Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sunday 25A. "Are you envious?": we share in the love and joy of God when we imitate His generosity

Often in the early Church people would wait for the end of life to receive Baptism in order to reduce the possibility of losing the gift of salvation through serious sin. Today people often pray that others who have left the Church or lost their faith will have the grace of a "deathbed conversion". These practices and more all presume the love of God and his generous desire to forgive sins through His infinite mercy.

The Gospel story of the hired hands speaks of God's reward for each of us and His indifference as to whether we came early or late to answer His call for work in the vineyard. He gives salvation to all who come to him, whether early and throughout life in perseverance or late, perhaps even in one's last days on earth.

Some of the characters in the story react negatively to the treatment of the late-comers. God responds by naming them "envious" and proclaims Himself "generous". Something is revealed both about God and about us in this parable.

Can someone really have a death bed conversion? Yes: God's mercy is infinite and offered to all. There is no sin He will not forgive and there is no "expiration date" on the "mercy coupon" He offers in generous love to all mankind. One reasonably sees, however, that only with a very heroic cooperation with God's grace would it be possible to turn definitively away from a lifetime of indifference to God and, perhaps, serious sin.

But what does it mean to be a "late-lover" as was Saint Augustine. "Late have I loved thee" he cried out when He discovered the wonderful reality of God's love. Really knowing God, as Saint Augustine finally did later in life, demanded a response: He loved God in return. And true love does not wait. Love gives all if it participates in God's love.

The Lord invites us:

"Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving."

Yes, God's generous response of love is ours whenever we desire it with all our hearts. But one cannot really be said to share in God's love if it doesn't make a difference. That difference is conversion: a life with God. A life with God starts with a converted heart, generous toward Him in a loving response to His generous love for us in Jesus Christ which is evident in practical ways.

Even the temptation to envy in the reactions of some of the hired hands in the parable can be turned aside and transformed into a desire to be like God, to imitate Him. And He answers this human need by giving Jesus Christ His Son.

Jesus Christ is never outdone in His response to His Father's will: on the Cross He gave all He had to give. What does it mean for us to imitate Christ in a generous, lived response to God? This way of loving God in Jesus Christ is to be children of the Church He founded for our salvation.

The precepts of the Church, which apply the Commandments to the practical concerns of daily life, spell out a lived commitment of generous love for God which rejects as inadequate the unsatisfying and presumptuous "deathbed" conversion option.

The Seven Precepts of the Church

I. To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and resting from servile works.

II. To observe the days of abstinence and fasting.

III. To confess our sins to a priest, at least once a year.

IV. To receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist at least once a year during Easter Season.

V. To contribute to the support of the Church.

VI. To obey the laws of the Church concerning Matrimony.

VII. To participate in the Church's mission of Evangelization of Souls.

The vineyard is the world which is made fruitful through conversion of life and hearts renewed by grace. "Generous hearts" which reflect and give the love of the Father are made possible for those who "break Bread" with the Son here on the Lord's Day and receive the most generous of God's gifts: His only Son who died, once for all, and who gives Himself again on our altars.

"From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord's command. Of the Church of Jerusalem it is written:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts." (CCC 1342)


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