CNS photo /Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic Herald

Be awake to spiritual opportunities

  • November 7, 2014

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Nov. 16 (Proverbs 31:10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31; Psalm 128; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30) 

The job description of a good wife in the Book of Proverbs is daunting. The described individual is a combination of social worker, business woman, mother and companion. One can only hope that equal standards apply to the husband in question. 

On the positive side, we notice that the “ideal wife” is praised lavishly and given public recognition — she definitely is not a faceless labourer in the background. We might ask if anyone could live up to the standards outlined in the reading. 

Proverbs form part of the genre of wisdom literature common throughout the ancient Near East, and describe ideal conditions and perfect people. Reality was and still is very different from the ideal. Idealism taken to an extreme prevents one from living in the real world and dealing with real people. Sometimes relationships are subjected to overpowering tension and strain by unrealistic expectations that one or both parties have of the other. 

A mature and spiritually fruitful relationship is one in which both are able to accept the other as they are and appreciate the gifts, virtues and qualities that they do have. We learn to navigate and negotiate collective strengths and weaknesses with loving patience as our most valuable tool. Taking stock of oneself is always an enlightening and transformative exercise. 

What would an ideal description of the significant person in your life look like? Do you possess the qualities that you expect in the other and to the same degree? What would their description of you look like and do you measure up? How well do you negotiate the differences between you? This exercise can also be applied to friendships and work relationships. God is patient, compassionate and merciful with us — the least we can do is try to be the same way with others. 

Just imagine reaching the end of life and being filled with regrets for all the opportunities we missed to be loving and spiritual individuals. We live in an illusion we call time — we mistakenly think that we have lots of it. Paul and his communities expected the imminent end of the world as they knew it and its transformation into a higher reality. That obviously has not yet happened, but Paul’s advice still stands: Stay awake! Be awake to the spiritual opportunities present each day and to the preciousness of life. Pay attention to the beauty of the lives that are unfolding before you each day. When life is lived in this manner, the timing of its end should not be a cause of fear or worry. 

A good part of living life in an “awake” manner is using wisely the opportunities that we have. The parable that Jesus told contrasts three types of individuals entrusted with various sums of money in their master’s absence. The first two were enterprising and maybe even a bit brash. They invested the money given to them and were able to return the sum plus a tidy profit to their delighted master. They were both rewarded for their industry and skill. But the third person was timid, fearful and adverse to risk. He was afraid of failure and punishment, so he buried the sum in the ground and returned it without any profit to his angry and disgusted master. He lost even that sum and wound up ejected from the master’s presence. 

Leading a good life is not just about remaining squeaky clean. The biggest failure in life is the refusal to grow and to learn. To do that it is necessary to take risks and sometimes strike out into unknown territory. Risk-taking and recklessness are not the same thing. 

It is all too easy to become addicted to the status quo or to controlling everyone and everything. A daily routine can become a prison cell lacking anything new or challenging. Those times that we don’t have total control of everything and don’t know what is going to happen next can be the most interesting and spiritually advantageous. 

It would be wonderful to delight God by presenting the wisdom and life-lessons that we learned by trusting God enough to take risks. 

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