Are You In or Not?

(Homily 25th Sunday, A)

"Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call him while he is near."

We can miss the urgency of those words. After all, if anyone is near, God is. He is everywhere. Father Bloom might not be available tomorrow at 10, but surely the Lord will be. To get a doctor's appointment may require a month's wait, but isn't God there whenever we need him? This way of thinking has an element of truth; at the same time it ignores a basic reality.

Once I talked with a man in his thirties who was upset because a friend had died of a massive heart attack. "He was the same age as me, seemed to be in great health. On a bicycle trip, he just veered off the road. When they got to him, he was dead." This unexpected death had a sobering effect. But it did not cause a turning to God. In spite of sixteen years of Catholic education, he drew a quite secular lesson. "It made me realize how important it is to get the most out of every single day."

Now I don't want to be harsh on the young man; he, no doubt, has more depth than his words indicate. To avoid certain emotions he mouthed a cultural truism. Nevertheless platitudes have a way of influencing our consciousness, even deadening us to the urgency of this life. Each new day matters not so you can "get the most out of it," but as an opportunity, maybe the last one, to turn to God.

The prophet Isaiah declares, "seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near." He repeats twice the key word while. It implies a time in the future when the Lord may not be found, when he will not be near. How can that be? For sure, God's nature, his omnipresence, will never change. However, our current way of being will last only a little longer. While we are in these bodies, we can change, that is reverse incorrect insights and make new decisions. We can turn to one side or look straight ahead. But soon our gaze will fixed. At the instant of death we will either be looking toward God or away from him.

At this moment you may be digging an unbridgeable chasm between yourself and God. Let me try an analogy to explain. All of us have had conversations with a conceited bore. He may have been sitting quite close, saying things which were brilliant, even dazzling. Yet he was so wrapped up in himself that your existence as a person, a subject, was totally irrelevant to him. You were physically close to him, but the spiritual gulf was enormous. Something like that can happen in our relation with God. We can be so absorbed in ourselves, getting the most out of each day, maintaining self-esteem, etc., that we do not recognize the being of God. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.

Jesus says something similar in his story of the vineyard workers . The parable has its punch because all of us subscribe to a worldly principle of fairness. "Equal pay for equal work." We are satisfied with what we consider our fair share as long as we do not see someone getting more, especially if it seems they had done nothing to earn it.

Even though in many ways I am blessed, still there are times when I burn with envy. Once I was feeling sorry for myself, envying a man who had things I longed for. That man came to visit me. Almost in tears he poured out how miserable his life was and to top it off, he said, "Father, I have to confess, I have envied you!" Envy can blind us. That is what happened to the workers who started in the morning. They envied those who loafed all day, then made it in under the wire. But the parable is not about getting ones just desserts.

Cardinal Newman, whom Pope John Paul II recently proclaimed Venerable, gave this interpretation of the parable: The only thing that counts is whether or not we are working in the vineyard. He put the question bluntly, are you in the Church or not? The Book of Revelation, indeed the whole Bible, assures us what will last is Jesus and his bride the Church. All else is illusion like a dream fades when we awake.

I do not mean that you and I do not have legitimate dreams, but they must be put into perspective. A young woman told me people were upsetting her by saying the world might end in the year 2000. She said, "I want to become a mother. How can the world end before that happens?" A noble, beautiful dream, I assured her, but all dreams must be measured against eternity.

Now we sleepwalk; shortly we will awake. What seems unfair we will see in a different light. Jesus pleads with us to stop our posturing, our self-pity and to get to work in the vineyard, to come into the church, imperfect as she is. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.

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From Archives (for Twenty-fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 7 (Summing Up)
2011: The Sole Question
2008: They Thought They Would Receive More
2005: Day Laborers
2002: Why Do You Stand Idle?
1999: Are You In or Not?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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