This is The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. When we’re not immersed in the major seasons surrounding Christmas and Easter, we observe Ordinary Time. “Ordinary” in this context refers to the numbering of these weeks in “ordinal” fashion one by one. Though this is the case, I can’t help focusing on the more common meaning of “ordinary” during these quiet times of year. When we’re not celebrating special feasts, it seems natural to turn our attention to the more mundane aspects of our daily lives. What is remarkable in all of this is the selection of scripture passages featured during this time. Each one encourages us to embrace the ordinary aspects of our lives and to make the most of them. Even when we begin by putting the wrong foot forward, God insists that we always have the opportunity to change direction and to make things right. I like God’s thinking in this regard!
Because this is October 1, I’m going to take us on a bit of a detour from Ordinary Time. October 1 is the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and I’m compelled to acknowledge this favorite Carmelite Saint. Thérèse made an art of transforming the ordinary moments of her life into opportunities to do small things which proved to be truly great in God’s eyes. I was drawn to her in fifth grade when I first read her autobiography. Though I didn’t understand much of what I read at the time, I did realize that Thérèse’s childhood was no more extraordinary than my own. Still, throughout her short life, she illustrated the point of our Ordinary Time scriptures and our ordinary time efforts quite eloquently. Today’s gospel in no exception.
Matthew (21:28-32) shares Jesus’ parable about a vineyard owner who asked his sons to work his fields one morning. The first refused, but had a change of heart and worked as his father asked. The second son immediately agreed to assist his father, but then failed to lift a finger that day. When Jesus questioned his audience as to which son did his father’s will, those present agreed that it was the first son who did so. This son reconsidered his choice and then made things right. Thérèse did the same again and again throughout her life. One memorable example occurred when she was thirteen years old. Thérèse is her parents’ youngest child. Because she was quite frail, a nurse cared for Thérèse her first eighteen months of life. Not long afterward, Thérèse’s mother observed that, though she and the entire family loved her dearly, Thérèse was an amazingly stubborn child. When her mother died a few year’s later, Thérèse’s father and older sisters parented her. The result was an extremely spoiled child who’d learned to expect her family’s ongoing doting. On Thérèse’s fourteenth Christmas Eve, while her family prepared to share gifts, Thérèse went up to her room. Not realizing his youngest daughter would hear him, Thérèse’s father remarked that he was anxious to be through with that evening. He had tired of Thérèse’s selfishness and would have preferred not to witness it once again. When Thérèse heard her father, she felt deep regret. She loved her father and was devastated to learn that she had hurt him so. That evening, Thérèse resolved to put her dear father and her sisters ahead of herself in everything. From that day forward, she put her stubbornness to good use and adhered to her resolve. This thirteen-year-old’s choice transformed Thérèse’s family’s life and her own forever.
Year’s later, when Thérèse was a Carmelite Nun, she fell victim to another nun’s unintentionally annoying behavior. While doing laundry, the nun next to Thérèse repeatedly splashed her with dirty water. Thérèse was quite annoyed by this. Still, before she opened her mouth to complain, she thought better of it. Rather than giving in to her anger and hurting the other nun’s feelings, Thérèse decided to patiently welcome those splashes. Every time she was doused and said nothing, she developed a kinder and more patient heart. Thérèse did the same when another Carmelite who sat nearby during prayer ground her teeth continuously. Once again, Thérèse’s impatience threatened to get the best of her. After reconsidering, Thérèse incorporated that grinding sound into her prayer time and showered the offending nun with kindness at every opportunity. Please note that this is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, who engaged in these seemingly trivial battles with herself. The lesson here is that Thérèse did as Jesus’ parable suggested. She reconsidered and revised her behavior in order to make things right. She is titled “Doctor of the Church” because her seemingly simple efforts provide important lessons for us all.
Though we sometimes face far more difficult challenges, it seems to me that the ordinary times of our lives are filled with opportunities to make small things right. The more we practice, the more fit we’ll be when faced with making things right on a grander scale. God’s faith in our ability to do better is unshakable. Regardless of the imperfect choices we sometimes make, God’s hope remains in what we will choose to do next.
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