Sunday, August 7, 2016
The Gospel reading today starts with an assurance of Jesus to not be afraid because God wills to extend to us the Kingdom. Jesus often assures us that the Father is disposed to our good and salvation. The Father wants what is good for us. He extends it to us. Indeed, we are told in the Last Judgement sequence from Matthew that heaven was prepared for us...we were created with heaven in mind. Sounds great!! Notice something though: The Father wants it for us but does not force it upon us. We must choose it. How do we do that?
The rest of the Gospel for today answers this. Jesus starts by telling us that where our heart is, there our treasure will be. So what do we treasure? The things of God or the things of this world? It is awful hard to not treasure the things of this world isn't it? Jesus uses the parable of the two types of servants. One good and one bad. Where is the difference?
To explain that we need to take something into mind: concupiscence. When we are baptized, we have the mark of original sin taken and are filled with God's sanctifying grace. Whether that grace stays put is up to our willingness to fight the predisposition we have to sin. That is what concupiscence is: a disposition towards sin. We fight this disposition through the cultivation of the virtues. Each virtue is a discipline by which we rein in concupiscence and the sin it leads to. Some of these virtues, such as the Cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, we can cultivate by our own repeated choice to adhere to the disciplines they require. The one who cultivates virtue is the servant who is wise and does as he should. So delighted is the master upon his return at his virtuous servant that the master waits on them!
However, if we are not cultivating virtue, we are cultivating vice. Concupiscence always leads to vice...to sin. Where virtue is a discipline, vice is a lack of discipline. Vice is a caving in of the free human will to sinfulness which estranges us from God. The bad servant, we see, lacks discipline and engages in various vices (anger, drunkenness) and is caught off guard by the master. Recall, St. Peter ask if the parable is meant for everyone or just for them. It would seem that Jesus targets those who serve Him, especially in the role of shepherding. As those called by virtue of our vocation of priesthood and marriage, we are given flocks to tend. We either lift those flocks to God or drive them away from God. Jesus talks of beatings for those who fail to cultivate virtue. Why? Others suffer the consequences. When we cultivate vice, we encourage the same of those placed in our care. It is human nature for a person to want others to worship the god they worship. Great if the god be God. Deadly if it isn't. Where our heart is, we encourage to have their hearts as well. Hence we who share in the tending of the flock as pastors, spouses, and parents must be certain that we encourage virtue by living virtue.
However some of the virtues, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, need God's grace to grow. We cannot fully love, hope, or have faith without God's initial action or ongoing grace for them to grow. It is one the primary reasons we have sacraments in the Church; the theological virtues need to be nourished by God Himself. I want to focus on the two we can receive over and over again. First, we must be truthful and admit we fall to concupiscence. Sometimes that fall is so thorough that it severs the relationship we have with God. We call this mortal sin. Until that break is addressed in Confession, we are cut off from the source to cultivate the theological virtues. A breakdown in the theological virtues will lead to a breakdown in the cardinal virtues. Our cultivation of vice must be addressed. Otherwise the cultivation of virtue will be difficult, if not impossible, until we have sacramentally dealt with our fall to concupiscence and sin.
By the same token, what we come here to do at Mass is to be given the divine help we need to do battle with concupiscence day after day. In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are given what we need to grow in virtuous discipline and holiness. Hence, if we are in a state of mortal sin, we may come up, but we will not receive the grace given until we have sought God's merciful grace in Confession. Also, if we do not believe what is given here IS the Body and Blood of Christ, again we will not receive the grace we need until belief (faith) is addressed. Those of us who share in the shepherding role of Christ desperately need this grace to do effectively the task to which Christ calls us...we cannot be the good servant without virtue and without grace.
Whether we are the good servant or the bad servant...the virtuous shepherd who leads our flocks to God or the vice filled wolf who leads our flocks to destruction...the person of virtue or the person of vice...is up to us. Today's Gospel tells us what lies in store for both. To be the good servant is to cultivate the virtues, especially those that address the vices that concupiscence tempts us towards. Behind every temptation and vice is the father of lies and the ultimate bad servant...the devil himself. Let us be wary. Virtue or vice are built choice by choice. Let us use the grace given us this day to be the good servant, the men and women of virtue we were created to be.