May 25, 2019

Once in a while, it is OK to Sing the Blues

B.B. King (1925-2015)

Once in a while, it is OK to sing the blues. The peaks of joy and elation would not feel so high if it weren’t for the valleys of sorrow, trials and feeling blue. So, we join Isaiah as he sings God’s blues. “Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard” (cf. Isaiah 5: 1)

As it is with human beings, God “feels blue” when his love is not reciprocated; when he does a lot and gets a cold shoulder for his attention, compounded by ingratitude, indifference, refusal, even betrayal.

As it is with human beings, God, too, continues stubbornly to be in love in spite of everything. He hopes against all hopes; he is confident that his beloved will eventually see the light and return to his embrace.

As it is with human beings, God, too, seems to be at a loss for new ways to attempt to gain back the object of his love.

As it is with human beings, God, too, shows his frustration and, even if just for a moment, vows to erase from his heart, from his mind, any record of a lost love.

In the Gospel of Matthew (21:33-43), we recall the somber reflection of the early Church about the sorry turn of events surrounding God’s love entreaties and the repeated refusals of his people to reciprocate his love. The sad tune of God’s blues resounds in our Church’s ears: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” (cf. Isaiah 5: 4)

The parable in the gospel leads her to appreciate the size of God’s gamble in making us free. He made us free because he wanted his love to be reciprocated. No freedom, no love. But in doing so he made himself vulnerable to our refusals. It reads: He leased it to tenants and went on a journey. God leaves us free. He seems to be far away, “on a journey,” not because he doesn’t care but because, before leaving, he covered all bases, he made sure that we got from him all we need to bear much fruit.

Alas, so often, from the times of the prophets of old to those of our times, God’s beloved people have chosen to live out a delusion: we, too, are repeatedly told that we do not need to give God a rightful return for his emotional investment of infinite love. The world tells us that we can use his gifts for our own personal gain, with disregard for his laws and decrees.

We are all tenants in a vineyard in which obedience to his law is too often replaced by self-determination and rebellion. E.g. Medicine used to snuff out life. Sex for personal narcissistic pleasure rather than for the ends envisioned by our Creator God. Use of natural resources not for sharing responsibly, but for hoarding away in greed. Power not to subdue nature but to enslave and to exploit one’s neighbor. Intelligence not to give God glory and honor, but to arrogantly manipulate everything for personal gain. Knowledge not to reach the truth to enhance freedom, but to subjugate and deceive the weak.

Those servants, whom God sent to warn that things were amiss, met with a violent death. This is true in every age. Now, of course, the method is much subtler, yet equally effective in trying to silence both the servants that God sends through his Church and those tenants who, regretting their past, are now ready to give their Landowner his due share of produce from the vineyard.

They are ridiculed, accused of being racist and cruel retrograde, obsolete or much worse. When words that intimidate and even kill by themselves are deemed insufficient, both servants and good tenants are targeted for banishment; their reputation ruined, harassed in many ways and even might wind up losing their livelihood. Thus the end result doesn’t change in spite of the investment of the divine Landowner.

What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’

As the Church sings God’s blues once again, today, and the sad tunes sink into our hearts, burning with the memories of our past refusals, if we find evidence that we were not responsible tenants, we might come across this unsettling parallelism between the Landowner and his vineyard, between God and his people.

There is a dramatic crescendo resounding from both sides. This crescendo can be explained only by the existence of a heart hurting badly: God’s heart madly in love.

We can be obstinate in our refusal or because cowering in fear of the charges that can be levelled against us. He is obstinate in his renewed overtures, no matter what we decide to do. At times, surprising even ourselves, we can be excessive in our sinfulness. He is equally excessive in his gentleness and patience. As tenants, we can be absurd in our plans. Even more absurd our Landowner will be. We can be unbridled in our self-interest. He is unbridled in his apparent divine naiveté.

And, both sides keep making a miscalculation concerning the Son. God thinks: “They will respect my Son.” We might be tempted to reason quite differently: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.”

My dear friends in Christ, i.e. in that Son whose eternal inheritance we long to possess, let us keep our Heavenly Father from singing the blues. We shall focus instead on what we are here to do. We are here to reverse our miscalculation by doing Eucharist and by feeding on the Body and Blood of the Son.

Lest we self-destruct in blind foolishness, every time we sin and we refuse God’s love, he calls us, at least every Sunday, into his home to display before our incredulous eyes the extent of his mad love for us in the death and resurrection of his Son: our defeat vis-à-vis his victory. In here, God does not chase us away. He runs toward us. God doesn’t catch up with us from behind. We find him in front of us, even as we thought we had turned away from him once again. He overpowers us with his love.

What choice do we have but to surrender?

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin