Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
Today’s gospel illustrates well St. Bernard’s teaching on the importance of our consent. He defines consent as “a self-determining way that the soul acts.” That consent is self-determining is key to this parable. It is key to a serious undertaking of the Christian way of life. This undertaking is a change in worldview.
It appears that the parable is about an event: a banquet in honor of the wedding of his son. The image of a wedding, of a lover pursuing a beloved as in “The Song of Songs”, seems to be a favorite of God in communicating His love for us. St. Bernard, in his sermons on “The Song”, saw this as the locus of our most important consent. But here Jesus is talking about a change in worldview of the invited elite and of the street-people. The invited guests are committed to a secular worldview; to financial matters and maintenance of the status quo. They will take extreme measures—even murder—to maintain the status quo. They are not open to a change in worldview.
A worldview is assumptions, values, and commitments underlying one’s perceptions of reality. They dispose one’s way of responding to those perceptions. Recall your pre-monastic years when you may have been in love with a young man. I recall those years of being in love with a young lady. In one’s heart-of-hearts nothing else mattered. All else got its value from reference to the relationship. That’s what the king—God—wanted from the invited guests.
The invited guests are Israel’s religious establishment. They are guided by habitual assumptions learned in their culture. It works for them. They don’t want it to change. It is like the change in worldview we go through when we move from secular culture to monastic culture. The change is usually not made smoothly!
World views tend to be absolute, whether it is the view of our culture or of our religion. They are rarely questioned; always deferred to. They become a large part of one’s identity. So, it’s important that the one we choose be true!
God sent His son to teach us a new one, and a true one! It functions to give us deep, underlying motivations that dispose us to consent to actions that make us useful to God and neighbor. It is by the worldview we choose that we assign meaning to experiences and interpret them and determine their value to our end in life. Our worldview is how we make sense of life. It is how we integrate or hold together our community life.
The street-people who attend the banquet have found the culture’s worldview doesn’t work for them. They are open to something different. That is very important. Contentment works against conversion.
Two reasons are given for accepting the invitation: the good food and the honor of being in the presence of the king. The street-people had the advantage of being hungry and powerless. These were advantageous because it made them empty. As St. Paul might have said, “Although/ because they were street-people, they did not cling to the cultural worldview, but instead emptied themselves, donning the wedding garment of the worldview of the kingdom of heaven.” The new worldview is a change of heart. A change of heart is a change in what affects us.
For us today that equates to valuing the person of Jesus, Who leads us to the Father, and nurtures us on the goodness of His teaching and grace. When we consent to them, they determine us.
Consenting to God’s world view is the wedding garment we need to fit-in at the kingdom of God. When we have that, we have put on the mind of Christ.
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: 2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19
As I’ve mentioned before, Pope Francis has recently observed that we are in an age when the church no longer needs teachers; she needs witnesses. Witnesses testify to the experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. They tell what they have seen, heard, and felt that were different as a result of their interior orientation toward Jesus Christ. They tell about a difference that has made a difference.
They tell this to people who “weren’t there”; to people who have not had this experience. The events the witness speaks of are common to most people so the hearers can identify with the witness. It is the interior processing of the event in the light of the gospel story that is different. The interior experience is one of gratitude.
Today Jesus makes ten new witnesses to the Father’s love and care. Only one responds with gratitude. When the Samaritan leper returned to give thanks, he did three things that Jesus wanted done: he promoted the glory of God; he advanced the interests of Jesus, and his witness helped save souls like ours today!
Nine were healed; one was converted. One knew he’d received mercy; nine thought they got a lucky break. Although nine may have witnessed to the healing power of Christ, only one witnessed to the interest of Jesus: the glory of His Father. That is where gratitude makes a difference.
The cleansing of the lepers meant they were again included in the worshipping community. And they had something to worship about; they had reason to give glory to the Father.
When I—and doubtless you—came to the monastery it was because we had a similar cleansing or conversion experience that made us want to give thanks in a community devoted to the glory of the Father.
I recall a time when we at New Melleray used to say that the best way to learn how to be a monk is to live with monks. The Pope would likely disagree with that. We cannot settle for socialization rather than conversion.
“The struggle that results from God’s unrestricted call of grace and our finite ability to respond is the central dynamic in the process of conversion.” For the new person to persevere at this struggle will require her identification with the community members. Such identification will result from our witness.
And to what will we witness? We will first witness that we came to the monastery because we fell in love with God. We knew we owed everything and we wanted to pay everything. In the course of formation we found out what “paying everything” meant. We began to pinch pennies! This is where the struggle began in which we discovered our finite ability to respond and our humbling reliance on grace. This—apart from a close mentoring relationship—can give the novice feelings of difference that can be resolved by fleeing the field of conflict. Witnessing can melt those feelings of difference and turn resentment to admiration and thereby to hope.
Next we will witness to the change of values that came to us by perseverance in this way of life. This is where the rubber meets the road in conversion. It is a change in the feelings that move us. By preferring nothing whatever to Christ in one event after another, we assert our allegiance to an ultimate value different from self. This is a choice whose effects have the three distinctive features of being pervasive, enduring, and deep.
Finally, we witness to a conversion in what we know and how we know it. What bridges the gap between beliefs and behavior is convictions. Convictions grow out of the deep and enduring character of what we care about, of what matters most. In other words, we witness that our understanding of what is real was changed by grace. In the spiritual life ordered to our ultimate end, it is the meaning of an event that makes it real. That meaning was changed in spite of our finite ability to live this life from the heart.
And after the words of witness have been spoken, the final testimony will be in the eyes. These will show the change in the feelings, the change of heart. That change is not a matter of doctrine; it is a matter of lived truth. Lived truth is known by a witness.