Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hand to the plow

Readings for Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth week of Ordinary Time

Memorial of St. Therese of Lisieux, virgin & doctor of the Church



Today's Gospel reading has always given me problems. This is not because it presents a difficult moral situation but rather the words of Our Lord seem short and out of place.

However, if I pair today's reading with yesterday's it makes more sense. Yesterday, I learned that my face must be set towards the Heavenly Jerusalem. I learned that Heaven must be my constant goal both in word and in deed. I learned that the correct struggle with life and death is the one St. Paul presented; it is better to be here on earth if I am working and helping others toward Heaven but it is far better to be with Christ in Heaven.

Today I see three responses to this urgent invitation to join in the journey towards the Kingdom. The first response is, "I will follow but on my own terms." This is the prevalent attitude of our day. We would phrase it, "I will follow when I have time, if I can fit it into my schedule, and as long as this "following" doesn't demand any change in my lifestyle." To which Jesus responds by telling me that my following must be complete and I must not expect any rest in this life. As Bishop Sheen would say, if I burn my candle at both ends, I'll give off that much more light!"

The second response is, "I will follow as soon as I get some things done." This is similar to the first response but it has the added assumption that one has plenty of time. This is one of the tricks of the devil.

This reminds me of a short story I once heard. The devil met with his angels to try to come up with a plan to capture more souls. The first angel suggested that they seek to convince man that there is no God. Satan laughed at the idea. He reasoned that man could simply look at the world around him and discover the fact that there is One greater than he. The next angel suggested that they seek to convince man that there was no such thing as sin. At this too the devil laughed knowing that the knowledge of sin, since the fall, was ingrained in the human heart. Finally, the last angel suggested that they try to convince man that he had plenty of time and would be able to turn to God long before it was time to depart earth. The plan was unanimously adopted and has been in effect ever since.

Chances are, you have heard that whispering often in your life, like when you want to set aside time to pray and that little voice says, "you really don't have time, there are other things pressing right now, God will understand if you put it off until after you get these other things done, you have plenty of time to pray later..."

The third response is, "I will follow but with only part of myself. The other part is attached to friends and family." Now, we may think of this as an okay response since relationships are good. However, if they stand in the way of our relationship with Christ they are simply not good. If I am seeking to follow Christ but refuse to distance myself from an earthly relationship that leads me away from Christ I will have problems.

Jesus' response seems rather harsh but His simple wording illustrates an important basic fact. I must ask myself in simple agricultural terms, "what sort of field would I have if while plowing I were constantly looking back over my shoulder to where I had been?" I would venture to say that this field would be rather ugly to say the least and probably unusable. If I am to be a worker in His field I cannot be looking back to what might have been, to those left behind, to the things I probably missed. If I do, I will not be fit for the kingdom of God nor will the field in which I have worked! I must be like St. Paul, "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal..."(Phil 3:13-14).

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