4 Sept 2016
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
(Parish Picnic Weekend)
If you’ve ever worked on a project, you know how important it is to do some planning ahead of time. You build an addition onto your house, so you have a plan. Or you have a problem with your vehicle, so you have a plan (at least in your head) of how to fix it. Or even if you’ve decided to eat healthier and exercise more, chances are you have a plan of how to do that and what you want to accomplish.
And, really, our whole life is like that. Our life is one big project, and we have to live it intentionally, with purpose, and even with a plan. Of course, we’d make a big mistake if we thought our life was our project alone. Other people around us—our friends, our family, our adversaries—may want to make our life their project. And, obviously, God himself has a great interest in being a part of our life plans. After all, he’s the Designer, the Creator, the Great Planner of everything that exists.
We’d make a mistake if we thought our life plans were ours alone. When I was in high school and college, I had part-time jobs working in retail. And I remember thinking, “This is not the life for me; I don’t like being at other peoples’ beck and call.” Of course, there’s none of that in the priesthood and in parish life, is there? I had a plan, but God said, “I’ve got a better one for you.” And that’s how I ended up here.
For the past few years, we as a parish have been doing a lot of planning. What’s going to happen with all that planning, I don’t know. But I do know that if we really let God be our guiding light, our divine compass, our source of Wisdom, all our parish plans will turn out just fine. I’m not worried about where God will lead us. I’m not concerned about what he has planned for us. My concern is: Will our own plans—whatever they are—get in the way?
Now, the six years I spent in the seminary preparing for priesthood were some of the hardest I’ve experienced so far. And they were difficult because I had to gradually let go of my plans. It was six years of growing into the idea and the hard reality of self-denial; putting God’s plans ahead of my own. And that was hard. That was very hard. But as soon as I could say in truth, “Thy will be done,” then life picked up again.
The challenge I see for our parish is to embrace the idea that God is the Great Planner and Designer of our life. We most definitely have a say in how our life turns out, yes. But will we be so married to our own ideas that we shut God out; that we turn a deaf ear to the Wisdom and Guidance God has to offer? And this is a question for everyone, including myself.
The “good news,” the Gospel News, however, is that even if we discover that we have shut God out, we can always and easily fix that. The good news is that our God is not a vengeful God; our God is our refuge (as we hear in the psalm today). Our God is like the perfect home, where the light is always on, you’re always welcome, and he’s happy to see you—even if we’re covered with the mud of sin, and smell like the manure of self-righteousness.
Jesus didn’t hang around with tax collectors and sinners because they smelled good; it’s because he loves them and will never turn away people who seek him. And so, even if we happen to let our own plans get in the way of God’s plans, all we have to do is get humble (remember last week’s homily) and resume where we left off: listening to the Wisdom and following the Guidance of God.
That’s where the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes in. Yes, it’s about admitting our mistakes, our sins of pride and so on. But it’s also about reaffirming our desire to follow after the Wisdom of God. It’s about saying to God, “God I want you to be my partner in this project called ‘life’; and I want to walk by your side. I value what you have to show me.”
You know, when we set out to build something or make something, we get out our toolbox, we get out our sewing kit and patterns, we get our brains in gear and we start planning. But when it comes to planning and building our lives, the absolute most important tool we need is God’s friendship and wisdom. That’s the one “tool” we always need to carry in our pocket, and in our soul.
With God’s wisdom leading us, our plans will turn out just fine; our life will turn out to be a good one—if God’s friendship and wisdom lead the way.