Sunday, September 18, 2011

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A girl working at the chalkboard of a classroom while a nun and her classmates look on.
Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

The prophet Isaiah commands us,
“Seek the LORD while he may be found.”
But how do we fulfill this command?
On this weekend when our religious education programs resume
it is worth asking ourselves what it means to seek the Lord,
and who this God is whom we are seeking.

In his homily a couple of weeks ago,
Fr. Jerry Lardner mentioned the Baltimore Catechism.
Who remembers the Baltimore Catechism?
I don’t mean, “who remembers that there was a Baltimore Catechism?”
but rather, who remembers what they learned from the Baltimore Catechism?
As those who were taught from the Baltimore Catechism will know,
it consisted of set questions and answers concerning the faith
that children memorized and repeated back.

Let’s try a test:
Who made you?
God made me. 
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, to love Him, 
and to serve Him in this world, 
and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

Though the fact might have been lost, at least at first,
on the children who were made to memorize them,
these are profound words.

“Who made you?”
I have been made by God,
the supreme, infinitely perfect maker of the universe.
You might think that, as important as God is,
this task might have been delegated to someone else,
such as an angel or a demi-god.
But the Baltimore Catechism tells us
that each and every one of us
has been brought into existence directly by God,
who shapes our lives
with the intimacy of the potter shaping the clay vessel.

But there is more. . .

“Why did God make you?”
God has not simply brought me into being,
but God has given my life a purpose,
a meaning,
a “why.”
God says to us through the prophet Isaiah,
“As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
And yet the Baltimore Catechism tells us that that even so
God has made each and every one of us
to know, love and serve God in this life.
We are made by God so that we might seek God out.
Though God’s ways are unfathomable to us,
God has made us so that
we can know God, however imperfectly,
we can love God, however falteringly,
we can serve God, however unworthily.

And even more than this,
our imperfect knowledge,
our faltering love,
our unworthy service
can, through the grace of God
that comes to us in Jesus Christ,
be transformed into a path
to eternal happiness with God
when this life is done.

Though it may have been lost on them at the time,
those who were made to memorize
these words of the Baltimore Catechism
were given a profound truth,
a life-changing truth,
a saving truth.
They were given the truth
that each and every human life
is of infinite significance
because it is a gift from God
that can blossom forth into eternal joy.

Our methods of catechesis have changed over the decades,
but our goal is the same.
We may emphasize memorization less
and understanding more,
but our desire is still
to help the children of our community
to seek the Lord while he may be found.
Our desire is to communicate to them the saving truth
that they have been made by God
and that their purpose in this world
is knowing God with their minds,
loving God with their hearts,
and serving God in their daily lives,
so that their lives can be of eternal significance.

As any parent knows,
we live in a world that increasingly pressures children
to polish their résumés
with a dizzying array of activities and accomplishments.
We Christians, however, have a counter-cultural message
to hand on to our children:
that their lives are significant and important
not because of what they have accomplished,
not because of what they have done,
not because of awards they have won,
but, as in the parable in today’s Gospel,
because of what God has done for them
in calling them into life and redeeming them through Christ,
and that therefore their lives should be lives of gratitude and service.
This saving truth is what our catechists seek to give our children
and what we who are parents must reinforce for them every day
in our deeds and in our words.

And this is true not simply for our children,
but for all of us.

St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
"Do you want to know the opportune time to seek the Lord?
The simple answer is: all your life."
Our lives are lives of continual seeking and continual finding.
So we should all seek the Lord while he may be found.
We should seek the Lord who made us
to know, to love and to serve him in this life
and to be happy with him forever in the next.

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