To set the stage for this first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is addressing the special relationship that the Chosen People have with God. When they, as a people, are faithful to God, they experience the blessings of God together. However, when they, as a people, are unfaithful, they experience the wrath of God together. Nevertheless, if a son turns away from the evil ways of his father he shall not suffer the consequence of the father. Ezekiel is pointing out that individuals who turn to God will receive His mercy and blessings, no matter what they or their ancestors have done. Some believed God was unfair because He didn’t apply His punishment according to their expectations.
What about us? Do we believe God is fair? There are many people who refuse to believe in God because He doesn’t meet their expectations. They say, “If God is real, why does He allow so much suffering?” “Why doesn’t He answer my prayer?” Perhaps they are looking for an excuse not to believe. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence of the existence of God for those who want to believe. How could the order of the universe and all that exists be an accident; how could life begin when there was no life? For me some, of the most convincing evidence is the lives of the saints and the miracles God worked through them. Even more important than that, their lives are a testimony of what it means to live in a personal, intimate relationship with God and experience great joy, peace, and hope, even in the most difficult circumstances.
In the second reading Paul tells us how we can share in the joy of the saints. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, has made it possible by humbling himself, coming to us in human likeness and being obedient, even to the point of death out of love for us. For our part, Paul says, we must, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vain glory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
The saints have reached their potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity because of obedience and humility in the same manner as Christ. The same will be true for us. It isn’t the easy road; we can only travel it with the help of God’s grace. In reality, anyone can travel this road if we chose humility and obedience to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church.
Perhaps a good way to prepare our hearts is to pray a portion of the litany of humility written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Perhaps this emphasis on humility seems extreme, but this prayer has been prayed by many holy people. It is what Jesus is talking about when he says we must deny our selves, take up our cross and follow him; that we must lose our life for the sake of the Gospel. To lose our life in this fashion is to gain happiness now and for all eternity.
In the Gospel we see the fairness of God. In the beginning, the one son says no to his father but later changed his mind and obeyed. The other son said yes to his father, but then disobeyed. The comparison of the two sons is another parable for the kingdom of God. Even if in the beginning we made bad choices, the Kingdom of God will be open to us if we turn back to God with a desire to do His will – no matter what we have done. First we must have the humility to accept the forgiveness of God through the sacrament of confession and then have the desire to be faithful to Him. At some point, we all must surrender our lives to Him. Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Do you want him to be the Lord of your Life?
In every age, including the present, there has been and continues to be stories of profound conversions. These testimonies are for our benefit so that we also will take God seriously and surrender our lives to Him. The sooner we begin ordering our lives to God, the sooner we will begin to reach our potential for happiness and peace.
Maybe some of you remember the name Lola Falana. She was a Las Vegas show girl in the 70’s and was a friend of Sammy Davis, Jr. She was a speaker at a Marian Conference here in San Antonio almost 25 years ago. She said that a debilitating illness brought her to her knees and that in her prayer she experienced the presence of the Lord. Later, she had heard that Our Lady had been appearing to some children, and so she turned to her in pray and received some relief from her illness. She had a profound conversion experience and gave her life totally to God. During her testimony, she said she now accepts all suffering and difficulties that come her way because she wants to suffer with Christ now, so that when she dies she will not have to go to purgatory; she wants to experience her purgatory now.
Suffering is often a wasted resource. We all are going to suffer from one thing or another, but if our suffering causes us bitterness or resentment, it is wasted. If, however, we offer our sufferings as a prayer in union with the sufferings of Christ, they become redemptive.
Sometimes we wait until we realize we need God’s help before we surrender our lives to Him. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. He is waiting for all of us to turn to Him right now. Real life doesn’t begin until we begin the process of conversion.
Even if we have said “No” to God by living our life for our self, as soon as we say “Yes” we will begin to receive the graces we need from God. We do this by a commitment to daily prayer, living the sacramental life, reading the Scriptures, by continuing to be formed in our faith and by serving God and neighbor through our faith community.
Our Lord has a great plan for us that we can only discover by denying our self, taking up our cross and following him. The happiest people on this earth are those who are faithful disciples of Our Lord.