Saturday, August 17, 2013

19th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C: Await the Blessed Hope

When we think of our family history we tend to think back a couple of generations to our grandparents or great-grandparents and the memories of where have lived and grown up and where we have come from. There is more interest now than ever-before in genealogy and family trees. People love to know where their roots are. In fact I had a family come in this past week who were not Catholic but were interested in finding a record of their great-great-great grandfather. And we saw a couple weekends ago at the Manton Music Jam how many people from all over the region came to listen to some good bluegrass music and recall their roots at Holy Rosary.

Sometimes we hear people say, “I come from a long line of…” any given profession. For example, “I come from a long line of farmers… or soldiers… or doctors.” Children look back to their fathers and grandfathers to find direction for their own lives in the present. Our readings helps us to see that we have a spiritual family that goes back much more than 2 or 3 generations. In fact, we have a family history that goes all the way back to Abraham and the Israelites of the Exodus. We are as much a part of that spiritual family line as we are of the family of our last names. And we can look back to our fathers in faith for spiritual direction in our lives today.

The second reading described the calling of Abraham, his summoning into the desert. God gave him no direction, no destination, no departure time; He just said “Go” and promised that he would make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars. Abraham loved and trusted the Lord so much that he did go; he just started walking. The first reading described the summoning of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. God promised he would free them. He gave Moses very specific instructions regarding a Passover meal. The people were to consume an unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on their doorposts. When the angel of death swept through to punish the Egyptians for enslaving God’s people, he saw the blood as a sign, and passed-over their houses. The Israelites ate the Passover meal in haste, ready and eager to follow Moses and God’s call to the Promised Land.

Our fathers in faith trusted the Word of God, put their faith in his oaths, and were convinced that what He promised, He would do. They did not live to see these promises fulfilled. Abraham’s descendants didn’t truly become as numerous as the stars until Christ and His Church appeared. The Passover that freed God’s people from slavery to Egypt to pursue a territorial Promised Land wasn’t truly fulfilled until the Last Supper and the Eucharist which frees God’s people from slavery to sin to pursue the Promised Land of Heaven. But, we too still wait for a fulfillment, the final fulfillment that will come with Christ’s Coming – either at our death or at the end of time – whenever that will be. Will we be as watchful, trusting, and vigilant as our fathers in faith were? Will we follow their direction?

To be vigilant in our faith doesn’t mean scrupulosity. But it does mean being attentive to the small victories in our day-to-day spiritual lives. We do not know the hour when Christ will come for us. Vigilance through the small victories will ensure that we are ready and will make Christ’s coming a joyful one. But, if we are lukewarm in our faith, not trying to learn more about it or grow in it, or if we have turned away from the Lord, then his coming will not be joyful, but will be like a thief in the night.

A daily examination of our conscience and of the day, at the end of each day, is a helpful tool for discerning how vigilant we really are. When we prayerfully think back over each day, we can notice the small signals, the little red flags that show us that we followed The Way or had gone astray. A daily examination helps us to become more astute observers of all of the little temptations of each day that can in turn become many occasions for compiling victories.

St. Francis de Sales has a wonderful reflection on this approach in his great work, The Introduction to the Devout Life, which I highly recommend to you. It is very accessible and readable. There he emphasizes that many small victories are better than a single great victory in the spiritual life (In Conversation with God, 57.3). When an enemy force is attacking a castle, they focus all of their strength on the front gate so that a clever spy can go unnoticed to the back of the castle and infiltrate it through a small crack or crevice. It is the many small temptations and victories that we should not lose sight of. Little things are a prelude to greater things. Small daily victories strengthen the interior life and mold it to be more sensitive and receptive of divine things.

St. Francis de Sales also gives some very helpful examples of these many opportunities. One, he calls the “heroic minut:” that minute when you first wake up or when your alarm first goes off. Heroically getting up in that first minute – I’m so terrible at this! – is a small but very good victory! Another example is overcoming, when you first sit down to perform a particular duty or responsibility, that first temptation of curiosity that leads to a waste of time. Overcoming the first temptation to see if your favorite blog has been updated, or to check your email, or to check for facebook comments is a wonderful small victory! Other examples are offering a self-denial at meals – overcoming the temptation for second or third helpings or the desert you know you don’t need; living sobriety at social engagements – stopping at 2 or 3 beers at the family cookout or wedding reception; or offering pleasant conversation to others – injecting a kind word when your friends begin to gossip about a neighbor. These temptations come many times each day. It can be inspiring to consider, St. Francis de Sales says, that “For all the battles we win against the small enemies there will be a precious stone placed in the crown of glory that God prepares for us in his holy kingdom.”

One final bit of advice he gives is to make each small temptation an occasion for payer or an act of love. The devil tries to infiltrate our lives, to pick away at us little by little with all of these small temptations in the hopes that the more they are indulged, they more he can lead us to even greater transgressions. But if every temptation brings a prayer to God then he will cease to tempt us. The last thing he wants us to do is pray! Men… every time you see a young lady immodestly dressed say a prayer for her in that instant rather than staring at her, then the devil will cease his efforts at driving you to lustful thoughts or actions.

As these little victories compound, we will find ourselves growing in peace, serenity, and joy “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” We will find ourselves vigilant and ready for the final fulfillment of God’s promise to us of true freedom in heaven. Living this way, when the Lord comes, he will find us not only ready, but joyfully awaiting him as servants who await a master to prepare a feast for them; as a bride who waits for her groom to take her to the wedding feast; as a young mother who waits for her husband to return home from battle. This isn’t a gloomy waiting or a gloomy readiness, this is a joyful readiness! This is how the Lord wishes to find us when he comes again.

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