In this morning's Gospel after bluntly refusing his father’s request to work in the vineyard, the first son changes his mind and joins the others in the vineyard. What happened? Why did he change his mind? It was because of an encounter, or rather a series of encounters: with his conscience, with community, and with his father.
Conversion of heart always begins with some kind of encounter. The father’s request: “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today,” triggers the son’s first encounter – with his conscience. You know it well: that inner voice that tells us “to love and to do good and to avoid evil.” Imagine the encounter going something like this – Conscience: “You know the commandment: honor your father. You just dishonored him.” Son: “Don’t start lecturing me.” Conscience: “You do this, and should I keep silence?” Son (muttering to himself): “Oh, just go away.” But conscience won’t go away. It remains even if we try to muffle it – that’s its nature: it must witness to the truth. When we do good, it multiplies our peace; when we do evil it demands we set things right and holds out the hope of mercy.
The parable continues with the son’s next encounter – with community. He leaves behind his own will and isolation in a kind of self-emptying and joins the others in the vineyard. He enters a little community where there is a shared purpose and a shared work to perform, a mission, even if a humble one. He is dependent on others. He must be there for others. He learns the meaning of encounter because he has to live and work with others. This little community will stretch his heart, which is what conversion is all about.
Finally, the son comes full circle and encounters his father, who presumably comes to the vineyard at some point. The son had finally done the father’s will, but not without some pain. That is the way it is sometimes, especially for men. We don’t immediately see any good in the requests made by our fathers, and the same goes for our monastic superiors. But as we mature, we begin to see things differently. We realize that behind their requests, God had opened a door for us. We begin to see that going out into the vineyard is really an opportunity for a gift of self, which is a form of love.
Excerpts from Father Vincent's Sunday homily.