Recollection Material – September 2022: PASTORAL CO-RESPONSIBILITY



Mt. 20:1 – 16.

          Synodality is nothing more than communion put into action. The Ecclesiology of Communion, at the background of the synodal process, reminds us that we all form part of the Body of Christ, of the People of God, that journeys through this world toward the Heavenly Jerusalem, towards the City of God. Baptism has incorporated all the believers into the Body of Christ, and thus participate in its gifts and benefits. As St. Paul VI clearly pointed out in Evangelii Nuntiandi and afterwards Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, the mission of the Church is the “sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing” (EG 10). In this evangelizing mission, every believer as missionary disciple is called to collaborate as part of his own baptismal commitment. The work of evangelization is not the work of only those who have received the ordained ministry among the People of God, nor of those who form part of the Consecrated Life… All the People of God is co-responsible in the evangelizing mission, all must be the Salt of the Earth and Light of the World (Mt. 5:13); each one according to his own state of life, and their own charisms, but it is necessary to involve all the members of the People of God in the principal mission of the Church. For this reason, this month we shall meditate on co-responsibility, its foundations, its Augustinian perspective and its consequences.

Return to yourself.

          We prepare our heart for this day of recollection, opening the ears of the heart to listen to the voice of God which speaks to us and reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ, and for this reason we not only have dignity, but also a responsibility.

          The Lord Jesus Christ (….) is Head and Body. We recognize the Head in that Man born of the Virgin Mary (….) The Body of this Head is the Church, not only that which resides in this place, but that which is extended throughout the whole earth, not only that which exists in this time, but also that which existed from the times of Abel until those who are to be born and to believe until the end of the world, i.e., the whole population of saints that belong to the one same city. This city is the Body of Christ and its Head is Christ. The angels also form part of this city, they are our fellow citizens in this city with a difference: while we are on pilgrimage, exiled and suffering, they are already in the city waiting for our arrival. From that city to which we, exiles, journey as pilgrims, some letters have arrived: the Sacred Scriptures, that exhort us to live well. But, what am I saying? That some letters have arrived? The King himself has descended and made himself our way in this desert; in such a way that traveling in him, we make no mistake, we do not faint, we do not fall into the hands of brigands, that we do not allow ourselves to fall into the trap along the roadside (en. Ps. 90, 2, 1).

Your Voice is my Joy.

The voice of God illumines and directs our path. Let us open our heart this day of recollection to make the message of God our own.

          Mt. 20:1-16:  1 The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into the vineyard. 3 Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ 5 So they went off. And he went out again      around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. 6 Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ 8 When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ 9 When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. 10 So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. 11And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ 13 He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 15 Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? 16 Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last,”

The Firmament of the Scriptures

Biblical Keys.

          The parable of the ‘Workers in the Vineyard’ has for its point of departure a very familiar scene for Jesus’ contemporaries. Since there existed no agencies of contractual workers, nor offices of employees, whoever did not have determined job, particularly when the time of harvest comes or the collection of diverse products of the field, the laborer would gather in the town plaza, waiting for one who may need his labor. When someone comes to solicit the work of laborers, an oral agreement was made over the wage.

          During the time of Jesus, the denarius was the quantity of money paid to a laborer for the work accomplished in one day, a kind of “minimum salary”. Even though the denarius since it origin, probably 211 A.D., had been devalued, -in such a way that in Christ’s time, i.e., imperial period, its value was not equal to what its name said, (denarius = ten) no longer ten but sixteen, it continued to constitute the daily wage to pay the laborer for work rendered in one day. Afterwards, the denarius suffered other changes and devaluations. What interests us is to point out that the owner of the vineyard (οίκοδεσπότη… άμπελών α αυτού: v.1) agrees with the first hirelings on the pay that was common, i.e., one denarius per day.

          Nonetheless, the parable points out that the owner of the vineyard went out  four more times, about nine in the morning, at the third hour (τρίτην); at twelve noon, the sixth hour (έκτην); about three in the afternoon, at the ninth hour (ενάτην),  and at five in the afternoon, at the eleventh hour (ενδεκάτην). In all these occasions of agreeing with the laborers, to pay them not one denarius but ‘what was just’ (ό εάν ή δίκαιον: v.4) without stipulating any amount of money. We can suppose that the workers themselves knew that they would not receive one denarius, because they had not worked the whole day, but it was better to earn something in the few hours of the day, than to gain nothing.

          Nonetheless, the parable emphasizes on the one part, the goodness of the vineyard owner, who unexpectedly pays the last ones the same as the first. It is provoking that the payment started not with the first, but with the last, with which the conclusion of v.16 is anticipated, which underlines the subversion of the present order, where the first will be the last, and the last will be first. Nothing else but the paradox of the kingdom of heaven is being dealt with here, where the scale of values of this world is inverted, in order to present God’s own evaluation.

          Thus the fact that the owner of the vineyard gave to the last one denarius makes clear the goodness of the owner (αγαθός ειμί: v.15), who in this case represents God, since the whole parable has as its background or point of comparison the kingdom of heaven, as happens in the parables of chapter 13 of this Gospel. Independently of what has been worked out, the mercy of God has been imposed. In the case of this parable, the owner of the vineyard feels compassion for the last laborers because he knows that if they do not receive the minimum that can be received in one day, the denarius, their families that depend on this salary, will suffer some need. In this last case mercy is imposed over justice. Nonetheless, the parable brings out that the first, probably for greed, believed that they would receive more (ενόμισαν ότι  πλείον  λήμψονται : v.10). Nevertheless, at the end, the parable emphasizes justice. There had been previous agreement, and the owner of the vineyard acted according to such previous agreement. He paid them justly, one denarius, but at the same time he contrasts the ambition of these workers against the goodness and mercy of the vineyard’s owner.

          The parable would invite us to know that in the vineyard of God, one can arrive to work at different hours, i.e., at different moments of one’s own life. What matters really is not the work accomplished, if it has been much or little, but the recompense that is the same for all, where in one case there is justice, in all the rest is mercy. This parable, as in many others, would transmit to us a message against our human expectations of limited justice without mercy to tell us: “You perhaps expected another thing, but God is like this.” +

Augustinian Keys.

          Upon approaching the parable that we meditate today, St. Augustine points out that the denarius wage cannot be anything else but eternal life. This is the wage for every laborer in the harvest of the Lord. Nevertheless he interprets in various ways the laborers who were hired at different hours of the day. For him in the first place they represent the just persons of the Old Testament who were hired at the first hours of the morning, while the just ones of the New Testament and the Christians are represented by those who were hired at the last hour (cf. s. 87, 4).

The different workers who are hired at different hours, represent for St. Augustine the age in which a determined person is called to work at the vineyard of the Lord. There are those –the bishop of Hippo points out- who are called from very tender infancy, and others in maturity, as was St. Augustine himself, who despite having received the Christian initiation and having been a catechumen of the Catholic Church (cf. conf. 1, 17), he went away from her only to finally be converted to her at thirty three years of age (cf. util. cred. 20):

They are considered as called at six o’clock in the morning those who begin to be Christians upon coming out of their mother’s womb; as called about nine in the morning, the adolescents; as at midday, the young; as at three in the afternoon, those who move to old age; and as those at five in the afternoon, those already totally decrepit. All, nevertheless, have received the only one denarius of eternal life (s. 87, 5).

          Nevertheless, the exegesis that possibly interests us more in the context of synodal co-responsibility, is that St. Augustine interprets the different hours, in which the vineyard owner calls the laborers, as the diverse vocations within the Church. All are called by God to work in the vineyard and the reward shall be the same for all, eternal life.

(….) because the denarius is the eternal life and in eternal life all shall be equal. Even if some shall shine more, others less, according to the difference of merits, in what refers to eternal life will be equal for all. (….) Of one way will there be the conjugal chastity and of distinct way the virginal integrity; of one way is the fruit of good works and of another the crown of martyrdom.  One state of life of one way, another state of another way, nevertheless, in respect to eternal life, no one shall live more than the other. They live equally without end, even though each one lives in his own glory. And the denarius is eternal life (s. 87, 4).

          In this way St. Augustine is conscious that in the Church there are different vocations, but one same mission, and at the same time one same reward which is eternal life. In fact, Hippo was a very synodal diocese, since there existed great co-responsibility. St. Augustine shared some of his obligations and ecclesiastical offices with the laity.

          Very conspicuous was the case in which St. Augustine shared responsibility with the laity and constituted a tribunal, formed by laymen knowledgeable of the law and also of their own norms proper to Christian life to explain and decide on the problematic inheritance of the presbyter Jenaro. As is known, Jenaro, after becoming widowed, had been admitted to the monastery, and had been ordained priest. Jenaro had two children, one son was a monk and the daughter was brought to the monastery for women until she would reach majority of age and could decide what she would do with her life. Precisely for her, Jenaro had reserved a quantity of money in such a way that when the moment arrives, if she desires to get married she could avail of an adequate dowry for it. Everything seemed to go well, nonetheless at deathbed, we do not know for what motive, Jenaro had decided to disinherit his daughter, and leave the money of the inheritance to the diocese of Hippo. The scandal had been a big one, because not only had he left the girl helpless, but also being a priest and monk, who apparently had renounced all possessions, its use and administration, now had returned to dispose of them to take it away from its legitimate owner, who was his daughter, since he had made a new testament. Putting aside the details of this case, what interests us, and permits us to see the co-responsibility that existed in the Church of Hippo, is that St. Augustine, to resolve this case in the best way possible, shall not be alone to judge as a judge of the Episcopal Audience on the case, but explicitly tells the people that he will nominate a tribunal of lay people, so that together they can explain the case and make the best decision. Thus St. Augustine points out:

What an evil is this controversy! But, if both youngsters are servants of God,

 I immediately annul this lawsuit. I listen as a father, and maybe better than

their own. I will see what is there between them, and as it pleases the Lord and with his benevolence, together with some baptized and honorable brothers among you, i.e., among the people, I will be judge between them and I give sentence according as the Lord grants me (s. 355, 3).

          All this makes us see a Church where clericalism is avoided, and all estates and vocations within the Church are given space. Each one participates using its own qualities and the vocation it has received.

          A second case of co-responsibility we can see in the work of the Catechesis. Concretely in the admission and accompaniment of the candidates, St. Augustine knew that the lay people were in the world, and that their secular character gave them a knowledge and a “worldly wisdom” that the pastor often lacks. Thus, in the first place, he asked those who present themselves for baptism that they be accompanied by some baptized layman who may know them (cat. rud. 5, 9). They exercised a function that today we can call ‘god-parents’; they were responsible for the right intentions of those they present for baptism, and they were entrusted the responsibility of preparing these catechumens for baptism, clarifying the possible doubts they may have, especially in relation to something secret and delicate in the early Church as was the Creed of the Church (Symbolum Fidei). Thus St. Augustine  points out emphasizing that he had entrusted to them the Symbolum fidei, and now the god-parents, the lay men, were responsible to help the catechumens to learn them by memory and clarify possible doubts, so that at the moment of reciting (giving back) the creed, (redditio symboli) they could do it without error.

Within eight days, you will have to recite what you receive today. Let your god-parents, those who welcome you, let them teach you so that you find yourselves prepared, how you are to remain in vigil until the cock’s crow, for the prayers that you celebrate here (s.213, 11).

          We likewise see the co-responsibility of the laity in the accompaniment of those who had been converted. There is an interesting case, of one baptized who apostatized from the faith and became an astrologer. Later he repented and wanted to come back to the Church. St. Augustine recommended to the lay people that they accompany him, that they present him to other laymen, and encourage him in his daily life.

This man, having been a believer and a Christian before, returns repentant, and fearful of the Lord’s power, moves towards the mercy of the Lord. When he was faithful, he was deceived by the enemy, and practiced astrology for quite a time. (….) He is a penitent, he only seeks mercy. Therefore, I must recommend him to your care and to your heart. There he is; love him from the heart, and let your eyes take custody of him. Look at him, know him, and wherever he goes, present him to the other brothers who are not here; this diligence is itself an act of mercy. In this way, he who was a deceiver may no longer take away his heart and turn away again. You take care of him; let not his life be hidden from you, nor his conduct. So that your testimony may confirm to me that he has truly converted to the Lord (en. Ps. 61, 23).

          We can also see co-responsibility in the works entrusted to the religious of Hippo, who were in charge of going out in the mornings or in the evenings to the streets near Hippo in search of abandoned children. These were responsible for gathering, feeding, educating and baptizing these children (cf. ep. 98, 6).

          Through these texts, that are only a sampling, we can see how St. Augustine invites us to live the co-responsibility, since his own Church in Hippo, inserted in the context of the Church of North Africa, was a Church truly synodal that lived among other elements the co-responsibility. +

Five urgent texts: Synodality is….  co-responsibility.

Texts from the document “The synodality in the life and mission of the Church” (SVMI), of the International Theological Commission, 2018.

          1. “(…) The concept of synodality refers to co-responsibility and to the participation of all the People of God in the life and mission of the Church” (SVMI 7).

          2. “Therefore, all are co-responsible for the life and mission of the community and all are called to work according to the law of mutual solidarity in respect to the specific ministries and charisms, in so far as each receives its energy from the one only Lord” (SVMI 22).

          3. “A synodal Church is a participative and co-responsible Church. In the exercise of synodality it is called to express the participation of all, according to the vocation of each one, with the authority conferred by Christ to the College of Bishops presided by the Pope” (SVMI 67).

          4. “The synodality (…) is achieved through the community listening of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist, the fraternity of the communion and the co-responsibility and the participation of all the People of God, in the different levels and in the distinction of the diverse ministries and roles, in its life and its mission” (SVMI 70a).

          5. “The diocesan synod and the parochial Assembly renew and deepen the conscience of ecclesial co-responsibility of the People of God and are called to concretely delineate the participation of all the members in the mission according to the logic of ‘all’, ‘some’, and ‘one’” (SVMI  79),

From the word to the action.

          Co-responsibility implies knowing that we are all part of the Body of Christ, of the People of God, and to form the laity so that they can assume the diverse responsibilities within the Church.

          Do you give importance to the formation of lay people?

          Concretely in your ministry, how do you carry out the formation of the laity?

Why do you believe that it is important to share the responsibility with the lay people or the religious in their own pastoral work?

          What concrete resistances do you believe can be found in the co-responsibility within the ministry wherein you find yourself?

Final Prayer.

          “Pay attention, then, brothers. This is what you are, you belong to this People (of God), formerly announced and now visible in reality. Without doubt you belong to those called from the east and the west to sit at the table of the kingdom of heaven, not in the temple of idols. Therefore, be the Body of Christ, not an irritation for the Body of Christ” (s. 62, 4). +

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.