Friday, September 30, 2011

Homily 26th Sun O.T. Year A - The Parable of the Two Sons

two_sons_davis_collectionSince I was only ordained about 4 months ago, I still remember it very well. There were several parts to the Ordination ritual and because I was the only one to be ordained I made a point to memorize the order of the different parts so I would know exactly what to do. There wasn’t a guy next to me that I could just glance over too if I was unsure. I was it!
After being called forward and presented to the congregation, I was questioned. I promised to diligently perform the duties of the Priesthood. I had rehearsed the order over and over in my mind. I thought for sure that the Litany of the Saints was next, when I would lie prostrate on the floor as the names of the saints were chanted over me, imploring their help and prayers. But, I had forgotten one very important step. The M.C. subtly motioned twice for me to go up to the Archbishop but I shook my head “No, it’s time for the Litany of the Saints!” Archbishop Kurtz finally had to whisper “You have to promise obedience first!” I was mortified; of course I do! How could I forget the Promise of Obedience! Although I was kicking myself inside for forgetting, I gladly went up the steps of the sanctuary and knelt before the Archbishop. I placed my hands in his hands, looked him directly in the eye, and he asked me “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” I answered with all the love and confidence I could give: “I do.”
Promising obedience is not easy, for some priests it is the hardest part of the priesthood. In obedience, a priest has to be willing to respond with trust to his bishop’s instructions, to be willing to go to any parish where he is needed, to be willing to go back to school for further studies if necessary, or to take on additional parishes or responsibilities.
Although these can be difficult, obedience can also bring great joy and fulfillment. It gives a priest direction – he knows who he is and what he is called to do. He doesn’t have to worry constantly about which parish God his calling him too or how long he should minister there. He knows that the Holy Spirit works through his bishop, guiding his ministry, and leading him to the people that God wants him to serve. This is very liberating.
It is very important that a priest promises this obedience in a public fashion, before God, his fellow clergy, and all the people of God gathered there. It is a sign to the world that obedience, although it entails sacrifice, does not have to be bitter or reluctant. It can be free and loving and can bring fulfillment, happiness, and grace to one’s life. When St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Jesus was obedient even to the point of death on a cross, he shows us that in Christ we find the true model and definition of obedience – one that springs from love and freedom and leads not to death but to life.
“Obedience” comes from the Latin “ob-audire” which means “to hear or listen to.” To our modern ears, Christ-like obedience sounds terrible. We don’t like to be told what to do, or how to act. We have highly exalted personal autonomy: “I have the right to do whatever I want as long as I’m not hurting anybody and you don’t have the right to tell me otherwise!” We think that having to obey someone constricts our freedom because then we have to do what that someone tells us rather than what we want to do. The Church is a prime example.
But, True Christian Obedience springs from love and freedom and increases love and freedom. It is not white-knuckled, bitter, disgruntled, rumbling-under-your-breath, Oh-If-You-Say-So, obedience. No, True Christian Obedience is joyful because it gives us that fulfillment in life that comes from being what God made us to be and doing what God calls us to do. God doesn’t want obedient robots or puppets. God wants obedient sons and daughters. And sons and daughters of God the Father, obey him not out of force or fear but because He loves them and they love Him in return.
When we see our obedience as part of a relationship with a loving Father then it can make more sense. There are many real-world examples that illustrate how sensible obedience is: Someone driving cross-country doesn’t mind the lane markings on the road. They don’t constrict him, rather they give him the fullest freedom possible with which to successfully complete his journey. A train conductor, chugging along the tracks, doesn’t resent the tracks because they prevent him from going along the roads like the cars can. No, he hugs the tracks because they allow him to be the fullest extent of what he was mean to be at that moment, a train conductor. A fish in a lake, if he could think, does not resent the confines of his lake which prevent him from flopping onto the banks. No, the confines of the lake give him the freedom to be what he is, a fish. If he were to rebel against the lake and jump out onto the banks he would surely die.
The point is, when one obeys out of love and willingness because the authority, like the Church, is good and trustworthy then he will find that his freedom and happiness is secured, not taken away. Obedience is good for us. A life of disobedience, free from rules or guides, may feel free at first, but it really only binds one to a spiral of confusion, uncertainty, disappointment and heartache.
Msgr. Cormac Burke, an Irish Canon Lawyer, wrote a book called Authority and Freedom in the Church. In it he said, “For the person who wants to follow Christ, the law is never a burden. It becomes a burden only insofar as one fails to discern the call of Christ. Therefore, if the law sometimes seems burdensome, it may not be the law so much as our keenness to follow Christ that needs amending. [After all, our Lord said,] ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (Jn 14:15).” Furthermore, although we know of course that Christ always has, does, and will love the Father, he says “I love you” out loud to the Father only once in Scripture – and this one time, interestingly enough, is in a statement of obedience. In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Christ obeyed the Will of the Father, not merely because he had to, but because he chose to, he wanted to, he loved to! So too, we must follow his commandments relayed to us through the teachings and precepts of the Catholic Church promptly, cheerfully, and humbly. We too can obey like Jesus did, even if we bring to the table a history of much disobedience.
Our Gospel told the story of how one son told his father that he would not work in the vineyard but later repented and did. His second son said that he would work in the vineyard but never showed up. It was the first son that did his father’s will. It was his later repentance that the father remembered, not his initial refusal.
Their story gives us much hope for our own lives. How many of us are more like the second son than the first? Those who said “Yes,” in essence, at their Baptism, at their First Confession, at their First Communion, but have later said No by lives of disobedience – can still have hope.
Like the tax collectors and prostitutes, it is never too late to heed the Father’s call, to repent, to say Yes to him, to follow his will, and work in his vineyard, even if we have spent long lives away from Him. It is this change of mind and belief for him that he will remember. If you find yourself lacking discipline, then grow in love, because discipline is the fruit of love. St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that “A very good sign of one’s being on the right road in the spiritual life is one’s willingness to obey others.” And the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed in our First Reading, “if someone turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

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