captive lest the transcendent get them. It is like a gang of pilgrims who hijack the bus on the way to Lourdes and won't let any of us proceed to the shrine because they want to stay at the roadside cafe, but nobody gets anywhere then, and we'll eventually run out of tea!
Why such thoughts today? Well, looking around us in Ireland I see the tenants are building walls to keep us all in their fortress. The children of God are being dispossessed and alienated, there is now an insistence that we conform to the values the tenants have devised for themselves.
I am reminded of Queen Elizabeth I's religious revolution. She said at the beginning of her reign that in terms of the religious question, she could not see into the consciences of men, nor did she intend to. It seemed as if she was going to tolerant of Catholics, but not so. She established the Church of England and then expected all of her subjects to conform regardless of their conscience, those who did not paid for it either through fines that impoverished them or with their lives. She replaced the Virgin Mary with herself, establishing the cult of Gloriana, and everything was to revolve around her and her desires, secular and religious. We see the same today. The tenants tell us that we can believe what we like as long as it is private, yet they do not mean what they say: they will expect us to conform in every way to what they decree, even at level of our conscience which must be violated if they see fit. This is how they mean to dispossess the children of God.
But the meek shall inherit the earth, the Lord has come to redeem the world, and our task is to participate in that mission. We are not cower in the trenches or privatize our faith and values, but we are to go out into the world and live them and live by them even if it challenges the tenants, even if it means we may have to suffer. This will require a good dose of courage (cardinal virtue!), stamina (they will try to break us down), love (for we do it for love of them, for the salvation of their souls as much as our own) and ingenuity (the wily wisdom of the serpent married with the innocence of doves), but the Lord will give the grace to do this. Of course prudence is important, but we must be careful not to turn prudence into a vice, an excuse to feed our fear. There are too many Christians in the trenches cowering beneath a white flag, trying to appease the tenants and announcing peace in our time for the sake of a quiet life.
At prayer this morning I remembered that Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified on the 23rd May, the day after the gay marriage referendum here in Ireland. Is that a coincidence or a God-incidence? The ballot takes place on the feast of St Rita (a necessary patronage there), but if the tenants win, then Oscar Romero's life and struggle may well be an example and inspiration for us: he too had to stand up to a corrupt regime and unjust laws, he had to defy them. He knew that the world belonged to the children of God and they should not be dispossessed of that which God has given them. Yes, they are pilgrims, but they do not walk on another's property, they tread the path their Father laid for them. We should never forget this. May the soon Blessed Oscar intercede for us in these times and obtain from the Lord the courage, wisdom, prudence and zeal we need to face the challenges that lie ahead.