Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle I).
When we worry about our times — with anti-Christian forces rising with their own way of life seemingly divorced from a desire for virtue, and with people even within the Church who seem opposed to its beliefs — we can think this is the worst of times and worry for the future.
We needn’t despair. God remains in charge. Take St. Leo the Great (400-461), pope and doctor of the Church. The Church in his time faced greater problems than ours — widespread heresy, barbarian hordes attacking Christendom, etc. God always has an answer to evil. To hear some of St. Leo’s beautiful words about the grandeur of the baptized human soul, go to YouTube and search “St. Leo the Great.” Play the “Apostleship of Prayer” video.
Wisdom 6:12-16, Psalm 63:2-8, 1Thessalonians 4:13-17 or 4:13-14, Matthew 25:1-13
In college, Tom received a paper back from a professor with no grade; “Matthew 25:1-13” was written across the top. We looked it up and read today’s Gospel.
The paper was turned in late, and the message was clear: The points for this paper would be zero.
The Foolish Virgins made the same mistake Tom did. He relied on the mercy of his professor to save him in the end — he figured he could skip his due diligence, make an effort after the year was done, and the professor would give him credit. The virgins thought they could do what they wanted, not prepare properly, and God’s mercy would make all their choices go away.
But today’s Gospel teaches that while there may be no limits to God’s mercy, we human beings do have one tool at our disposal that can thwart even the mighty ocean of divine mercy: our presumption.
“What is presumption?” asked the Baltimore Catechism. “Presumption is a rash expectation of salvation without making proper use of the necessary means to obtain it.”
Several factors make presumption common in our day:
There is a common belief in our day that going to heaven is simply a matter of being a fairly good person. This “neo-Pelagianism” believes that God judges by our standards.
Related is the common practice in our day of “celebrating the life” of a deceased loved one instead of praying for the repose of their soul. Even in cases like Mother Teresa and John Paul II, the Church celebrates a requiem Mass — praying that they will be granted eternal rest. A great retreat master we knew in college was on his deathbed when he told a mutual friend, “Please tell people to pray for me when I’m God.” He was insistent. “Tell them please not to assume I’m in heaven.”
The loss of the sense of sin has also made presumption more common. The U.S. bishops recently pointed out one manifestation of this: Many Catholics feel comfortable going to Communion even after they have stopped making use of the sacrament of confession. The less we realize the horror of sin, the more likely we will assume we’re just fine.
Today’s Psalm teaches an antidote to this attitude. “My soul is thirsting for you, O God,” we say in the response. The prayer describes the state of the Psalmist without God: parched, lifeless, without water. When we take God for granted, we have the opposite attitude: Our soul feels full, satisfied, satiated. When the presumptuous soul stands before God, this is precisely the problem. He doesn’t thirst for God; he feels fine — so there is no way for God to reach him.
For those of us who don’t thirst and long for God as we ought to, what we need is the first of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom. This is the gift that gives us a “taste” for the things of God. It helps us appreciate holiness, and it helps us to understand what we are missing when holiness is lacking.
The first reading today is all about the gift of wisdom and how to get it. The very language of the reading is a clue about wisdom. It isn’t a ponderous, painful thing to gain: It is a light, beautiful thing.
“She is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her,” says the reading. “She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.”
The search for wisdom is discovery, not drudgery. And we can start it right away.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.