LITURGY AND LIFE
By Lucie Leduc
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Only a week ago I heard someone say to me again words I’ve heard many times, “The older I get the less I know.” Saying this, people usually mean to convey a wise humility about relationship in life and with God, or a growing deference to and acceptance of the ways of God that we often at least initially do not understand.
More often than not, we do not see or understand how God is working in the world. Instead, we see what we want to see, ironically in ways that contribute to our own unhappiness and suffering and the spread of these to others around us. We may see in our lives people who have hurt those we loved or who have hurt us or our community in ways we have not yet worked through. So when we see these “enemies” doing greater things than we ourselves are doing and with seemingly deeper connection to family and the community, having all of the things we think we want by way of possessions, vacations, recreation, then we ache inside with a sense of the injustice of it all. Or we see these “enemies” living out lives of suffering and alienation and we think they deserve it, so we relish our lives in a false self-righteousness.
Whatever our understanding may be, the readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time shake us out of our false ways of seeing and understanding to welcome God’s vast mercy, love and transforming power. In these readings we are invited to a growing intimacy and union with God that sees as God sees, loves as God loves, and becomes more increasingly a transforming power in the whole of the creation community for the greater good of all.
Our first reading from Isaiah is a call to repentance. We are being invited in this moment, the kairos moment, to open our hearts to God and to realize that we often don’t see as God sees, or act as God wills us to act with mercy, love, compassion and a perseverance that transforms divisions into union with God in our families, communities and our world. We reject some in our communities, have strong dislikes and even harbour resentments and hatred toward some. We walk around unaware of the earth’s needs and sacredness, using it for our own gain and good, as an object created solely for human pleasure and power, rather than as a gift of God, reflective of God’s nature hidden and woven throughout creation. God’s love is for all, higher than our imaginings, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
Having opened ourselves in humble self-awareness before God, we hear the psalmist inviting us to trust God’s nearness and to cry out with sincere praise and wonder to open our eyes to the compassion, mercy, holiness and greatness that is God’s. “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” The movement from honest self-awareness which if entered into with any depth might leave us slightly despairing and fearful to receiving the gift of God’s mercy, truth, compassion and holiness in trust, is the prayer of the psalmist — that we turn together in community to make our prayer extend its grace beyond ourselves and even our community to include the whole of the human family and creation.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians takes us further into the truth of how we will arrive at seeing and loving as God sees and loves. “My brothers and sisters,” he says, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether in life or in death.” Christ is the way to seeing and loving as God does, and the more we live in that truth the more the compassionate, transforming action of Christ lives through us to the world in our bodies. Now, we begin to stand naked and honest before God in such a way that real healing and transformation can happen in us through to the world. We each begin a journey on a path that questions all of our own assumptions, thought patterns and actions, bringing these to God, and to trusted others, for transformation into the will of God for us. The expansion and growth into Christ is dynamic, never-ending, the depth and breadth of which can’t be exhausted in this life or the next. We are never done or finished!
The gospel according to Matthew is the parable for shaking us out of any complacency, self-righteousness or satisfaction in which we may find ourselves. In Christ’s parable of the landowner, hired hands and the vineyard, we see God’s active outreach in compassion and desire for everyone to participate fully in this vibrant, colourful gift of life. God’s heart stops at nothing to include everyone in being transformed to participate joyfully, uniquely and fully in God’s reign.
God will not stop reaching out to “hire” others, or to generously bestow the gifts of mercy, compassion, healing and dignity to all, giving each what they need. The parable challenges us to see that we are clearly mistaken if we stop with those we only feel comfortable with, those we prefer, those we think are deserving based on our idea of earning one’s way into heaven. God’s grace is magnanimous, generous and more often than we may think instantaneous. Time in this sense is irrelevant. If we are to be like the landowner, the call is to constantly be reaching out to include others with the same sense of open, generous, self-giving mercy. This inevitably means accepting suffering, the cross and pain as we journey inside of God’s heart with others in their process of growth into transformation in Christ. But we’ll know our transformation is growing when we accept the cross ever more joyfully because we are growing in an awareness of how much we love others and want their happiness and good as much as we want our own. In fact, we will be willing to die for it.
In the meanwhile, turning more consistently to God in honest, sincere prayer every day, deepening the liturgy we celebrate on Sundays into our daily lives, extending our appreciation of the sacraments of our faith and the sacrament of all life, will be the start of our own transformation. In this way, we too will be able to say with Paul, “Christ lives in me,” and fully enjoy with grateful hearts free of envy, competition and petty selfishness, the life we have been given.
Leduc is director for Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.