07 July 2019

Your labor is worthless; work harder!

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The CDC estimates that in the U.S. a person dies every twelve seconds. In the time it takes us to celebrate this Mass approx. 275 people will have died. We can't know how many of those people went to their graves w/o hearing the Gospel; how many went to their graves well-prepared for a final judgment. We can't know who received God's freely offered mercy for their sins, or who chose to live outside God's mercy forever. The Church does the hard work of preparing the ground, planting the seed, tending the shoots, and weeding the field. The final harvest is God's work. And that final harvest comes for someone in the U.S. every twelve seconds. The question we need to ask ourselves – as laborers in the field of the Lord – is have I done everything I can do to make sure that everyone I know and love, everyone I visit and work with everyday looks at me and sees Christ among them? If I were to ask your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors: who among you does the work of Christ for you – would your name be mentioned? If not, what do you need to do make sure they do?

I said earlier that the Church does the hard work of preparing the ground, planting the seed, tending the shoots, and weeding the field. And that God will take care of the final harvest. Christians – over the centuries – have been known to (on occasion) take on God's work in picking and choosing which crops get harvested, which plants go to fruit, and which ones go into the fire. While it is true that the followers of Christ participate in the divine life – imperfectly, we are not in fact divine ourselves. The final harvest is God's work. Leave that to Him. Our labors go into preparing the ground, planting the seed, tending the shoots, and weeding the field. It's not glamorous work. But it is necessary work. And it cannot be done by word alone. It takes deeds, actual labor. The labor of daily prayer. Faithful attention to the sacraments. Taking every opportunity to bear witness to the truth. Showing mercy by forgiving sins. Seeking forgiveness when we have sinned. It's the labor of knowing right from wrong, good from evil. Loving the sinner but despising the sin. Teaching the Way, the Truth, and the Life even when doing so may be embarrassing or difficult or offensive. It's the labor of growing in holiness by constantly embedding ourselves deeper in the world w/o becoming subject to the world. Jesus tells us that this is a dangerous task. Fortunately, you are not alone.

When Jesus appoints the Seventy-two, he says to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. . .Go on your way. . .I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Three points to note here: 1). there is an abundant harvest, souls who need Christ but do not know him; 2). there aren't enough laborers to help with this harvest, pray for more help; and 3). the harvest exists in a world of wolves, and we are merely lambs among them. These truths should be discouraging. We should be distressed that there aren't enough laborers, and that we are laboring among wolves. Why didn't our Lord arm the Seventy-two? Why not give them enough money to travel safely? Why not create a militia corps to escort his preachers through a dangerous world? There are a number of practical/logistical answers to these questions, but Paul's answer is sufficient: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Our peace, our protection, our power resides in the fact that we are new creatures, born again in water and spirit. We labor crucified to the world – dead and buried already in the world of wolves. Nothing done to us here and now will survive in the presence of God the Father. 
This truth should bring you peace. I don't mean that you can shirk your worldly duties, or that we can all run off to the hills and commune with the squirrels. The peace of Christ isn't a narcotic state of mind, or an absent-mindedness, or a momentary relaxation. The peace of Christ is knowing and believing that your life in the world is given its final meaning in the victory of Christ on the cross; that is, your purpose is living out the always, already accomplished victory over sin and death. The labor you have chosen to take on is nothing more than living day-to-day, hour-to-hour in full and faithful knowledge that – from eternity – the harvest is done. Christ wins. The Church wins. And now we go out and about making sure that everyone we know and love knows that Christ's victory is their victory – if they choose it to be. Do you live daily, hourly as a son or daughter of the Most High whose victory over sin and death is already accomplished? Your labor accomplishes nothing that Christ has not already done for you. Your labor is a sign and invitation to others to choose his victory for themselves!

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