Life Is An Appeal

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The master praised the wicked household manager because he acted cleverly. Indeed the children of this age are more clever towards their own generation than are the children of light.

Luke 16: 8

Who are the children of light and who are the children of this age? Most of us, recipients of the gift of faith, would have to admit that we are both. And, as today’s parable suggests, it is as a child of this age and this world that we are, by far, the more prudent or clever.

As one reads the gospel today the question arises:  “Which realm of life evokes most frequently concerns and anxieties in us?” When we are distracted or unable to sleep, are we more often worrying about our affairs of this world or our fidelity to God’s will and our life call? I think that it honestly is far more often the former rather than the latter that troubles us. This raises the question for us of what is the focus and organizing principle of our life. Is it our responsibility to God and the world as a child of God and disciple of Jesus, or is it how we are seen and approved of by the other “children of this age”?

If I honestly examine the motivation of most of my daily actions and use of time, I discover that what moves me most often is my desire for recognition, approval, satisfaction, and comfort. Much energy, and anxiety, is expended on carrying out my desires and my projects. My mode of relating with others is often motivated by a desire to be liked by them on the one hand and to have them further my projects on the other. As children of this age, we are endlessly creative at finding new ways to move others in accord with our designs. It is much more difficult and infrequent for us to discover and practice new ways of serving the unique call and direction of the other person’ life.

It is perhaps in our use and management of time that we see most clearly the conflict in us between being a child of light and a child of this age. A recent study showed that the typical teenager of thirteen to nineteen years of age spends about nine hours per day consuming media. Much of this is formation in the “ways of the world.” Even those of us far beyond our teenage years need to ask ourselves how we apportion and use our time over which we have some freedom of choice. So often, as I get in the car to head home from work, I immediately turn on the radio for the news of the day as opposed to availing myself of this moment of transition to stand before God and reflect on the way I have spent my workday. Far too often when the choice is between some time for study, prayer, reading or reflection or catching up on the latest episode of a favorite television program, I choose the latter.

It is quite clear that living from the transcendent dimension of our personality does not come easily to us. The anxieties and worries of our vital and functional dimensions are what most clamor for our attention. Mary sits at the Lord’s feet “listening to what he said.” Jesus says that this is choosing the better part. What is the better part? ls it the true depth of our humanity and spiritual call? Mary listens and then acts based on that listening. It is the act of listening that must come first. Jesus teaches in the parable we hear today that we are very clever about creating the conditions for the success of our own projects and tasks. We are much less clever in the forming of our life and creating of conditions to become more and more a child of light whose every action is based on a careful attention and obedience to God’s will and call to us.

Piety, finally, is allegiance to the will of God. Whether that will is understood or not, it is accepted as good and holy, and is obeyed in faith. Life is a mandate, not the enjoyment of an annuity; a task, not a game; a command, not a favor. So, to the pious one, life never appears as a fatal chain of events following necessarily one on another, but comes as a voice with an appeal. It is a flow of opportunity for service, every experience giving the cue to a new duty, so that all that enters life is for us a means of devotion. Piety is, thus, not an excess of enthusiasm, but implies a resolve to follow a definite course of life in pursuit of the will of God. All the pious person’s thoughts and plans revolve around this concern, and nothing can distract this person or turn such a one from the way. Whoever sets out on this way soon learns how imperious is the spirit. One senses the compulsion to serve, and though at times (s)he may attempt to escape, the strength of this compulsion will bring that person back inevitably to the right way in search of the will of God. Before such a person acts, (s)he will pause to weigh the effects of his or her act on the scales of God. Before (s)he speaks, (s)he will consider whether his or her words will be well pleasing to God. Thus in self-conquest and earnest endeavor, with sacrifice and single-mindedness, through prayer and grace, one proceeds on one’s way, and to that person the way is more important than the goal. It is not one’s destiny to accomplish but to contribute, and one’s will to serve shapes one’s entire conduct. One’s preoccupation with the will of God is not limited to a section of one’s activities; one’s great desire is to place one’s life at the disposal of God, and in this one finds the real meaning of life.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Holy Dimension

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