Sunday, March 12, 2017


   Second Sunday of Lent   A 

It’s not just a cliché to say that most men are too proud to ask for directions.  A few years back, a British insurance company did a study which determined that the average male motorist in England drives an extra 276 miles every year simply because he won’t ask for directions.  The same study also said that four out of ten men had told their passengers they knew exactly where they were going…even when they didn’t.

Where are we going?

That would certainly have been a legitimate question for Abram to ask when God called him to leave his homeland and head out.  And it would have been perfectly reasonable for Peter, James, and John to ask the same when Jesus led them up the mountain to be transfigured before them.  (Actually, it’d have been fair for them to ask it again when they were coming back down, too.)

Where are we going?

There are certainly answers to that question which we can plot on a map .  God was taking Abram to the land of Canaan—the Promised Land, which would be the inheritance of his descendants.  And that mountaintop excursion for the three Apostles was but a consoling detour on their way to the holy city, Jerusalem, where Jesus would soon suffer and die before rising from the dead.

Where are we going?

It’s a question that also runs a good bit deeper, doesn’t it?  It strikes at the very heart of human existence.  What’s the meaning, the purpose, of life?  What’s it all about?  Why are we here?  Where are we going?

For us Christians, the deceptively simple answer is, “We’re going to heaven.”  God has made us for a life beyond this one, and desire that we live with him forever.  But while we hold out hope for heaven, that destination can seem impossibly far off.

St. Paul puts it another way when he writes to Timothy: “God called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design.”  Like Abram, like the Apostles, the Lord is leading us somewhere, and it’s his path, his plan, his map that will get us there.  God is calling us to be holy.

We each have a specific vocation from God: to be a priest, a deacon, or a religious; to be a husband, a wife, to be a parent, or single.  And within these vocations, our calling is even more unique: to be part of this family, to serve in this parish, to accomplish this work.  But there is also a general vocation, a common calling, which belongs to all who follow Jesus, and that’s the call to holiness, the call to be saints. 

“What?  Me?  A saint?”  We can’t forget that “saint” literally means, “a holy person,” and that the only people in heaven are, by definition, saints.  And we all want to get to heaven, don’t we?

Fr. Murphy walks into a bar, and starts asking each man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?”  One-by-one, as they say yes, he has them line up along the wall.  The priest comes up to Eddie O’Toole and asks him as well, “Eddie, do you want to go to heaven?”  And Eddie answers, “No, Father.”  “I can believe this!” shouts the priest.  “You mean to tell me that, when you die, you don’t want to go to heaven?”  “Oh,” said Eddie, “yes, when I die…but I thought you were putting together a group to go right now.”

To be called to holiness is to be headed for heaven.  They’re one and the same.

Where are we going?

Life often feels like we’re on a great big treadmill, doesn’t it?  There’s lots of movement, lots of activity, we’re worn right out…but there’s no real progress, we’re not getting anywhere, we’re not moving ahead.  We can’t really expect to travel forward if we aren’t fixed on our destination.  How do we supposed to arrive somewhere if we’re not clear about where we’re going?  Lent is an opportunity given us each year to set things on the right track again.

What’s true for individuals is also true for the Church.  For the past year, we’ve been in a process of pastoral planning, not only here in the parish but across the Diocese, that’s meant to reckon with this question: Where are we going?  Sure—we can see it simply as a matter of dealing with some hard facts: that we have fewer priests and fewer people in the pews, which means we can no longer keep doing business as usual.  But we mustn’t miss the blessed opportunity that this situation presents: a chance to refocus our vision and our efforts as people of faith, asking not, “How do we want things to be?” but, “Where does God want us to go?”  If we can’t answer that fundamental question, then none of our practical conclusions make much difference at all.

Where are we going?

Some spiritual reading I was doing the other day served as a good reminder that all the duties of a priest—celebrating Mass and the Sacraments, preaching and teaching, caring for God’s people—is all about “leading them to sanctity.”  I was struck by that simple word, “leading.”  Leading implies that we’re going somewhere.  Most often, my ministry feels more like that of a caretaker, expected to preserve things the way I found them, to keep things going the way they’ve always been done before.  That, my friends, is a perfect recipe for just spinning our wheels.  Instead, the priest’s call is to be a leader: giving direction to a people on the move; keeping the Promised Land, the heavenly Jerusalem, in sight; constantly discerning, “Where ought we be going, and how do we get there?”

We—men and women, priests and parishioners—live at a time when we can’t afford to be too proud to ask directions from the Lord.  Asking God for direction isn’t a sign of weakness!  It’s a matter of putting our full trust in him…and that’s the only sure way forward.

St. John Vianney was headed on foot to his new parish in Ars, France, on a foggy February day.  Afraid he’d gotten lost, he asked a young boy for directions.  “You’ve shown me the way to Ars,” said the holy priest.  “Now I’ll show you the way to heaven.”

Where ARE we going?

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