Bottom line: What counts is not the image that others perceive. What counts is our final state before God.
This Sunday's Gospel has a message similar to last Sunday: What counts is our final state. As you remember, what mattered was not how long a person had worked in the vineyard, but whether he was at work in the vineyard at the end of the day. Today we hear that a person might say "yes" to God and later lose his soul by disobedience. Or, visa versa, a person might say "no" to God, but later save his soul by an act of obedience.
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 over 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.
As we talked about last week, some people do leave after years of practice - and others embrace the faith at the end of life. 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.
Some people ask about the justice of all this: How can a choice that one makes at the end of life determine where one spends eternity? To some it seems unfair, but the prophet Ezekiel gives this word from the Lord: "Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?"
When a person looks at life as a whole, it may not seem so unfair. In reality, during our entire life we are molding ourselves - or 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.
Last weekend I mentioned the example of Oscar Wilde, who made a death bed conversion and received the sacraments of forgiveness shortly before he died. To some it seemed drastic - as if he were one person during his life and then someone else at the time of death. That was really not the case. Oscar Wilde himself had written a novel about how a human soul is formed. Perhaps you have heard of it or even read it. It is titled "The Picture of Dorian Gray."
In the novel, Dorian Gray is 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 undertakes a dissolute, self-centered and cruel way of life. At the end he encounters the portrait. While Dorian remained outwardly beautiful, his portrait had changed. Dorian sees the hideous face and realizes that it represents his true inner self. He attacks the painting with a knife. When people hear the commotion, they come running and discover the portrait restored to its 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. His life is a mirror image of Dorian Gray. He did things that scandalized, even repulsed, his contemporaries, but he made a beautiful ending. The change, however, was not as dramatic as it appeared. Joseph Pearce has written a new biography titled, "The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde." 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 in the heart of Oscar Wilde. He was making small choices that molded him - or allowed himself to be molded - in ways others could not imagine. Or that even he imagined only dimly. It all came together at the time of his death.
So it is with all of us. What counts is not the image that others perceive. What counts is our final state before God. Amen.
General Intercessions for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)
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
Everett 40 Days for Life
The USCCB Urges You to Protest the draconian new Obama regs that try to force virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and related "patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity."
Parish Picture Album
(World Youth Day 2011)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru