9th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
March 6, 2011

We live in a world fraught with necessary choices. On a daily basis, we are meant to make choices, whether we like it or not. We choose to get up promptly each morning and choose to get to work or get to school. On such occasions, we know we do have the freedom not to choose accordingly, but we also do know that if we make said choices, we actually increase, not diminish, our freedom. The choices that we make, albeit necessary ones, spell our future well-being and success, and increase our capacity to make further, more important, choices.

We have an example of one such major, important, and far-ranging choice that reverberates far into the future of each and everyone of us. Moses confronts us with it. He impresses upon us its value and importance when he counsels us to “take his words into our heart and soul,” and to “bind them at our wrist as a sign,” or hang it like a “pendant on our foreheads.”

In short, he advises us to “remember” and never to forget.

These days, I forget so many things. Back in the day, multi-tasking was never a problem for me. Rector and President of a college and seminary at 38, I was busy with a daily slew of activities and duties, from running a community, to giving talks, to counseling, to fund-raising, to teaching, to engaging in countless planning meetings, to doing my doctorate, and even planting trees, and taking care of five big dogs. I hardly used my daily planner then, and the old “Sidekick” DOS-based program that approximated the manual Daily Planner remained unused in my computer that, for the most part, remained as a glorified typewriter and word processor.

But of course, I know better than to think that the type of remembering that Moses speaks of, actually goes beyond mere material recall of my seemingly endless “to-do lists” then.

I do remember, of course, what I think and feel were my achievements … new buildings built from scratch, new programs for the school, a new formation program for seminarians, and a host of other things.

But today, the Lord reminds me and, reminds me to remind you, my readers, that all this is not the object of the remembrance that Moses speaks of, that the Lord expects. He counsels us all to remember above everything else to do the one choice that really matters, a choice that spells either a blessing or a curse, the choice between obeying the Lord’s commandments or rejecting them.

It all boils down to this … there are choices and there are choices … choices that lead to action, and choices that lead to inertia and inaction; choices that lead to life, and choices that lead to death; choices that are life-enabling, and choices that are life-disabling; choices that produce far-ranging results and choices that hit a dead-end.

I can choose to pay lip service to a God who worked for our “justification through the redemption in Christ Jesus.” But, as the Lord himself reminds us, “not all those who call on me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I can choose to go through the motions of my avowed ministry as priest (or as catechist or pastoral minister in the parish), and do things mechanically, but the Lord reminds us that it is only “everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them” will be called “wise.”

I can choose to simply focus on the tasks that make me greater in the sight of men, go through a thousand and one activities in the course of a day, and yet miss out on what really matters, and that is to become meaningfully and deeply related to the Lord who is my “rock of safety.”

I can choose to remain on the level of constructing buildings and focusing on earthly achievements, and in the end, really be building on sand, and not rock.

After 29 years in ministry as a priest, I should know. I have been there, done that … And there were so many choices I made over those years that paid off handsomely, and choices that did not. And those choices that did pay off were not necessarily those that could be quantified, photographed, measured, and documented.

The real choices that paid off, in the long run, were those that required COURAGE, and by this, I don’t mean things I did while unmindful of my personal safety. The choices that really mattered were those that I did with a lot of heart, for the word courage really comes from the Latin cor, which stands for heart. The real choices that paid off handsomely were those I did that caused the “rending of my heart” for, that is what Coeur-age, in French, ultimately means – the rending of the heart.

The real choices that really mattered were those actions that I did “taking the words of God into my heart and soul,” the things I did while “binding them at my wrist as a sign,” like a “pendant on my forehead,” that reminded me of what really counts as important.

In my 29 years as priest and 33 years as teacher, those former students who come back to me, with gratitude, defined as the “remembrance of the heart,” are not those who admired me for constructing buildings and achieving what people often take pride in, but those whose hearts I touched in some way; those whose hearts I broke for a worthy reason, and those who “rended my heart” and made me suffer out of genuine love and concern for them. Some of those former students who are now closest to me, were those whose hearts I rended, those who I “kicked out” from school, those who I sent out of class for being truant, those who I spent quality presence and time for, and who I inspired to be working and building on rock and not on sand.

Unfortunately, those who were treated only with kid gloves and given only “sugar and spice, and everything nice,” have nothing to be grateful for, and nothing in their heart worth remembering.

Many years ago, when I was young, I needed a “curettage” in my gums to render them healthy. If I did not submit to that painful curettage, I would have lost all my teeth. Many years ago, I had a teacher who had the Coeur-age to mold me, a father to teach me right from wrong, and a grandmother who did not spare the rod. They rended my heart by subjecting me,  not to a curettage but to a Coeur-age!

These were those who made me really remember, to make the right choices, and not just to listen, but to live out those choices. They were those who taught me, ultimately, to build on rock, and not on sand.