Sunday, July 21, 2013


   Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

When the babysitter was unexpectedly delayed,
Grandpa found himself suddenly watching
his six-year-old grandson at breakfast. 
So he scooped up two steaming bowls of oatmeal.
“Do you like sugar?” he asked, and the boy nodded.
“How about some butter, too?” and the kid nodded again.
“And what about milk?”
“Sure,” the six-year-old replied.
No sooner had Grandpa placed the bowl in front of the boy
did the young man make a sour face and push it away.
“But you said you liked sugar, butter, and milk!”
the confused grandfather protested.
“I do,” said the boy, “but you never asked if I like oatmeal.”

Sometimes, it’s what matters most
that most easily escapes us.

Since the 1970’s,
time-management gurus have been teaching people
how to set A, B, and C level priorities—
with the A group made up of the most essential things. (cf. A. Lakein)
To give an example of how it works:
former President Bill Clinton recalls reading about this technique 
and drawing up a list organizing his personal goals
when he was just out of law school.
“I’m sure I have that old list somewhere buried in my papers,
though I can’t find it,” Clinton writes.
“However, I do remember the A list.
I wanted to be a good man, have a good marriage and children,
have good friends, make a successful political life,
and write a great book.” (My Life)

There’s great value in listing your priorities like that…
…because most people spend most of their time working on the C’s.
Because C level priorities are much easier to accomplish,
and generally give the impression
that you’re actually getting something done.
You can keep busy all day, every day, on the C’s…
…and never quite manage
to get to the really important stuff.

What proves to be a common-enough temptation
on the job, with studies, and concerning yard or housework,
also has its spiritual ramifications, doesn’t it?
We’re so often like Martha—
occupied with matters closer to the surface,
anxious and worried about many things—
and so slow to sit still like Mary—
giving our full attention to that place
where the Lord’s feet rest on the ground of our lives.

We can see this pattern when we Catholics gather for Mass.
Since the reforms of Vatican II,
there’s been a trend to find ways
to give as many people as possible something special to do:
to gather the collection or bring up the gifts;
to sing in the choir or read from the pulpit;
to hand out bulletins or distribute Holy Communion.
Mass is a whole lot busier than it was 40 years ago!
But while all this involvement is a good and helpful thing,
I’m afraid that the constant activity
frequently has the opposite of it’s intended affect:
obscuring the work of the One
who ought to be the most active of all, and that’s Christ.
We can be too busy
getting our job done and focused on doing it right
to truly allow the Lord
to accomplish his work in and on us…
…which is the whole point, right?
Since any amount of meaningful stillness and silence
is missing from so much of the rest of our lives,
we’re increasingly uncomfortable with it here in church, too.
And I’m not just talking about before and after Mass;
take just a few moments of quiet during the liturgy,
and everybody’s clearing their throats
or checking their watches,
wondering if I’ve lost my place or fallen asleep.
It’s not unlike the “multitaskers,”
reading through the news in the bulletin
while the Good News—the very Word of God—
is being proclaimed.
We get our C’s way ahead of our A’s.
What’s the hurry?  What is most important?
Why can’t we sit, linger, and let things sink in a bit?

We see the same inclination beyond the walls of the church
as society forgets about first principles
and gets it’s priorities all out of whack.
The late American author Walker Percy once noted,
"[In] spite of great scientific and technological advances,
man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."
In our drive to develop and discover—to stay on the cutting edge—
we’ve forgotten that just because we can do something
doesn’t mean that we should.
The result is engineering without ethics.
Consider the rapid growth of social media—
things like Facebook and Twitter—
how billions put so much personal information out there in cyberspace,
but only now are we considering the deeper questions
of securing legitimate privacy
and protecting the innocent from seduction, stalking, or slander.
And the tendency seen in machinery and software
is also increasingly effecting the actual ongoing existence of civilization
as human sexuality is gradually redefined.
Technology and culture continue to tear at
the natural bond between marriage, sexual intimacy, and procreation:
what began with finding ways to have sex without making babies
has progressed to now making babies without sex.
Let our C’s eclipse our A’s long enough,
and we begin to do without the oatmeal completely;
what was once taken for granted gets all topsy-turvy.

In last Sunday’s gospel,
Jesus gave us his two great commandments—
a brief summary of the entire law:
first, that we love God with everything we’ve got,
and then that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
The order they’re given in is crucial:
Jesus is laying out A, B, and C.
We see the same pattern playing out this Sunday
as he visits Martha and Mary:
one sister has put the details of hospitality
(and maybe even the need to be noticed)
ahead of being truly present to her distinguished guest,
while the other relishes one of friendship’s greatest treasures:
the simple joy of being together.
Jesus makes it clear who has chosen the better part—
and so gained the only thing necessary.
Why would we ever settle for anything less?

Is a genuine friendship with Jesus your A-list priority?
And if not, then what is?
Why has it gotten ahead of him?
What consequences is that having on your life?
And how can you get things back in proper order?

In the Eucharist, Christ comes to you as a guest
no less than he once did to Martha and Mary.
What sort of welcome will the Lord receive
when he enters under your roof?

Be sure to choose the better part.

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