“No servant can be the slave of two masters.” (Luke 16:13) Our Lord doesn’t give us a third option. There are only two paths in life, only two options. One that leads closer to Christ or one that leads away from him. A few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he put it like this: “He who does not gather with me scatters” Luke 11:23. In other words we can’t be morally neutral in life. We can’t just sit on the fence. We have to choose, to live for Christ or to live for self, to build up the kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of devilish selfishness.
But our Lord also reminds us that we don’t just make this decision once, we make it every day, in small matters and large matters. God give us chances to exercise our love for him, over and over and over. The Christian life is an ongoing series of decisions in which we reinforce or undermine our basic choice to follow Christ.
In this Gospel parable Jesus is warning us; that we have been affected by sin, we’ve squandered the gifts God has given to us and sooner or later the Master will return to render a judgment. But in the meantime, right now, we have the golden opportunity to put our lives and talents at the service of the Kingdom of God.
When we focus on serving Christ, instead of trying to serve two masters, our lives take on that heroic meaningful dimension that we long for. As we know we can see this clearly in the lives of the saints. The example of the 16 Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne is especially moving. These religious sisters lived during the French Revolution. At the very start of the war the revolutionaries came to their convent and invited them to abandon their vocation and join the New France. In the eyes of the revolutionaries prayer and religious life was useless it’s not the way to build up the New France they envisioned. The women should be out there working, doing something productive, something visible to the eye. But the sisters refused, they didn’t want to abandon their vocation. They continued serving Christ in prayer and penance.
This was unacceptable to the new regime. This convent along with many others was forcibly closed and the sisters were dispersed. They were forbidden to live in community or to even wear a religious habit. They were not to be a reminder of God by the way they dressed. And so the sisters wore regular lay clothing and lived in separate houses. But even living this way they still somehow managed to come together for prayer, during which they offered themselves to God as a sacrifice for peace. As a result of their resistance they were eventually arrested and imprisoned. And soon they were all condemned to death. Every single sister in that community was to be beheaded.
On the day of the execution all 16 sisters were loaded into a cart and brought to the guillotine. On the night before someone had brought them their habits. And so they went to their death dressed as they lived. As the cart made its way slowly through the streets of the town the sisters sang Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit), the same ancient hymn sung whenever a young woman professes her vows in the Carmelite Order. One by one the sisters mounted the gallows and laid her head on the block without any executioner having to touch her. As the sixteen martyrs sealed their love for Christ with their blood, the usually frenzied mob of onlookers was utterly silent. The only sound to be heard was the sisters’ singing the Salve Regina, a hymn to Mary. Their bodies were thrown into a common grave with 1,300 other victims of the Revolution. Two days later the Reign of Terror came to an end. These 16 women were beatified in 1906 by Pope Pius X and many poems, plays and books have been written about these brave sisters.
They faithfully served only one Master, they didn’t even try to serve the world, and the fruits of their sacrifice proved that our Lord was the right one to serve. Each of us here today is called to serve the one master, maybe not in this spectacular way of martyrdom, but each of us in our own God given vocation can give witness to the way of Heaven.
One way to keep our hearts undivided and focused on Heaven is to plant visual reminders in key places. A rosary hanging from the review mirror doesn’t have to be just a decoration; it can be a powerful reminder of the road we have chosen.
Those of us who have offices can keep a small crucifix on the desk, reminding ourselves that our work, when we do it responsibly and offer it to Christ, can be a channel for God’s grace to spread in the world.
I know of one man who takes a few minutes every Sunday to come up with a phrase that will remind him of what struck him the most during Mass. He has a notebook, he brings it to Mass. Maybe its word from the readings, or the homily, or something that came to him while he was praying after communion. He writes that phrase down and then he uses that phrase all week. He puts it in his screen-saver at work. He programs it into text messages that he sends to himself. He writes it on a note card to use as a bookmark. It’s a way to make sure that he keeps focused on serving Christ in all his day-to-day activities. He is reminded of Mass all week long.
In the Old Catholic countries of Europe, you still see what are called “wayside chapels.” These little chapels are built along the country roads. These are wooden crucifixes or statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary erected under a protective wooden awning. They are placed at intersections or roadsides as a way to remind travelers of their true destination, and to encourage them to pray as they travel.
This week, our Lord wants us to experience afresh the meaning that comes from serving him in everything we do.
Let’s erect some wayside chapels in our life. I want to end with a prayer written by the famous Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila. It’s about following the way of our Lord in all circumstances. His way is the only way that will truly make us happy!
I am yours I was born for you.
What is your will for me?
Let me be rich or poor.
Exulting or repining
Comforted or lonely
O Life! O sunlight shining
In stainless purity!
Since I am yours, only yours
What is your will for me?
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley