Commentary on the Gospel of
As we end the Winter Ordinary Time this week it is worth remembering that this period between the Christmas Season and the beginning of Lent is a time when, as Christians, we are invited to reflect prayerfully on being called by Christ into a relationship so intimate with Him that we become completely identified with Him – we live our human lives “in Christ” if we take the invitation and our response seriously. Thus we are made co-laborers in Christ’s work of salvation.
Today’s readings challenge us to believe that even in the face of life’s most challenging circumstances, God will provide what we need to thrive and flourish in our human life and in our task of serving His Reign of love. The very brief Isaiah passage in the first reading holds up the one human relationship thought to offer paradigmatic protection and love: the love of a Mother for her infant child. Even if a human mother fails in the face of her baby’s deepest need for love, God will not fail to show perfect Mother-love. This is the kind of love that is tender, compassionate, understanding, forgiving. This is the kind of love that is characterized as fiercely protective and nurturing even when the mother’s life is on the line. God’s attention and love toward us is most perfectly characterized by this analog.
The Gospel picks up from that and asks why any one of us who has answered Christ’s call to be one with Him is afraid that God will not provide for his or her deepest needs. If you focus on the work of God’s Reign, then God will provide all that you need to be effective and successful in bringing the Kingdom, including taking care of all of your mundane needs for human thriving.
If God offers His committed followers such a promise, what about their collective works or apostolates of the Church? Will God provide an institution with what it needs if the organization seeks first the Kingdom of God? How do we know what is serving the Kingdom of God as an institution of higher education, for example? Maybe we become too absorbed in protecting the future of the institution and forget its purpose in relationship with God’s Kingdom.
St. Ignatius Loyola, First Father General of the Jesuits, challenged those who want to be companions of Jesus, to be trustworthy stewards (the second reading from 1 Corinthians) by practicing a serious work called Discernment of Spirits. This prayerful effort focuses on asking whether a desire arises from coherence with God’s work or rather arises from my (or our) personal kingdoms. In order to do Ignatian discernment, however, one has to want to find his or her meaning in life in this profound personal relationship with Jesus where NOTHING matters as much as bringing “God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.” When we do so, all things (yes, institutions too) work to the benefit of those who love God.
A week or so ago I was driving home from the office of the veterinarian that cares for the dogs my husband and I rescued and love. At the vet, I left the lifeless body of my youngest dog who had died suddenly. I stopped on the way home, at the gravesite of my husband who died only six weeks before, to consider this newest loss. The first line from today’s Isaish reading tore at my heart: “my Lord has forgotten me.” But then I pictured a memory of Michael holding Fergus as a little puppy, and the rest of the reading came to mind, so tender was my husband’s care for this vulnerable little creature. My heart was moved to remind God of his promise to me. It seemed as if a deep sweetness come over me as I stood in the cold snow and wept, and with it an assurance that “all will be well, and all manner of things will be well” (T.S. Elliot) in God’s plan and God’s time. Now I have all of Lent to prayerfully consider what it means to be ever more focused on God’s reign, so God can fulfill in me the Divine Promise of absolute fidelity and consolation.
It is no accident that the Church gives us these texts THIS last Sunday of Winter Ordinary Time (the time of call) as we look toward the Lenten time for renewing our Baptismal Promises to be companions in God’s good work of salvation (our response). With this cooperation from us, God has the space in our world to accomplish His promise of absolute tender compassion toward all.