33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31)
From Mary Birmingham: The Book of Proverbs begins with a personification of wisdom, Lady Wisdom. She promises wealth, prosperity, happiness, and a long life to those who follow her council. The end of this book [from which this reading is taken] depicts a woman who has faithfully followed Lady Wisdom’s counsel. The image of the woman is drawn with broad, artistic strokes. This lady ministers in her home to the needs of those who come seeking; she is not an extraordinary or exceptional woman, yet she performs with skill, tenacity, and commitment. She helps all around her, her family and the poor. In her service she finds peace and happiness. She is the ideal for all ‘wise ones.’ (Word & Worship Yr A, 572)

When Dorothy Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, her funeral was attended by all sorts of people – everyone from a cardinal (Terence Cooke) to beggars, from executives to addicts, the sane and the demented: all paid their respects. This woman might be considered a good example of the wise woman, even though she had ‘only’ been a poor single mother herself. But she never let her own inadequacies keep her from doing all she could to welcome and help those around her. She once said: “Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ . . . In the church, one never needs money to start a good work. People are what are important. If you have people who are willing to work, that is the thing. God is not out done in generosity. (Celebration, Nov. 2005)

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
This worthy wife sounds like she is living out her calling, or as this book describes, her “sealed orders”. It is as if before we were born each of us talked over with God our special purpose in this world. Our sealed orders are something that we agreed to in the context of a loving dialogue with the God who created us. They are not a task we are to complete, but rather our special way of being. They are our essence. Our sealed orders, our unique way of giving and receiving life and love, are the foremost criteria of discernment for decision making. They make for a meaningful life. Consider spending time with the Lord to discover your sealed orders:
1. Take a moment to grow quiet and breathe in the love of God.
2. Think of a person you know who lives a life that seems rich in meaning and purpose, and imagine yourself in the presence of that person. Breathe in the quality of a clear sense of direction that you feel with this person.
3. Now recall moments in your own life when you have felt a clear sense of direction. In your imagination, relive one of these moments. Breathe in again that clear sense of direction. As you do so, how might you begin to describe your sealed orders?

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5: 1-6)
The beginning of this passage reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Slip sliding away, slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination the more you slip sliding away.” The problem is, disasters do strike without notice and when we’re not prepared. That’s life. But Paul is talking about the end times again because he thought they were right around the corner.

Imagine your own fear if you were to envision that great day as one of panic, rout and confusion. In addition to these images, the Day of the Lord was also associated with cosmic upheaval and universal judgment. Aware of this fear, Paul continually tried to remind his readers that they were children of light and of day, whose faith in Jesus would strengthen and sustain them through every trial and against all adversity. We are already children of light and day:

Harry Emerson Fosdick, (1878-1969), a pastor and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York once compared fear and faith, “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable — and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
We often reach our final decisions much more easily by focusing on our sealed orders rather than on our fears. When we allow love to touch what we like least about ourselves and the underlying hurts and fears, we have a greater awareness of and capacity to carry out our sealed orders. Know and allow yourself to be a child of the light!

From a blog entry on our parish blog: Stay awake. Stay awake to God. All God wants is to be close to us. God reaches out to us many times throughout the day, whether we notice or not. We are never absent from God, unless we turn away from God ourselves. Stay awake to the hope, love and surprises God has in store. This can only be good. Pay attention to the blessedness in life. It’s there. And it’s life-giving. Stay alive to it. There is beauty in the lost moments. Even concentrating too much on the chatter in our heads closes us off to the reality of God revealing Godself in the day. Stay alive to the possibility that God might show up. Whether we like it or not, God just may know better than we do. Life is not supposed to be a game we have already figured out on our own; it’s just meant to be played. Stay alive to the idea that God is ever present. It’s why Jesus came to live with us. He died so we could stay alive to what God has in store for us: life in abundance!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 14-30):
The very rich man in this story sounds like an honorable person at the outset. It is only at the conclusion that we learn that he is dishonorable. The 3rd slave even describes him as such, and the rich man agrees with him! The first 2 slaves not only served their master but imitated him. Why not? If you can’t beat the system, join it. The 3rd slave did what most rabbis would later commend as the safest and most honorable course of action for a free man, but maybe not for a slave. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, people believed that all goods already exist and are already distributed. There is no more where this came from, and the only way to get more is to defraud another. Anyone who suddenly acquired something “more” was automatically judged to be a thief. (Pilch, the Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 164) So then why is the parable saying the 3rd slave is wrong?

• It may have been to capture the attention of Jesus’ audience.
• The message is we are not to be complacent but increase what Jesus has given us.
• William Barclay makes this point about the gospel’s ending advice: “If someone has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will lose it – slowly, but surely. (The Gospel of Matthew, 324)
• From Celebrations, November, 2002 and 2005: Fearfulness only breeds fear and crippling inaction. If we dare to risk ourselves in loving God and others, then Jesus assures us that we will find a God who is eager to share his powerful presence and gifts. Along with this parable, we need to reflect on the kind of God that Jesus shows us — a God who welcomes sinners and who rejoices when the lost are found.

Fr. Richard Fragomeni once said that faith is a risk; it is a bet we make with our whole lives…

C.S. Lewis once suggested that the ‘one’ talent many Christians fail to ‘invest’ or fear to risk losing is love. In a series of 10 lectures on this subject (later published as The Four Loves) he explains:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one — not even to an animal or pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series for Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 323). Doesn’t this remind you of Pope Francis? In a recent homily, he said, “I am attached to my things, my ideas – does this mean I am closed? Or, am I open to the God of surprises? Am I a person who stands still, or a person on a journey?”

Let us resolve to become one-talent wonders, willing to risk ‘being fully alive’ so as to invest our love in God’s service. Let us not dig a hole to bury our love. Let us prefer service to safety, and risk to retreat. (Isn’t that what Jesus did?) We can love as Jesus did, fully, freely, and forever – at least, we can try!

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
The power to be our real self and to accomplish something in life comes not so much from knowing who we are and what it is we want to do, but rather from feeling loved enough to be and do it. We must open ourselves to this love and grow in our capacity to take it in. As we do so, our capacity to carry out our special way of loving, which is our sealed orders, also grows.

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