25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)

by | Sep 22, 2019

There is pretty consistent theme in the writings of the spiritual tradition. It can basically be boiled down to this simple phrase: two ways. To explain what I mean, think back to Moses for a moment. When he was soon to die, he told the Israelites that they could either follow God and live and prosper, or not follow Him and suffer and die. More specifically, he said “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life” (Dt 30:15, 19). Two ways: life or death.

Another example can be found in the writings of the early Church. There is a document called the Didache, which is also known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This is one of the earliest Christian writings we have that is not part of the Bible. It starts off with these words: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways” (Chapter 1). Even the modern poet Robert Frost knew this to be true when he said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” With all this in mind, I would like to take a look at today’s Gospel.

Jesus, while not using the exact phrase “two ways” basically presents the same message when He says, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Essentially, He is saying here that either we can follow the way of God or the way of mammon. Now, if you aren’t familiar with the word, “mammon” is not a good thing. Not only is it opposed to God here, but it is a word which can wrap up all of the things of this world that keep us from God — money, power, fame, pleasure—anything which leads us down the other way, down the other path — the one which leads away from God instead of toward Him.

So, Jesus, taking up the “two ways” says basically that we cannot walk both paths. We must choose, because we cannot “serve two masters.” We cannot love God and the things of this world, at least in the same way. God must always come first. And when He does, we end up on the right way, the right path, the path which Moses called life. If, however, we choose anything — ANYTHING — above God, we become idolaters and have placed ourselves firmly on the path of death. St. John put it this way: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:15–17). St. Ignatius of Antioch gives a good example of living this well. As he was on his way to Rome to be martyred, he wrote ahead to the Romans and said: “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips and the world in your hearts. . . . My earthly desires have been crucified, and there no longer burns in me the love of perishable things, but a living water speaks within me, saying: ‘Come to the Father.’” He had clearly placed mammon aside for love of God, and even death would not make him turn his back on the Father and on Christ.

Perhaps Robert Frost was on to something, then, when he said he chose the “path less traveled.” Our Lord Himself said we must do as much when He described the two paths presented to us today when He said elsewhere that we are to “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13–14). Like the poet, then, we cannot choose the easy path, traveled so often that it is well-paved and easily made. Rather, the Christian, the saint, must choose the hard paths in this world that keep him literally on the “straight and narrow,” so that at the end of the road he will find himself before pearly gates rather than fire and brimstone.

So how are we supposed to stay on the path of the Lord? Two things come immediately to mind. The first is obvious: we must pray, pray, pray! St. Alphonsus Liguori did not mince words in this regard. He said that “whoever prays will surely be saved. Whoever does not pray will surely be damned.” We might think that harsh, but he isn’t wrong! Prayer keeps us in contact with God, it puts us on the righteous path, and helps us direct our lives on that path and in line with God’s Will and Love for us. So how often do you pray? If it is only during Sunday Mass, dear friends, it is not enough. Now I am not saying you must spend 24/7 in the adoration chapel. Not even monks do that. But you must pray regularly and often. A few suggestions: prayers when getting up and going to bed, before and after meals, on the way to and from school or work, an evening family Rosary, a weekly visit to the Blessed Sacrament, just to name a few. You can use set prayers, make your own, read the Bible, gaze at a crucifix. There are so many ways! The important thing is to actually pray! And even to pray that we are on the right path! Consider this week, then, how often (or not) you pray, and seriously consider, individually and with your family, how you will incorporate more prayer into your daily and weekly lives.

The second thing that can help us stay on the path may literally sound morbid, but it is important. We must remember often that each of us, someday, sooner or later — each of us is going to die. We may not like thinking about that but we can’t avoid it. Whether we like it or not, some day will be our last and the path we have been on will come to an end. By remembering that we are going to die, we will live with that in mind, and we will be less likely to choose silly or even sinful things that take us away from the path of life. St. Benedict said that remembering death, or, in his words, “keeping death before our eyes daily,” is one of the “instruments of the spiritual art, which, if they have been applied without ceasing day and night and approved on judgment day, will merit for us from the Lord that reward which He has promised” (Rule, IV). Put simply, remembering death helps us to live! And that both in this life and in the next. With that in mind then, what needs to change about our lives knowing that we will die and will be judged based on what we did before death? That itself could take up many sessions of prayer this week!

My dear friends, there are two paths placed before us today. Two roads diverging in the yellow wood of this life. One leads right to heaven and life. The other down to hell and death. And once we reach the end of the road, there is no turning back. The choice is ours and our souls are on the line. With Moses, then, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life [choose God over mammon, choose the right path], that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and clinging to him; for that means life to you and length of days” (Dt 30:18–19), and eventually, eternal life in heaven forever. Amen!

Fr. A. Francis HGN