30 July 2017
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Every now and then we step back and evaluate our life. Some of us do that when our birthday comes around, or maybe it’s an anniversary. Maybe it’s when someone we know passes away. Or sometimes it’s just when we can “feel it in our bones” that something in life has to change. Whenever it happens, and however it happens, it’s just something that we do: we step back and see if our life is on track.
And that usually involves some sort of reflection on our priorities—you know: What’s important in life? What are our guiding principles? What do we believe is ultimately important for eternity and for everyday life? Here, as a people of faith it seems like a good idea to reflect on this at this particular time of year, with our new council members starting soon, parish planning and discussions happening, with our youth coming back from the Steubenville Conference in St. Louis and all “on fire” with their faith.
This seems like a good time of the year to step back and see where our priorities are: Is our life of faith on track? And it just so happens that the idea of “priorities” is also a common thread in all our Scripture readings today.
We hear that Solomon’s priorities were focused on God: relying on God, asking for wisdom and understanding so that he could be a genuine instrument of God to his people. And then the parables of Jesus these past three weeks have been trying to steer our priorities toward the “kingdom of heaven.” He’s interested in helping us to buy into the idea that the kingdom of God is a priority. Of course, we already do—otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
The psalm talks about the “commands of God,” and how they bring light and understanding. People who can really sing that psalm—in their hearts, anyway—see God’s leadership and his being the Good Shepherd as a priority. And then there’s St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he says that “all things work for the good for those who love God.” In other words, he’s saying: “Keep God as a priority, and all of life—even the challenges—can be a source for good.”
So I could make this homily really, really short today as just say what we already know: God is important, faith is important, they need to be a priority if we’re interested in living a good life. And we can always—myself included—we can always be better about keeping God more front and center in life.
So I could end there. You know, we already know that God should be a priority. After all, he’s God. And that’s why the Church exists: We’re a people who value God as the beginning and fulfillment of our life. We know that. We put our faith into practice; we love God. But the question is: How can we do it more, how can we do it better? And that’s a question of making our priorities real and not theoretical; letting God actually change us and guide us—always for the better, always into a deeper experience of life.
And this challenge of making our priorities actual is at the heart of all our discussions in the parish about where we’re going. It’s behind the question of our buildings. It’s behind the questions about money and finances. It’s behind our questions about what it means to be “united.” When it comes to vocations, it’s a question of priorities. We changed the name of our faith formation program from “Religious Education” to “Discipleship Formation” because it’s a matter of priorities; we’re not just teaching kids facts about God and faith—we’re hopefully leading them to encounter the living God as the priority in their life, and to be his disciples.
Everything we do as a people of faith is a question of priorities: What are they, and are they in a good order?
This past week I got an email from someone who was passing along what she had heard from someone else—that Father listens a lot, but he doesn’t hear. Let me translate that for you: “Father listens a lot, but he’s doing what we want him to do.” The only reason I can translate that is because I have that mindset, too, sometimes. I say to myself: “It’d be so much easier if people would do what I want…And if they don’t do it, then they’re not listening to me.” Right? I imagine a good number of us have that thought go through our head sometimes.
It’s a question of priorities. I’m here to do God’s will, and to help restore right relationship between God and his people. That’s my priority. Of course, sometimes—too many times—other things take priorities. There are lots of things in the parish to distract us from doing God’s work. It’s kind of ironic, actually.
Or there’s the question of what it means to be “united.” I’ve heard that: In order for us to be united we all have to be at one altar, not three different ones. Now, on the one hand, it’s true. The altar is a symbol of Christ, and there’s only one Christ. And, really, that’s what we hope for in heaven: the entire community of the angels, saints, and holy ones gathered around (and within) the one God, enjoying an eternal feast of divine love and life. So there’s something to the idea of the “one altar” being that which unites us.
But, of course, that’s the vision of heaven. And God hasn’t ushered in that reality yet. Instead, he’s given us his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our point of unity—the living Son of God. And he is present in every place, all around the world, at this very moment. What makes us “united” is the Spirit of Christ within us, the “living stones” in the Temple of his Body.
And God has inspired Christians for the past two thousand years to built altars here, there, and everywhere, so that Christ can come to his people here, there, and everywhere. Christ himself is the Unifer, not matter where in the world we are. Over in Kaukauna they have altars. Down in Oshkosh they have altars, too. In California there are altars, in Mexico, in Africa, in Rome there are altars. Millions of altars all around the world. But it’s the same Christ who is present at each one. He is the Unifer; the golden thread that keeps them all together. Again, it’s a matter of priorities: Is the living Spirit of Christ the priority, or is the physical symbol of Christ, the altar, the priority?
Everything we do as a people of faith is a question of priorities: What are they, and are they in good order?
Take the sports field for example. Good sportsmanship is a priority. Athletic ability and determination are priorities. Being a supportive teammate is a priority. Respecting the rules of the game is a priority. And they all reflect, to one degree or another, the greater priority of doing what is right. Sports are an opportunity to practice those Godly virtues of: justice, patience, charity, goodwill. They’re an opportunity to keep physically and mentally fit, intentionally respecting God’s gift of the body and mind.
There are several priorities in sports. But they’re grounded in that deeper priority of being a disciple of what’s right and just.
Or say you’re out in the work force. Well, commitment to the task is a priority. Having skills and honing those skills is a priority. Doing quality work is a priority, and not taking a paycheck for shoddy effort. Investing your time and energy into the work is a priority. Again, they’re all a reflection of that deeper priority within us to love God and “love his commands,” as the psalm says today.
If we’re struggling with something at home, in the parish, at school, at work, out in the fields…it’s always an admirable thing to stop and pray: “God, what am I doing? I have no idea what I’m doing, Lord, so help me.” Just like Solomon prayed: “Lord, I don’t know how to lead these people. You have to help me.” (That’s the basic prayer of any parish priest.) And then get on with life, and let God do his thing—in his time and in his way.
In our minds, we know that God is a priority for us. We know that faith and Church are priorities for us. The challenge is to make it real; to let the Holy Spirit actually change us and guide us. And that’s not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest (and most deeply joyful) work we human beings will ever do—to rediscover God as “the one thing necessary” in life, and to let the Spirit and the priorities of God influence our spirit and our priorities.
So I could’ve ended the homily earlier, but not really. That’s because it’s one thing to know that God is our light and our salvation. It’s another thing, however, to live our priorities; and to stop every now and then and ask: Are my priorities where they should be? Do I really “love the commands of the Lord,” as we sang today, or are they just words?