The Illusion of Ownership and the Slavery of Sin

October 2, 2011: Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Your life is not your own; being a good tenant means giving up ownership to God.

Respect Life 2011

Respect Life Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home ownership the cornerstone of the American Dream, isn’t it? Yup, that’s the goal. Ownership means self-sufficiency and independence, two of the qualities we Americans value most. Ownership means we don’t have to rely on anyone else; we can provide for all our own needs, take care of ourselves just fine, thank you. Ownership gives us the one thing that prize most: freedom. Or does it?

Wild Grapes are Sour. As the people of God, we have a rather checkered history. No matter what God does for us, we always seem to find a way to turn away from Him. The Vineyard Song of the first reading is an analogy for Israel, God’s chosen people. Isaiah poetically warns the independent-minded Israelites that if they continue choosing to disobey God, He will eventually let them suffer the consequences of their selfish ways. Even today, we still often choose our ways over God’s ways, much like the Israelites, don’t we? Then, when we’ve been sufficiently humbled, in our despair we beg Him to take us back. “O LORD, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved” (from Psalm 80:20). Praise Him that He does when we truly repent.

Be Good for Goodness Sake. For better or worse, we eventually reap what we sow. That’s why Paul encourages the Philippians in the second reading to act peaceably and set their minds on peaceful things to receive the peace of God. Make no mistake, Paul isn’t suggesting they can just wish their desired reality into being, like some new-age guru. Rather, he’s referring to a principle called The Transformative Nature of the Good. Essentially, we become who we are by what we choose to do, because God allows us the freedom to do so. In Forrest Gump terms, good is as good does (the opposite then is also true!). According to Fr. John RiccardoSt. Gregory of Nyssa said in this regard we are our own parents, because we continually give birth to ourselves by the free choices we make.

A Lease on Life. Choosing the good doesn’t always come naturally. Rather we tend not to do God’s will when He gets in the way of our agenda. We see this all the time in those who put their politics before their faith; that’s why The Parable of the Tenants is such a sobering lesson. In the gospel reading, the tenants make the cardinal mistake of aspiring to overthrow the owner of the vineyard. This a powerful image of what sin is and how it enslaves us. All sin is essentially rooted in chasing the illusion that if we can just get rid of God, we can take control. However, ownership of anything is just a fantasy, because in reality all creation is on lease to us from the Supreme Owner. That’s why the “my body, my choice” slogan of the pro-abortion movement is nonsense. Your body is on loan from God to serve His purposes, so choose be a good tenant or suffer the divine consequences.

Catholicism 101. Every year, the first Sunday in October is Respect Life Sunday as proclaimed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As Catholics, we believe human life is a precious gift from God. Check out the USCCB Respect Life Program to learn more about pro-life activities, including justice and peace.

Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person.

~ Pope Benedict XVI, Address in Hyde Park, London, Sept. 18, 2010


  1. says


    Sorry I’ve taken so long to respond to your comment. I wanted to brush up on Rerum Novarum first, but it just got away from me.

    To answer your specific question, I believe they are 100% complimentary. Writing a generation following the Industrial Revolution when the west was still struggling with its social ramifications, Pope Leo XIII broke new ground in Rerum Novarum by asserting that the right to own private property is a principle of natural law, primarily owing to the care and welfare of families. Accordingly, ownership carries natural (divine) responsibilities and must be kept in its proper perspective.

    In paragraph 22, Leo wrote, “To sum up, then, what has been said: Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God’s providence, for the benefit of others.”

    That’s a tidy summary of what I intended here, whether or not that actually came through. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Pax Christi,

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