Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Ave Maria!
Septuagesima Sunday—12 February A.D. 2017

Route of the Exodus

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

    {Explain the Epistle before reading it.  The reference is to the journey out of Egypt during which many of the people were ungrateful and many engaged in idolatry.}

Of those “that … run in the race, all run indeed, but only one receives the prize? 
So run, that you may obtain it.”[1]

    I’ll come back to the Epistle, but first let us define some terminology about today’s Gospel and other Gospels like it.  A fair number of the Gospel passages contain parables—short, easy to remember,  stories that may be fictional, which are intended to explain heavenly realities in earthly terms.  “The kingdom of heaven is like … such and such.”  In the ancient world people did a lot less writing than we are accustomed to, so many facts were preserved in oral stories.

    Curiously, our Lord also employed parables when dealing with a class of people whom He knew to be unworthy of His wisdom.  Generally, this included the Pharisees—a group of men who were more concerned with looking holy than with actually being holy.  He would speak in parables, but would reserve the explanation of the parable to His trusted disciples.  “Therefore do I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.[2]  (With this phrase, our Lord was quoting an Old Testament prophecy by Isaias the Prophet.[3]

    At first glance, today’s parable seems unfair to most people—we find it easy to identify with those who worked all day long and expected to receive more for their effort and discomfort.[4]  We need to look a little deeper if we are to understand how this explains “the kingdom of heaven.”

    The reality is that some of us are born into the Catholic Faith and spend our lives carefully keeping the Commandments, receiving the Sacraments faithfully, and doing good works.  Some are more half‑hearted than others.   Others may fall away from the Church for years on end—hopefully they come back later on. Still others find the Catholic Faith later on in life.  Some don’t find the Faith or don’t return to It until they are close to death.  Yet, God rewards all of these—from the longest, hardest practicing Catholic to the deathbed convert—with the happiness of Heaven.  Not one of them is condemned!

    In the parable, those who had worked longest were angry that all the workers were rewarded equally.  Should those who have been long term and faithful Catholics be disturbed by the salvation of the deathbed convert?  The answer is a resounding NO! NOT AT ALL!  God is generous, and the salvation of the “difficult cases” is very important to Him.  Our Lord tells us: “there shall be greater joy in heaven over one sinner that does penance, than over ninety-nine just ones who do not need penance.”[5]  Our Lord died on the Cross for the salvation of us sinners—we should rejoice and be glad with Him when He pulls a “difficult case” through.

    And, clearly, since none of us is perfect, we should be supremely grateful that He does not demand perfection.  Very few of us can claim to be that “longest, hardest practicing Catholic” that I mentioned.   We should all consider ourselves fortunate if we are among those rewarded with heaven.

    Yet, there is another parable of sorts (really our Lord speaking to His Apostles at the Last Supper): “In my Father' s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you.”[6]  Both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas are agreed that the “mansions” mentioned by our Lord correspond to differing degrees of reward in heaven—“ the plurality of mansions corresponds to the differences of beatitude on the part of the blessed.”[7]

    So, there is hope for some sort of reward for being that “longest, hardest practicing Catholic.”  And that is the point of today’s Epistle.  Saint Paul compares the reward of heaven to the prize awarded in a race.  Logically, if we enter a race, we will set our sights on taking the first‑prize.  Realistically, we may not win the first‑prize all the time—we may never win it—but striving for it makes it much more likely that we will win the second or the third—and we surely will never win the first‑prize if we always aim for second or third!

    The Church has us read this Epistle today on the first day of the Septuagesima Season.  It is not yet Lent, but this is the time to plan our training—figuring out the what? the how? and the when? of our training for holiness as we approach Easter.  There are only sixteen days between today and Ash Wednesday, so the time is short.  We can begin sooner if we are ready, but most people will need that time to clear their schedule for the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, to gather spiritual reading materials, and to estimate what we can actually do by way of penance and fasting and self-denial as we train for the race to see who will inhabit Mansion #1 in heaven.

Of those “that … run in the race, all run indeed, but only one receives the prize?
So run, that you may obtain it.”


[1]   Cf. Epistle: I. Corinthians. ix:24-27., to x:1-5

[4]   Gospel: Matthew xx:1-16

[7]   Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q.93 a.2

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