This week we will be starting to prepare our second graders for their first reconciliation a few months from now. And I know when they finally do get to make their confession I will say more time than I count, “yes, sometimes your brother or your sister are annoying, but guess what? You still have to be nice to them.” The confessions of children can seem very simple but in truth adults struggle with the same basic sin just in different and more complex ways. When we get mistreated by a family member, or a coworker, or a random stranger… we all know there is a side of us that wants to get even. It’s hard to do the right thing and act as Jesus Christ would, when what we want to do is put someone in their place.
Never underestimate how hard it is to do the right thing when it is something that you don’t want to do.
The scriptures today warn us that there are times when doing the right thing is hard, when being obedient to what God desires from us is not a pleasant path. In the Gospel parable, neither son wanted to do what their father asked of them. If working in the vineyard was something easy or something pleasant they would have just done it. But no… one son refuses at first before changing his mind, while the other claims he will but but never does. There is another son, of course. That Son is Christ Jesus, as St. Paul said the one who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Our earnest desire as Christians should be to imitate Christ and to be humbly obedient to whatever hard task the Father asks us to do in our lives. But even if we don’t right away, then certainly we want to be like the son who changed his mind and did the work in the end, and not the son who ended up being a hypocrite and a liar to his father.
As I prayed with these scriptures I asked myself what does it take to be the obedient one and imitate Christ Jesus from the beginning, or if not that what does it take to see the wrong direction and change course to do the hard but right thing? We can’t pretend that it is enough to say to ourselves, “I will do the right thing even if it’s hard” because that was what the one son said and he failed, and likewise we might become liars to ourselves and to our God if we pretend that obedience is easy. Never underestimate how hard it is to do the right thing when it is something that you don’t want to do.
The answer I began to find was in the Christian skill of discernment. Discernment means to take something apart to understand it, to see something clearly for what it is. Every one of us should have learned something about discernment before adulthood because the choice of a vocation in life must come out of a process of discernment. But beyond that major moment in life’s journey of choosing a vocation, discernment is meant to be a continual habit that we seek to practice alongside other virtues like obedience and humility. To do the right thing that is hard, so we must first have a firm belief that it is indeed the right thing. Discernment clears away the doubts that would cause us to hesitate and entertain thoughts of a different path. We must understand why it is good, why it is worth some difficult moments. We must be honest that it might not be easy and pleasant. Certainly this would help us be more like Christ Jesus, who knew that the cross was not just suffering, but was love and a reunion of humanity and the Father. And it must have been what the one son did in the parable, who after he told his father he would not go into the field must have kept thinking about his decision and what was the right thing to do, until finally he changed his mind. The other son failed to do that, he must have limited his vision and restricted it to what he wanted, not to what was right and just.
Discernment is not about changing your mind. Both sons in the parable changed their minds but only one discerned things. Discernment is about taking apart a situation and seeing clearly what is good. I encourage you to practice this skill. Take something in your life right now like a decision you aren’t confident in or something you spend a lot of time doing. It doesn’t have to be something moral, it can be anything. Take the time to explain the situation to God. Tell him what the options are and what you like and don’t like. Be radically honest, tell God what you think and listen for a sense of peace as you do. Learn how to discern by trying to do it regularly, and hopefully when those hard moral decisions come. With humility, obedience, and the clear vision of discernment… may we all follow the path the our God calls us to walk.
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.