Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary
1st reading Pr 9:1-6: God invites
us to pursue wisdom
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph 5: 15-17)
‘The will of God' is at the center of Christian life. We must live according to God's will, hence, seeking God's will is an important part of our spiritual life. We can even say it is what makes up our spiritual life.
One of the most important elements of our Blessed Mother's virtue was her desire to live according to God's will: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) For Christ himself to follow God's will was what guided all his life and actions: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mk 14:36)
It is not surprising then that “God's will” is ever on the lips of fervent Christians, especially those who are involved mainly in religious affairs, as consecrated persons such as Catholic priests and sisters and Christian ministers and preachers, etc. They pray the Lord's Prayer daily, constantly repeating, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Who among them would acknowledge that their behaviour is not in accordance with God's will?
In order to seek God's will, some people will pray, meditate or take part in retreats; others will offer their whole lives as contemplatives; still others seek spiritual directors to help them pursue ‘discernment’. The Catholic Church has a tradition of ‘rules for the discernment of spirits’ to help the faithful discover God's will.
Even with all that, history and the reality of today tell us that “God's will” can be an empty phrase and even be misused by us human beings.
During Jesus' time, the religious leaders said they were following God's will when they sentenced Jesus to death! Jesus foretold that it was this same reasoning that would bring about the persecution of his disciples: “Those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”(Jn 16:2)
Two thousand years of church history led the church leaders at Vatican Council II to humbly acknowledge that the church is a ‘church of sinners,’ a ‘Pilgrim Church’ constantly needing to be ‘purified.’ So the entire church must continuously seek the will of God. The phrase ‘Your will be done’ in the Lord's Prayer mentioned above, is the goal towards which the whole church strives unceasingly.
But how do we discover God's will and how do we know with certainty what God's will is? When persons of different religious persuasions make contrary statements and assert that such and such is God's will, how can we distinguish between what is true and what is false?
In today's second reading St. Paul reminds us to “be careful how you live” and “make the most of the time.” This means that throughout one's entire life, at every instance we should be seeking God's will; we must make choices continuously and put them into practice, and in carrying out the action come to understand God's will. And one's ‘entire life’ includes one's religious, spiritual and secular life.
We seek God's will in various ways: through Scripture, the sacraments, everyday living, culture; in all that is true, good and beautiful; in nature, in theological treatises and church teachings; and in ordinary life's experiences, birth and aging, illness and death, success and failure, gains and losses . In all this we must seek God's will, ‘be careful how we live,’ be perceptive and alert, observing closely whether our entire lives are in accordance with the will of God.
We must learn also to discover God's will in everyday life. This is what is meant by “The Way is our everyday life.” There is a couplet which says, “If it were not a famous mountain, no signatures would be left there. The true Buddha engages in talks of everyday affairs.” The Way is found in ‘everyday life.’ That is also where God's will is found.
Moreover, we must use every opportunity to put into practice what we know and believe; and in practice test the truth of what we believe. In other words, we must search for the Lord's footprints in our own experience, and also in the history of the whole church and that of all humankind. Alternating between the faith in our hearts and external practice, our faith life will become deeper and richer.
It is not easy to distinguish in every situation and we can easily be deceived. In ‘Seemingly’ in the “Annals of Lu” it is said, “What makes people most confused is the similarity of things. The worry of a jade specialist is finding a fake stone which looks like a piece of jade. The ruler of a dying country appears to be wise, and the ministers appear to be loyal.” (2) What an engraver of jade finds most worrying is when a piece of stone looks like jade. Before a country is defeated, how does one know the ruler and ministers are slow-witted and incompetent? Do not many false theories or even heresies sound very similar to the Truth?,
So when St Paul encouraged the faithful to be discerning persons, on the one hand he spoke negatively, “do not get drunk with wine” and on the other hand, he was positive, “be filled with the Spirit.” (cf. Eph 5:18) If we can do this, it will be easier for us to truly become persons of ‘discernment.’