By Janet Jones
WEIMAR, Texas —People from different areas of the Diocese of Victoria gathered for a Catholic Rural Life Harvest Mass Nov. 20 at the Whistling Duck Vineyards and Winery in Weimar.
The South Texas weather, normally warm, provided a taste of fall with mild temperatures and overcast sky. The vines surrounding the venue for the Mass — usually the tasting area for the business — were bare having given up their fruit for another harvest.
And the reason for the Mass was to give thanks for those fruits and everything produced from the world God gave his people to till and protect.
Victoria Bishop Brendan J. Cahill, who is president of Catholic Rural Life, celebrated the Mass, beginning his homily with the opening words from the Rural Life Prayer Book, written in the 1950s.
The introduction, “We Choose the Country,” affirms the nobility of the occupation of farming and the obligation to be good stewards of God’s bounty.
It states, “We will strive always to appreciate and hold fast to the spiritual values of our vocation and to prevent the materialism of this age from blinding us to them. We will model our homes on that of Nazareth; by working, learning, playing and especially praying together we will strengthen our faith in God and our mutual love and unity; we will fulfill our obligation to be good neighbors, faithful parishioners, loyal and active citizens. We will regard our land as God’s land; as stewards of his bounty we will conserve and improve it so that it will increasingly continue to give glory to him.”
“How perfect are the words for ourselves and our lives for today,” Bishop Cahill said.
He reflected on how often we get caught up in trying to keep up with changes in technology and all the changes in society.
“Times like this,” he said, “give us the chance to focus on what’s true and beautiful and eternal that God is the creator of the earth and that we have a special blessing and vocation; that we believe it’s a good place and our families and that we honor God by our work each day, at appropriate times giving thanksgiving and praying for God’s mercy.”
Bishop Cahill said a Mass of thanksgiving is a twofold type of prayer, on one hand thanking God for his blessings and on the other asking for God’s mercy.
“I can refer to the words of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s when he reinstituted the day of Thanksgiving,” the bishop said. “He talked to a nation in a time that was terrible — in a civil war. And he said in spite of our national sin and war, God has blessed our crops and fields. We’ve been able to grow and have trade. We’ve been able to prosper our families in the midst of all this. And so we have to take time to give thanks to God.”
Bishop Cahill said Lincoln realized the need to also ask for God’s mercy as well as give thanks, and reminded the faithful that “as we celebrate the Eucharist, we always begin with a prayer asking for God’s mercy and healing.”
John Cooke, one of the owners of the vineyard and winery hosting the celebration, said, “We feel so honored that the diocese would come out here and use the facility and expose people to some of the agriculture that we do, which is growing grapes and making wine from the grapes and working the land.”
The winery hosted the first Harvest Mass in the autumn of 2019.
“We had a great time doing it,” Cooke said. “The people, the community, seem to embrace it.”
There are many agricultural vocations in the rural Diocese of Victoria — row crops, hay and grass farms, cattle ranches, fish farms, shrimpers and dairies.
Catholic Rural Life is a national Catholic nonprofit organization dedicated to “the vitality of the American countryside.” Based in Minnesota, it has chapters in dioceses around the country, including the Victoria Diocese, who president and board chairman are, respectively, Father Stephen Vacek and Deacon Larry Hoelscher.
It reaches out to farmers and ranchers to help them live their faith through their work . The prayers and lessons offered through the ministry, however, are just as applicable to urban families who might have a windowsill herb garden as they are to those who farm for a living.