Brett Fawcett

WORD MADE FLESH

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 4, 2016
Wisdom 9.13-18 | Psalm 90 | Philemon 9-10, 12-17 | Luke 14.25-33
August 29, 2016

Today's readings hit me in a very personal way. One week before writing this column, my wife and I lost our baby. So many thoughts assail you at a time like this - why did God allow this? Why was her precious life so short?

The fact of the matter is that all lives are short, but we often trick ourselves into forgetting this.

Today's psalm cries out to God, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart." Remembering the shortness of our lives, like the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.

Today's First Reading gives some idea of why this is: Sirach reminds us that, as much as we wish to understand the plan of God and the workings of heaven, our lives are too short, because of this "corruptible body," for us to even have the time to learn how this world works, let alone the next one.

A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past. - Psalm 90.4

'A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past.'

Psalm 90.4

If I don't have enough time left on earth to understand the history of Polish democracy, the latest advances of geo-microbiology, or even the ideal mechanical ventilation system for my own home, how can I expect to understand the purposes of the Almighty?

"Scarce do we guess the things on earth, . . . but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?" In our calmer moments, we must learn to absorb this truth, so we are ready for the dark moments of doubt.

But almost as mysterious as the mind of God is the mind of a human being, and that is something we can come to understand with age.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul has before him a problem: He has to convince Philemon, a Christian convert, to forgive Onesimus, a slave who escaped him and has also become a Christian.

Philemon probably felt angered, betrayed, like he deserved justice. But Paul responds gently: He begins by calling himself "Paul, an old man" and appeals to Philemon to pursue the most important things: Love and forgiveness.

Our lives are short. Isaac Watts once wrote a hymn based on today's psalm which warned about the "busy tribes of flesh and blood" carried away by the flood of earthly cares.

A life spent worrying about anything other than love is a wasted life, much more so than a brief life characterized by love and trust in God.

All life is short, even that of an "old man" like Paul. This is quietly comforting in moments of tragedy and pain, but it is also a reminder to use this time to cultivate love and compassion.

Love speaks a word in moments of loss that all our tortured thoughts can never utter, and the word we need to hear the most when the road before us looks darkest.

Most comforting of all: The shortness of our lives means we won't have to wait long to see our loved ones who have gone before us into God's eternity.