Alternative Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
October 7, 2007

Today is a day that speaks to all of us who have ever felt discouraged, dispirited, dejected and forlorn. That means all of us! But without denigrating your personal experience, I would like to suggest, as all three readings show, that today’s liturgy talks, in a special way, to leaders, to pastors, to people out there who have made it their lifetime option to serve others.

Today, the Lord talks to all the jaded Habbakuks of our time, pushed against the wall of uncertainty and undeserved suffering who cries out: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” The Lord, too, directs himself to all the weak-kneed, relatively youthful Timothys in our midst, overwhelmed and crumpled into “cowardice” on account of the seemingly more powerful forces of darkness that stalk the world. Ordained for service, for kingship, priesthood, and prophecy like unto Christ the Good Shepherd, they are, at times, overtaken by fear, as the initial “flames” brought about by the gift of ordination (imposition of hands) are smothered by so much bad example, and so much bad will from friend and foe alike. The Lord talks to weary disciples depleted of their supply of faith who beg him: “Lord, increase our faith.”

The Lord does not simply talk to me today. He convicts me. Being rather naturally inclined towards pessimism, I spend lots of time (and sleepless hours) thinking (it is more like worrying) about the growing problem of terrorism, the impending financial collapse of my country, so battered limp by so much corruption in and out of government. I worry myself sick about the seeming victory of “ruin, misery, destruction, and violence before me.”

I am reminded by what some writer said to the effect that God whispers to us in our joys, talks to us in our successes, and shouts at us in our pain.

He shouts at us today. He wants a hearing from us all who are lost in our own version of “clamorous discord.” He offers, not a quick fix answer, but a vision. To aid our eyes clouded over with tears, he offers a binocular, a telescope, a big Powerpoint presentation of something that “will not disappoint.” He bids us be patient. “If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

We see this vision despite our tears. We see this unfolding reality because of our tears. Didn’t somebody say that “tears are the telescopes by which we see far into heaven?”

But wait. This surely is no mere pious talk. This surely is not one of those pietistic pie-in-the-sky kind of thing that fools no one and convinces nobody! This is good news. And this good news entails a good hard look at what we can do, what we ought to do, what we should invest, if we are going to reap the fruits of our waiting, and hoping, and believing.
This vision has a price tag. It demands a counterpart, some form of “earnest money” from our part, to show the Lord we are indeed listening, that we are indeed, doing our part.

Habakkuk demanded an answer to his “why” question. (Counselors are enjoined never to do that “why” question ever … don’t ask me why). God offered a vision, not a quick fix answer. The vision entailed some good all the impatient Habakkuks in our midst could do. The vision offers a way towards INTEGRITY, RIGHTEOUSNESS, & FAITH. “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

Timothy, who was cowered into timidity and cowardice by pressing difficulties was given a shot in the arm by being encouraged to cultivate power, love, and self-discipline with God’s grace, and to “take as [his] norm the sound words that [he] heard from [Paul], in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

The disciples asked for an increased dosage of faith. Their question was one of quantity. The Lord gave them a qualitative answer. They did not need an increased shot of morphine, figuratively speaking. What they needed was not more of what they already had, but something qualitatively new and different. They needed VISION. They needed to understand the power they already had. They needed VIRTUE. They needed that POWER that comes from what they already had – their faith. And that power does not come from the quantitatively more. Instead, it comes from the qualitatively more. Just a little of this qualitatively more genuine faith ought to be enough even to move mountains and do the impossible.

I would like to suggest that today’s liturgy leads us to reflect more on the power that virtuous living has in our lives as mission-partners of Christ and His Church. For far too long, our moral reflection, and thus, our spiritual theology, too, has been too much based on rules, norms, and commandments (commandment-based ethics). No wonder moral living sounds so unpalatable, so unappealing, so difficult. But moral living has to do primarily with relationships more than it has to do with rules.

Today’s readings offer us this VISION of a qualitatively more relationship with a God who is concerned with our total welfare. So concerned is He with our integral good and growth that He does not give us quick fix answers. He offers us a way we can follow on our own. He offers us a set of virtues to live. He counsels us INTEGRITY, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and FAITH. And all three virtues lead to life.

Even Paul, who surely could have patronized or paternalized his young protégé, did not offer to do for Timothy what he could have done on his own. He counseled power, love, and self-control. He reminded him not to “be ashamed of [his] testimony,” and “to bear [his] share of hardship for the gospel.” Instead of giving his disciples the much-coveted easy answer to discouragement, he offered them a set of virtues needed by those who have offered themselves in the service of others.

There are so many Christians in our midst who go through life sad, burdened not only by the vicissitudes and usual difficulties attached to daily living. (I am one of them. Welcome to the club!) But there are those of us who feel even more burdened because they look at Christian life as a never ending quest for obedience to rules and commandments alone. They go through life sour and dour at the mistaken belief that the world is going past them because they are tied up to minute rules of conduct, and that the rest of society is having a nice time after having done away with said rules.

I see no additional rules today to make life even sadder than it is already. I see and hear a VISION of something sure and certain, a vision of a God who cares, a vision of a God who serves others, who rewards discipleship with more than just worldly material perks and bonuses, and whose retirement benefits are simply out of this world! I also see and hear that the way towards the attainment of such vision is God’s work and ours to do. God’s work comes in the form of grace. Our work comes in the form of virtues. Virtues are our counterpart, our personal contribution and investment.

It would be good for us to start with some basic ones: integrity, righteousness, and faith. Throw in a dash of “power, love, and self-control.” Add in a measure of selfless service, patterned after that of Christ. “The rash one has integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

[Dundalk, MD October 3, 2004]. N.B. This is a rehashed reflection I wrote in Baltimore three years ago. I will try to find the time to do a new one before the week ends.