Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

We all remember that famous Gospel passage where Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3).  What Jesus means by this seems obvious: salvation involves a return to a state of moral innocence, like children.  Yet, are children as innocent as their reputation makes them?  Don’t infants show signs of selfishness and self-centeredness from the very beginning?  Don’t toddlers give their parents’ constant headaches with their rebellious antics?  Don’t kindergartners need to be disciplined so that they stop lying and tormenting their siblings?  Over at our school I’ve seen the kids line up outside the principal’s office.  They got sent to the office because they misbehaved. 

So maybe Jesus was referring to a different kind of innocence when he made that statement.  Referring instead to, the innocence of wonder.  For children, the world is a new and wonder-filled place.  Sea shells, pine cones, bugs, worms, the stars; all of it wonderfully mysterious.   God’s creation inspires fascination and excitement.  And that’s how it should be.   That’s the way Adam and Eve would have seen the world before the original sin, they would have seen the world as an inspiring collection of magnificent gifts given to them by their Creator.

Creation is an awe-inspiring gift from an all-powerful God a wise and loving Father.  An attitude of wonder and awe in the face of God’s gifts is something shared by all the saints.  Sometimes this wonder and awe is called a fear of the Lord.  And this fear of the Lord, this wonder and awe, applies not only to natural gifts, but even more to the supernatural gifts of salvation and redemption.  That is why St Paul, after spending three chapters of his Letter to the Romans analyzing and explaining the complex twists and turns of salvation history, breaks out in a hymn of wonder and awe, as we heard in our 2nd reading St. Paul shouts out:  “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”  This is the cry of a childlike, grace-filled, healthy Christian heart.  The majesty of God fills him with amazement. 

St Paul tells us that God’s judgments are “inscrutable” and his ways are “unsearchable.” Not in a bad sense, but in a wonderful sense.  God is always using creative ways to bring about his magnificent plan of salvation. As we often hear, God can write a straight line out of the crooked lines we give to Him.    We should always pray that God brings some good out of our failures.

The actor who played Judas in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ is a good example.  Lucca Lionello grew up Catholic, but after confirmation he stopped going to Mass and left his faith behind.  By the time he started working on The Passion, he was a confirmed and convinced atheist living in an irregular marriage and having an un-baptized daughter.  He enjoyed working on the film, but he made sure that the other cast and crew members knew he didn’t believe in Jesus.  I’m an atheist he would say over and over, I don’t believe in all this stuff. 

Then they filmed the scene where Judas gave in to despair and took his own life.  During that scene, Lucca was forced to think deeply about what it meant to have a soul that was torn apart by sin and separated from friendship with God.  What is it like to have one’s soul separated from God?  He had to think about that, because he had to portray it on screen.  He had to act it out on screen for everyone to see.  And he couldn’t get it out of his mind, even after the scene was finished – even after all the filming was done.  He kept thinking about that separation from God.  A few months later, he was back on the set to re-record some of his lines.  While he was waiting around, he saw a priest near the sound studio, he was the movie consultant. Lucca went over and started up a conversation.  The conversation ended up going much longer than he had anticipated.  Soon afterwards, Lucca returned to the sacraments, had his marriage sanctified, and had his nine-year- old daughter baptized.  In all His wonder God used the role of Judas as a way to bring a prodigal son back home. 

A healthy sense of wonder and awe in the face of God’s natural and supernatural gifts helps us grow in wisdom and peace of mind. This healthy sense of wonder and awe increases a peace of mind because it reminds us that God really can guide history towards that eternal happy ending he has promised – in spite of all the tragedies and sufferings that our sins cause along the way.  He can always bring good.  In overturning the original sin of Adam, God the Father has given us his Son Jesus and Heaven. Out of the happy fault of Adam we have received so much more, so in spite of all the tragedies and sufferings that our sins cause along the way, God can always bring good.   Nothing escapes his providence: as St Paul writes, “From him and through him and for him are all things.”  “To Him be glory forever.”  St. Paul has a sense of wonder and awe before God and that lead him to give great glory to God. 

This week for homework we pray for the grace and we work at increasing our wonder and awe, our Fear of the Lord.  And maybe a good place to begin is to contemplate your own soul. You soul was created by God with a one-of-a-kind love.  He knew you and loved you from before all time.   And at baptism your soul was washed of Original Sin and branded, indelibly marked, as forever belonging to God, it became His dwelling place.  The God who created 200 billion galaxies and 200 billion stars in each of those galaxies, knowing each one by name, chooses to dwell in your soul, chooses to be your Father.  I hope that fills us with wonder. 

St. José Maria Escriba in a meditation writes about how God should first and foremost reign in our soul.  He writes, “But in order for him to reign in me, I need his abundant grace.  Only in that way can my every heart beat and breath, my least intense look, my most ordinary word, my most basic feeling be transformed into a Hosanna to Christ my King.” 

Like St. Paul may we have a well-developed sense of awe and wonder before God so that we can’t help but give God great glory. 

To Him be glory forever. 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley