Bottom line: What matters is our final state before God. And you can count on this: God's way is perfectly and mercifully fair.
This Sunday's Gospel has a message similar to last Sunday: What counts is one's final state. It's not about how long a person has worked in the vineyard, but whether he's at work when the shift ends. Today Jesus tells about a man who say "yes" to God and later lose his soul by disobedience. A different guy says "no" to God, but later makes an act of obedience.
Some people ask: How can a last minute choice determine where a person spends eternity? It doesn't seem fair but then God has a counter question: "Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?" (cf. Ez 18:25)
The fact is a person's final choice has a history. During our entire life we are molding ourselves - or to be more exact allowing ourselves to be molded - into a particular shape. While this process is going on we might be only dimly aware of what is happening, but at the end it will become clear.
To illustrate consider the novel - The Portrait of Dorian Gray. It tells about a handsome young man who envies his own portrait because it will never grow old. Well, as the story develops, Dorian retains his youth and beauty even though he embarks on a self-centered and cruel life. After many years he encounters the portrait. While Dorian remained outwardly beautiful, his portrait has changed. Dorian sees the hideous face and realizes that it represents his true inner self. Out of shame and rage he attacks the painting. When people hear the commotion, they come running. They discover the portrait in its full original beauty. Next to the portrait they see the body of an old man, horribly disfigured - repulsive to all.
Perhaps Oscar Wilde learned a lesson from his own novel. He did things that scandalized, even repulsed, his contemporaries, yet he made a good end - repenting and receiving the sacraments.* The change, however, was not as dramatic as it appeared. I encourage you to read "The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde" by Joseph Pearce. He shows how Wilde had a longstanding attraction to Christ and to the Catholic faith. His contemporaries saw one thing on the outside, but God saw something different inside Oscar Wilde. He was making small choices that molded him - or allowed himself to be molded - in ways others could not imagine. Changes that even he imagined only dimly. It all came together at the time of his death.
During this life we are like moist clay: by our choices we can be molded into almost any shape. But death is like putting the clay into the fire. The clay might be a beautiful vase or a misshapen lump. Whatever form it has will last forever. Similarly with our souls: at the moment of death we will either be turned toward God or away from him.
When you think about, there are really only two moments that matter: the present moment and the final one. In the Hail Mary we say, "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." At the last moment - the hour of our death - our eternal fate will be sealed. The moment of our death is in God's hand, the moment we can control is now. At some point the two moments will coincide: the hour of death will be now. There will be no tomorrow to plan for - or to postpone repentance. Begin now to allow God to mold you as you desire to be for eternity.
What counts is not the image that others perceive. What matters is our final state before God. And you can count on this: God's way is perfectly and mercifully fair. Amen.
*Fr Cuthbert Dunne gives this account: "As the voiture rolled through the dark streets that wintry night, the sad story of Oscar Wilde was in part repeated to me... Robert Ross knelt by the bedside, assisting me as best he could while I administered conditional baptism, and afterwards answering the responses while I gave Extreme Unction to the prostrate man and recited the prayers for the dying. As the man was in a semi-comatose condition, I did not venture to administer the Holy Viaticum; still I must add that he could be roused and was roused from this state in my presence. When roused, he gave signs of being inwardly conscious... Indeed I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and gave him the Last Sacraments... And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me."
From Archives (Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
SMART Goals (updated July 21, 2017)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru