THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
I have started to read a book entitled Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry A. Weddell. Mrs. Weddell is the co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, and the creator of a gifts-discernment program designed specifically for Catholics. These programs are meant to help leaders in Catholic parishes identify and build upon the gifts that God has given them. It was during the course of one of these gift discernment interviews that Mrs. Weddell had a troubling epiphany about a problem plaguing many Catholics today. She was talking to a woman who was a leader in her parish. She asked, "Could you briefly describe to me your relationship with God?" This parish leader surprised her by stating flatly, "I don't have a relationship with God."
Of course, that did not mean God did not have a relationship with her. The problem was that she did not reciprocate that relationship. And she is not alone. Only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic still practice the faith as adults. Fully 10% of the American population is made up of ex-Catholics. These numbers seem shocking, but what is even more troubling is the number who remain in the Church - sometimes even in leadership roles - despite the lack of any intention to be disciples of Christ. Like the woman in this interview, they do not seek to nourish a relationship with God.
God is already in relationship with us. He loves us. That may sound like a trite statement, but it is true. We know it is true because we exist. "For you love all things that are," reads the book of Wisdom, "and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it...?" God is Being Itself (He names Himself simply as I AM), and we have being because we are maintained in existence by His love.
So we live and breathe and have our being in a deep and fundamental relationship with God. The fact that we can be so blind to that truth does not make it any less real. It is the most real thing about you. But do you reciprocate that relationship? Do you acknowledge God your Creator and seek to know Him better?
God wants more than to love us; He desires our love in return. How many of you have experienced unrequited love? How many know the pain of loving someone and not having that love returned? And how many know the joy of being in relationship with someone you love who loves you back? God experiences both sorrow when we do not return His love, and great joy when we do. He wants us to be in a right relationship with Him. "Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!" Those little pangs of guilt you feel, the anxiety, the doubt, and the trouble in your life caused by your own sins are road side signs put there by God to warn you - you are going the wrong way! He wants you to heed those signs and turn back to Him.
God made us to know Him. Our minds were made to know the truth. He is Truth. Our hearts were made to love the good. He is Goodness. He gave us the freedom to love Him or reject Him because only in that way could our love be real. But His work of creation in us is incomplete until we are in that right relationship with our Creator. You and I are still being made.
That effort is ongoing, and requires our cooperation with Him. St. Paul encourages us as he encouraged the church in Thessaloniki, "We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith..." God desires to make us worthy This is why the book of Wisdom does not just say that God overlooks people's sins, but that He overlooks them "that they may repent." It is an ongoing process of perfection that begins by us seeking God.
Finally today Luke gives us the story of Zacchaeus, that short little tax collector - and like most all tax collectors in those days, likely corrupt and considered unworthy by society. Zacchaeus finds himself in a situation that should sound familiar to a lot of us. Short as he is, he is lost in the crowd, unable to see Jesus. Isn't that exactly how we so often find ourselves - struggling to see Jesus in our lives, overwhelmed by the crowd of distractions around us?
So what does Zacchaeus do? He runs ahead, he escapes the crowd. And then he climbs a tree "in order to see Jesus." Jesus calls to him and "receives him with joy," This is exactly what you and I must do. If and when we are lost in the crowd and can no longer see Christ working in our lives, we can either sit there in self pity and whine about our condition or we can do what Zacchaeus did - we can seek Christ out.
Run ahead of the crowd. Climb a little higher. Maybe for you that means going on a retreat. Maybe it means blocking off 20 minutes of prayer time each day. Maybe that means joining a scripture study group. Maybe that means seeking out the sacrament of Reconciliation and returning to Mass. You need to get to a place where you can see Jesus. That is the first step toward building a relationship with Him. That is the first step toward being a disciple of Christ. That is the first step toward being the full and complete person God made you to be.