26th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year A

God's Mysterious Purposes

Virginia Sillman of Tarentum, Pennsylvania, fell victim to cancer back in the 1950's when she was twenty. She lost a baby as a result, and suffered much pain. Five operations were performed to arrest the disease, but none succeeded. The only consolation the young housewife had during her last year of life was the devoted attention of Lawrence, her husband and her relatives and friends.

Four months before she died she wrote a letter to her dear ones which she asked to be read only after her death. A day after the end came, Lawrence Sillman opened the envelope. Its message was so touching that he passed it on to the local press.

During her illness, she said, she had often asked herself "Why was I born? For what reason did the dear Lord bless me with life?" However mysterious God's plan might have seemed, she finally discerned its pattern. "I feel that this has been my task here on earth," she wrote to family and friends, "to bring you to the Lord.

And even though I have suffered, I have no regrets. I would suffer again for such a cause."

"… You say, `The Lord's way is not fair!' Hear now, house of Israel; Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?" (Ezekiel, 18:25. Today's first reading)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q338: Can one who "denies their faith" ever come back into the Church?

Yes, this issue confronted Pope Cornelius in the 3rd Century, and he called a Synod of Bishops to proclaim that a truly repentant apostate who changes his mind can be readmitted to the Church community after the Sacrament of Reconciliation and penance. One of the themes today is clearly the issue of "changing your mind." The teaching in the First Reading (Ezek 18:25-28) reminds us that if we turn away from a virtuous life, we shall die (losing eternal life with God). However, if we turn away from evil ways and turn back to God, we shall live. God holds out the offer of salvation, depending on our free will choices.

The Gospel (Matt 21:28-32) continues this theme. In Jesus' parable about the Two Sons, one refuses to work in the Father's vineyard, but later changes his mind and does work. The other son said that he would work, but did not do so. The second son was a hypocrite; the first son did the Will of his Father after a change of heart. To this story Jesus draws a lesson: if a sinner changes his ways and repents, he will enter the kingdom of God.

One of the hardest lessons an American Catholic has to learn today is the humility of obedience to Jesus Christ, and to the Church he established. On Sunday we all publicly profess that we believe in "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," and then some of us promptly turn around and reject various teachings of this "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" that might not agree with our personal lifestyle. Who are the humble ones, and who are the hypocrites?

The Responsorial Psalm (25) is very appropriate today: "He shows sinners the way; he guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way."

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Salvation is found in the truth, and this truth has been entrusted to the Teaching Church (CCC #851). Jesus asks for radical choices to gain the kingdom (CCC #546). It is through his Apostles and their successors that he directs His Church, giving the keys of authority only to Peter and his successors (CCC #552). Do we pray from sinful pride which says "only I know the truth," or do we acknowledge the truth that flows from the Holy Spirit who guides the Church Magisterium's teachings (CCC #2559)?

Q495: It seems to me that both sons (in the Gospel) are images of the behavior that each one of us has engaged in.

True, but there is a third, unspoken but better image – the son who would have immediately said “Yes” to his Father and acted on his “Yes.” Today, both the First Reading (Ezekiel 18:25-28) and the Gospel (Matthew 21:28-32) are very short, which permit us to zero in rapidly on the essence of the teachings. It is really quite simple: there are indeed two conditions for entering the Kingdom of God. One of these is giving up sinful ways. The second condition is believing the words of Jesus, and then acting accordingly.

In both cases, or conditions, the emphasis is on the reaction of the listener to the word of God. We cannot simply listen, and then only comment that “it was a nice teaching.” We are called to do more that “talk” about it. We are called to follow the advice of Jesus fully and with a happy attitude of heart.

Jesus appointed successors to carry on his message. These Apostles, in turn, appointed Bishops to continue the Tradition of teaching the truth. If we stubbornly refuse to follow the teachings of these successors to the apostles, then we become like the scribes and Pharisees – hard of heart, stubborn, unwilling to act on the truth passed on by the Church.

We need to remember that there is something “special” at stake here – the prize is eternal life. If we do not believe the teachings of the Church AND act on that truth, then we are not doing the Father’s will; and that will block our entrance into heaven. The readings are short, simple, and easy to understand. If you find yourself choosing to disobey a teaching of the Church, please reflect on what it will cost you, based on today’s readings.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Once again, thanks to God’s generosity, we are today given another chance to respond to God’s invitation to enter his kingdom. It requires a radical choice, and also may require radical action in our way of living (CCC #546). But we must not test God’s patience, nor presume on his mercy – hoping to obtain forgiveness without conversion (CCC #2092). Not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom.

Is the Way of the Lord Unfair?

Today's readings raise the same question as those of last week. Ezekiel speaks out against the idea of collective responsibility. The children are not responsible for the sins of their parents. They are not prisoners to the acts of others. Jesus carries it a step further telling us we are not prisoners to our own sinful past. Forgiveness and reconciliation are offered to all without exception. Some claimed that this was unfair. All the lifetime of evil is forgiven by a deathbed conversion. Of course what is forgotten here is that salvation is gift that is offered to all every day of our lives, and that gift can be rejected by self-righteous lip service as well as by persistence in evil living.

Lord, remember not our sins and failings. Cover us with your mercy and enable us to empty ourselves in mercy and service to our brothers and sisters. Help us to imitate your self-giving and thus contribute to the spread of your kingdom of love and fidelity.