Twenty-Nineth Sunday in Ordinary Time

For the past few weeks at Vigils we have been reading from the Book of Sirach, a wisdom book of the OT. “Wisdom”, scholars tell us, can be thought of as the art of making distinctions for the sake of living well. The second chapter of Sirach gives us some important distinctions to make toward living well:

“My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare [guide] yourself for testing. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity…For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.” (Sir 2:1-2, 5)  

I wonder if the widow in our gospel had read this. “…prepare yourself for testing…set your heart right and be steadfast…” In other words, be clear and firm about what you care about. We do not pray for a whim to be gratified; we pray for that in which we are invested. What we invest in is the object of our hope. We seriously care about it.

Wisdom tells us that what we care about most is that by which we guide our lives. In guiding us it prepares us for the testing of adversity. When we care that much about something we are at risk according to the good or ill fortunes of that something. Both the widow and the judge are experiencing risk. How each deals with risk is instructive for us.

The dishonest judge cares about his comfort and reputation. He appears to be invested in his personal comfort and unwilling to risk it. So, he grants the widow’s request for the sake of his comfort. The widow is persistent because she is invested in what she cares about. It is worth any risk. She doesn’t have the power to get the judge’s decision; she has the will. That will underscore’s another distinction between her and the judge and a distinction for living well. Her will takes the form of a commitment. She is steadfast. A commitment is one’s maximum investment in what is most cared about and thus guides one’s life. This depth of caring fuels persistence at prayer.

For adults, what is most cared about is one’s calling. One’s calling, marital or monastic, requires a commitment that grows out of an investment of care. 

As a calling, a monk’s caring is not necessarily under his control. When the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time I thought the idea of being a monk was absurd. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. It ate at me constantly. Other things I had cared about like career, friends, and the house began to recede in importance, in the difference they made (and they haven’t been back).  I didn’t lose the power to reject the call; I lost the will to reject it. And I was unwilling to change my unwillingness.

I wondered, “What sort of person must I be to want to give myself so entirely to God?” The answer: I must be a monk. That’s when I stopped moving away from any attachment that would block this call and began to move toward the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Then one becomes fully invested.

And one will have to be fully invested to be prepared for the testing of one’s commitment. Failures will happen. They’ll be humiliating. That’s when we’ll discover that the power that called us and gave that persistent caring about the call will convert the heart to its fulfillment.

Such wholehearted caring is called “liberation”. To be free for such wholehearted caring that guides one’s life is to have found the way, the truth, and the life. It is to love what you can never lack when you love it.