In the Extraordinary Form, we get a three-week jump on Lent, as you will notice this “Septuagesima Sunday” is clad in purple. Ash Wednesday is three weeks away, but Lent always catches us unprepared, so take the hint and plan our Lent now, before it’s too late!
The Scriptures this morning speak of work. Jesus tells us in the gospel that the Kingdom of heaven is like laborers in a vineyard who work from sunup to sundown. If you thought heaven would be laying on a cloud drinking pretty drinks with little umbrellas in them, think again: Jesus says heaven, or at least the “Kingdom,” includes some work. Of course, it will be joyful, satisfying, glorious work. Notice that some of the laborers began working “early in the morning,” and others at the third hour, and others at the sixth hour, and others didn’t begin working until late afternoon. But all worked.
We usually focus on the apparent injustice of all the workers receiving equal wages for unequal work. But more important is the fact that they all worked. And one hour of heartfelt labor for God may be worth more than a whole day’s labor done with a listless spirit, or merely from compulsion. God alone is the judge of the quality of our work, and he alone pays the wage. Mother Teresa took a fourth vow, in addition to poverty, chastity, and obedience, which was “wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.” “Sisters,” she would say, “do not serve the poor with gloomy faces. If you do not smile from your hearts, what do you bring the poor? Only more gloom.” God will pay good wages for even an hour of heartfelt, zealous, focused work, because he is infinitely generous.
Consider the “work” we do at Mass. The word “liturgy” in Greek means work, or service. So we often call what we do on Sunday a “service.” But consider the quality of our service at Mass. Some give their whole heart and soul to the Mass, and some just warm a pew. Who is more pleasing to God, one who comes to the sacraments late in life, but with his whole heart, or one who never misses a Mass his whole life, but comes only out of a sense of guilt or gloomy obligation? Jesus wants our whole hearts, and he’s willing to pay good money for them. Are you willing to work hard to please your Father in heaven, simply because he is your father?
I taught English in Ukraine for a summer and concelebrated the Byzantine Divine Liturgy every day, and let me tell you, they really work at their Masses. The people stand throughout the entire two-hour Sunday liturgy, chanting almost the whole time, making the sign of the cross frequently and bowing to the ground each time. Once we had a 3-hour Sunday divine liturgy; it was a hot day and the priest was dressed in several layers of thickly-brocaded vestments. Within a short time he was dripping sweat and his glasses fogged up from the effort of all his chants, bows, cries, and interior prayers. That’s work!
Run so as to Win
Just in time for the Olympics in Sochi, St. Paul urges us in the Epistle to “run so as to win.” Only one athlete wins the gold. I must say that I do love watching the Olympians putting their whole heart into the contest. If only we could do that to win heaven! If only we could strive in such excellence to please the Lord of our hearts! So, with Mother Teresa, serve God with your whole heart. Beg God for the grace to live life to the full, fully submitting to his perfect will. “I drive my body,” St. Paul writes, “for fear that, after having preached to others, I may be disqualified.” In many sacristies priests see a plaque on the wall: Priest of God: “offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” That is a goal for every one of us, not just priests. And then take what you receive at this Mass, and invest it with diligent labor to transform the culture.
Give Your Whole Heart
In all good things, Our Lady is our model of Christian excellence. In saying Fiat to the angel Gabriel, she gave her whole heart to God, her entire Immaculate heart to His good pleasure. In hastening to her cousin Elizabeth over rough roads for four days, her work pleased God. God honored her trust and her diligence; he paid good money for her labor. She reigns now as Queen of Heaven, and she urges her children to work and run so as to win.