Sunday, July 15, is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85: 9-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
How do we measure success in our lives? Obviously, the answer to that question depends heavily upon what part of life we are talking about.
When it comes to someone’s career, we typically speak of success in terms of a good salary, getting promotions and one’s satisfaction with the type of work being done. Where school is concerned, we think of success as a matter of getting good grades, participating in extracurricular activities and graduating on time. But what about that area of life that is most important — that is, our life of faith? How is success measured when it comes to religion and our relationship with God?
It can be tempting to apply the same kinds of standards of success to our lives as Catholics as we do with our careers and other areas of life. Yet it is worth considering that if we were to apply these kinds of standards of success to the prophet Amos or the Twelve Apostles, we would quickly come to the conclusion that they were abject failures.
Consider the prophet Amos, for example, in today’s first reading. Amos was called by God to deliver a message of judgment and repentance to the kingdom of Israel since the people, led by King Jeroboam II, were breaking the covenant that God had made with them. Their guilt lay in the oppression of the poor by the rich as well as various forms of idolatry — including trust in wealth and power, the desire for pleasure above all else, and the worship of other gods.
Amos accepted God’s call, and this meant leaving behind a successful livelihood as a shepherd and dresser of sycamores, as well as the comfort and security of his Judean homeland (Amos 1:1; 7:14). Amos sacrificed much in his tireless and faithful preaching of God’s word. And what was the fruit of this labor? In a word: rejection.
Amos was told by King Jeroboam II via the priest Amaziah to go back to Judah and never again prophesy in Bethel, the sanctuary where Amaziah was the chief priest. By all outward appearances, Amos had failed. He had converted neither the king nor the religious leaders, with the result that Israel persisted in sin.
Yet for all of this outward failure, Amos was, in fact, successful according to the only standard that truly matters: He succeeded in doing God’s will and cooperating in God’s providential plan for salvation.
Each one of us can learn from Amos in his disregard for worldly success in favor of following God’s will. As Catholics, we come to know God’s will through the Gospel of Christ, and we receive the power to follow his will through Christ’s grace.
Like Amos, our acceptance of this call may involve confrontations with the world and apparent failures, and, like Amos, we will probably never see the full fruit of our cooperative efforts to follow God’s will during our lifetimes. Yet we are assured that our faithful living of the Gospel in the grace of Christ Jesus — even if it remains completely hidden — is the standard by which we can truly be said to be “successful” Catholics, for it is through our observance of the Gospel that we will come to inherit eternal life with God in heaven.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor in sacred Scripture at the
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.