Before the invention of banks, many people hid money and other valuables by burying them. There were once two wealthy brothers who shared the same house; when war broke out, and their town was in danger of being plundered by the enemy, they gathered together all their jewels and coins in a large bag. Then, waiting until 2am when everyone would be asleep, they quietly dug a hole behind their house and buried the treasure for safekeeping. However, their next-door neighbor hadn’t been able to sleep, so he was sitting in his back yard. Hearing some whispering, he peered through the hedge and saw what the brothers were doing. This man, who happened to be poor and who had a family to support, was immediately tempted by the idea that, by digging up the treasure, he could become rich. He was excited at the prospect, but then thought, “No, God commands us not to steal, and my father taught me that honesty is the best policy.” A voice seemed to whisper to him, “That doesn’t apply when you’re poor with a family to support,” but the man tried to resist the temptation. “No one will see you,” whispered the voice, but the man thought, “God will see me.” The voice suggested, “Don’t take all the gold, just some of it; those wealthy brothers will never miss it.” The man decided, “No, it’s wrong,” and went inside to his bed—but sleep wouldn’t come; he struggled over the next few hours to think about something other than the gold buried next door. Finally dawn came, and the man marched over to his neighbors’ house and knocked on the front door. When the brothers answered, he said, “I saw you last night burying your money in the garden. That sight nearly made a thief of me. Please do me the favor of digging up your money and hiding it somewhere else, so that I may once more be at peace.” The wealthy brothers were amazed at their neighbor’s honesty; not only did they take his suggestion, they also rewarded him, once the war was over, by finding him a good job that allowed him to support his family (Rev. Francis Spirago, Anecdotes and Examples for the Catechism, p. 112). It’s very easy for us to be tempted to take what isn’t ours. If we truly love God, we’ll do everything we can to resist this temptation.
In Our Lord’s parable (Mt 21:33-43) the tenants, or renters, of the vineyard had no right to keep all the grapes for themselves in violation of their agreement with the owner; even worse, they had no justification for killing his servants and his son. Because they gave into the temptation of thinking they could seize the vineyard for themselves, they committed a grave injustice. In so doing, the tenants—who symbolized those religious leaders who opposed Jesus—brought about a terrible fate for themselves. This truth applies not only to individuals, but also to entire societies. The prophet Isaiah (5:1-7) uses this same image of a vineyard; in this case it represents the entire nation of Israel, which was unfaithful to God and wanted to seize for itself the right to decide what was good and evil, instead of obeying the Lord’s commandments. In response to the sins of His people, God allowed foreign nations to trample His vineyard as an expression of Divine Justice.
We as a nation are just as guilty as ancient Israel in terms of pride, arrogance, and disobedience; in fact, it can be argued that our sin is much greater, for far more has been entrusted to America in the 20th and early 21st centuries than any other society in history. In the 1960s a sly and sinister voice began whispering to our national soul, “All those commandments about sexual morality are outdated and no longer apply; you’re here on earth to have fun and fulfill yourself, not to obey some stupid and unnecessary rules.” As a result, with the coming of the so-called “Sexual Revolution,” there was a wholesale abandonment of traditional morality. Soon the voice was becoming more blatant and insistent: “Contraception and abortion are necessary in order to preserve your sexual freedom; besides, if a woman gets pregnant, it’s not a human being, but only a blob of tissue.” The U.S. Supreme Court, many politicians, and most of our nation’s cultural and intellectual elite, were easily deceived and convinced. Beginning in the 1990s the voice began saying outright, “You have the authority to manipulate and control human life through cloning and embryonic stem cell research and other scientific techniques; after all, if the technology exists, that gives you the right to use it however you want.” Once again, our society has fallen into the temptation to play God; we are trying to seize for ourselves something that has been entrusted to us, but which does not belong to us.
Jesus asks us, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” The chief priests and elders of the people knew the answer—but do we? Over 1 million abortions are committed in our country each year, with many millions more occurring through the use of certain types of contraception. In light of this, and considering our society’s high levels of crime and violence, can we seriously claim that 21st century America is still “one nation under God,” or believe that we, unlike every previous generation, will somehow be exempt from Divine Justice? How is it possible that so many supposedly intelligent people seem to believe there will be no consequences for abusing, tampering with, or destroying God’s gift of life?
Unlike the poor man who chose to remain honest instead of digging up his neighbors’ treasure, we as a nation have given into the temptation of seizing something that doesn’t belong to us; we are trying to usurp God’s unique authority over human life. However, even though the hour is late, there is still time for repentance—if those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus take the lead. Our prayers and sacrifices, our use of the opportunities we’re given to influence others, our support of the Right to Life Movement, our unyielding acceptance and defense of Catholic morality and teaching on life issues, and our commitment to vote only for political candidates pledged to defend human life, can still make a difference; our efforts to help America repent and again acknowledge God’s divine authority can once more draw down His blessings upon our land. St. Paul (Phil 4:6-9) urges us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, [and] whatever is pure.” As such, our observance of Respect Life Sunday is the Church’s attempt to help America do just that. If we truly love God, we’ll try to center our lives around His Will—and if we truly love our country, we’ll do our part in helping America repent of its sins against human life and dignity, and instead return to the ways of humility, obedience, and righteousness.