Annual Diocesan Pioneer Mass, Sunday 5th October 2014

Diocesan Mass for Pioneers,
St. Patrick’s Church, Derrygonnelly
Sunday, 5 October 2014, 7.00pm

My dear friends,

When the prophet Isaiah had a harsh message to deliver to the people of his time, he often presented it in the form of a song or balled. Like Isaiah’s song, the parable was also a useful means for delivering unwelcome news. Ballads and parables are stories and stories have been an important part of human experience from the very beginning.

Stories ask questions, pose problems, cut us down to size and dangle mystery before our eyes. Stories from Sacred Scripture offer us experiences of God, which enlighten and challenge, and can have many levels of meaning. Stories can open up all kinds of possibilities for our living. They usually relate an experience of God rather than try to define God or speculate endlessly about the divine mystery. In the readings of today’s Mass messages are delivered in the form of story in both the first and the Gospel readings.

They are sad stories and have a strong resemblance to each other. In the first reading, we find a man’s vineyard has let him down badly despite his very best efforts and care. It is important to remember that this vineyard is clearly not a little strip of a garden. This vineyard has clearly been his livelihood, his life, his means of support, a precious possession to which he has given his life. It produced only sour grapes so the party is over and in the last few lines, it unfolds that the storyteller is referring to the people of Israel – God expected to find justice and integrity but all he found was bloodshed and cries of distress.

In the Gospel reading, we find another vineyard owner who worked hard at his patch until he left it in the care of tenants when he went abroad. When he sent servants to collect his dues, the tenants beat them up and chased them. He eventually sent his son and even he was seized, thrown out of the vineyard and killed. Before the story ends, he tells us the outcome of it all – these tenants were unworthy of what they had been given so they were turfed out and the vineyard offered to others (outsiders in fact – which would have been anathema to the Jews).

The second reading was more straight forward in its message. It is taken from a letter which St. Paul wrote to the Philippians. In it, Paul reassuring them that if they want to be at peace with themselves and with God, they should follow the teaching of Jesus Christ which they have been given. If they do that, and keep to what is good, true and noble they will have no cause for concern.

We tend to go astray, to get mixed up in our needs and in our thinking and mess things up. We can forget about the directions which Jesus offered to those who are searching for a way to peace and happiness. A young bride is planning her wedding. Everything has to be perfect – the perfect dress, the perfect cake, the perfect day. Her pursuit of wedding preparation threatens to destroy her and her family. Everyone is overwhelmed by stress and worry, not to mention haemorrhaging money. The fairy tale wedding can become a nightmare. It is described as her day but in reality the day may rule her and her fiancé and their exhausted families.

They want to make it the perfect house. No expense is spared and we go for the finest finishes, custome-made furniture and elegant landscaping. But the care and maintenance of such a beautiful residence takes a lot of time and money. Every moment they are home is spent with improvements, additions and redesigns. And everything has to be kept immaculate – it’s hard to kick back in a house that is permanently staged for a photo-spread in a designer magazine. Is this a home – or a designer prison?

Too often we may allow ourselves to be possessed by what we possess. Our pursuit of our dreams can take us down roads that lead to nowhere. A couple’s celebration of their new life together may become a source of tension and discord. The dream house rarely becomes a welcoming home and what is considered a good job does not guarantee a fulfilled life.

Wherever they have gone astray, the tenants in today’s Gospel (whether for reasons of greed or whatever) are unable to bring their vineyard to realise its potential and have nothing for their efforts except sour grapes, cries of distress and blood on their hands. This is not the way that God intended it to be and he reminds us that his patience is without limits. Even after the treatment meted out to his representatives, and above all to his son, there are still available to those who have strayed compassion, healing and forgiveness. Our lives are given to us by a loving Creator who seeks to give expression to his love in everyone and in everything he has made. May we turn to him again and listen carefully when he tells us what we need to let go of to realise the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God in our own piece of the vineyard.

I am aware that I am speaking to a representative group of pioneers who live in the diocese of Clogher. I believe the Pioneers joined Facebook two years ago and also have a presence on Twitter. Anecdotal evidence from Facebook shows, I’m told, that so far 2,500 new members under the age of 40 have enrolled. Membership, I’m told, has increased in recent years from 120,000 to 130,000. Some say this may be for financial reasons, others say the Rose of Tralee was responsible.

You have all of you made a highly responsible decision in becoming pioneers and you have done so for the highest of motives. The highest form of living is to love and the highest form of loving is to do so unselfishly. Teresa of Avila tells us “service is the act of being God to each other,” “God has no hands, nor has he feet, nor voice except ours; and through these he works.” If we live selfishly, we end up seeing everything in terms of how it affects us and this yields very little happiness. Service to others helps us forget ourselves and allows us to see the size of our life in relation to the rest of the universe.

May the Lord reward the witness you give, may he look kindly on your generosity and may he walk beside and bless you and yours on your life journey. Amen

+Liam S. MacDaid
5 October 2014

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