How does a servant of God seize the moment?

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Sept. 19, 2010
Amos 8:4-7; Ps 113:1-2, 4-8; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

There is a Catholic blogger, a young wife and mother, who recently invited her readers to imagine the following: Imagine that you have taken a trip to Mongolia. And you’ve got quite a bit of time to explore this far-off land. And so one day you are hiking over some remote plateaus, where not very many people live. And off in the distance, you see a human figure, a long way off. And this person is coming toward you, closer and closer. You figure it must be one of the local Mongolians who live in that region. This person comes closer and closer. And then you recognize him: it’s your next-door neighbor, from Maryland! What is he doing here? What are the chances—out of all the places in the world, that both of you would end up in this remote location in Mongolia? What are the chances that, out of all the 6.9 billion people in the world, it would be exactly the two of you? And even if this neighbor was someone you didn’t actually like—he got on your nerves, he was annoying—somehow that probably wouldn’t matter at that moment. Because there would be something amazing and sort of awesome about the fact that the two of you, somehow, had crossed paths right there.

And so, this blogger writes, it helps her to think of things like this when she’s at the grocery store in her neighborhood, with her four restless kids in the cart, and there’s a woman standing blocking the milk section, talking on her cell phone and paying no attention to this young mother who is motioning to her, trying to get her to move out of the way before her kids go crazy. It would be easy for her to be very annoyed at that moment. But, this blogger reflects, if you step back and think about it, it’s just as remarkable that any two people, out of all the people who have ever lived in the world, should cross paths at any one point—even if it is a grocery store in Texas and not some remote plain in Mongolia. It is an awesome moment.

And what purpose might God, in his divine Providence, have for that meeting? For every meeting that we ever have with any person, as we live out this earthly life? How might he want us to seize each of those moments?

C.S. Lewis wrote [in “The Weight of Glory“]:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

How does our Lord want us to interact with our fellow immortals? All these momentary encounters in time and space: how does he want us to seize those moments?

In our first reading, we heard the prophet Amos confront the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, back in about 760 B.C., because they were seizing the moment wrongly. It was a time when some of the people in that land had just begun to gain some prosperity, to move beyond mere subsistence and have some possessions. And it seems that it had turned their heads. And so we hear the prophet represent their desires and intentions, as they say, “When will the new moon be over … and the Sabbath”—that is, when will these religious observances and festivals finally be done—so that they can get back to doing business, to selling their grain and making a profit? And, indeed, as they rushed back to their businesses, how did they view their fellow immortals, the other people there in their land? Well, we heard that they viewed them as people that they would try to exploit and cheat! They say that they will dishonestly shrink the ephah, their measurement for volume; and they will increase the shekel and change the scales, their way of measuring out payment. They will even sell the refuse of the wheat—selling a dishonest product. They truly were, as our Lord would say, acting as servants of Mammon—that is, servants of property, possessions, money, and gain—and, to them, to seize the moment meant to act like leaches and to try to suck out of everyone around them whatever they could.

This is not how our Lord wants us to seize those moments. How does he want us to seize the moment?

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us: God our savior wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth—the truth about the one God and one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ. And St. Paul goes on to say: “For this I was appointed preacher and apostle, … teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

And we know how St. Paul lived out his calling: his tireless missionary journeys, his bold preaching, his pastoral care of the faithful, and these letters that he was inspired to write, which still benefit us today. But that’s him. What about us? What is God’s expectation for us, about how we can seize these moments, according to his purposes?

This month Archbishop Wuerl has released a Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization. And he has reminded us that the Second Vatican Council taught us that every disciple of Christ has the obligation to evangelize—the obligation to tell others about our Lord Jesus Christ and his good news—according to his or her state of life. [Lumen Gentium, 17] What might that look like, in those different states of life? The archbishop writes in that letter:

Those who have fallen away from the practice of the faith are all around us. We meet them in our workplace. They stand next to us in the grocery line, at the bus stop and on the Metro. They are in the car next to ours as they wait to pick up their children from sports practice and band rehearsal and as we go about our daily and weekly errands.

Our routine and commonplace tasks can be transformed into an urgent quest. The Holy Spirit [is] urging us to begin…

And so today, as throughout the history of the Church, we find ourselves in a situation that is parallel to that of the dishonest steward that we heard about in today’s Gospel reading, in Jesus’ parable. Now I should say, first of all, this parable often confuses people, who wonder what it can mean. But really there is just one confusing part: and that’s the part where the master commended the dishonest steward for his actions. I would suggest: just ignore that one part, and pay attention to the rest of the parable, because the rest of it is very clear.

The rest of it presents the steward as a man in a situation that is coming to an end. Our steward, because of his poor performance, is going to lose his job. He will lose his place to live, his income, his position, and his access to his master’s property—all of this is about to be taken away. And that is like us, who are in an earthly life with our daily time, our material possessions, that for each of us one day will come to an end.

The steward in the parable is about to be thrown into a completely new situation; and everything about the old situation will then be only a memory; he will have access to none of it. But it hasn’t happened yet. As Jesus tells the parable, the steward has a few days more, maybe just a few hours more, while he still holds his income and the property of his old situation. Within this limited time that he has, is there anything that he can do, with what he still has in his hands, to improve his new situation, before his old situation is taken away?

And that is our question too. The Catechism reminds us that this human life is the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ [CCC 1021]. It is the time for us to love the Lord with our whole heart, to love our neighbors as ourselves. When our earthly life comes to an end, we will no longer have these material possessions; we will no longer have all the hours of these days; we will no longer have these person-to-person encounters. But for now—for hours, or days, or probably years—we do have all these things. What can we do with them? How can we seize these moments, in order to make them count for eternity?

We heard Jesus say, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” And this statement reminds me of a text from the Greek Orthodox liturgy for the burial of priests, that the composer John Tavener set to music in a piece called “Funeral Ikos.” It’s a beautiful piece; but just to take one part of it: the text is describing each of us after our death journeying to God’s judgment; and it says:

Where then is comeliness? [that is, beauty] Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us…
[But:]

If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and, if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want.
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:
Alleluia!

God our savior wills everyone to be saved. Our Lord Jesus calls us to see this world through his eyes; to see other immortal persons through his eyes; to see our own possessions through his eyes. He calls us not to love things and use people; but to love people and use things. He tells us: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” And of course he calls us to serve God.

How does a servant of God seize the moment? Just a few hours ago, Pope Benedict declared “Blessed” John Henry Newman at a Mass in England. And in his homily he quoted Blessed John Henry, who said:

I have my mission… I am necessary for [God’s] purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his… [God] has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place… if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.

Our blogger wrote of that woman who had been blocking her reach of the milk:

When we passed in another aisle a few moments later, for a moment I forgot about whatever it was that had bugged me, and felt only awe at the sacred unlikeliness that our lives should intersect.

In his letter, Archbishop Wuerl writes to us:

Every moment becomes a new opportunity to connect another person with the abundant Springtime that God promises. In this, we are protagonists of hope.

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