A vocations reflection on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Father, Brothers and Sisters, thank you for this opportunity to share a reflection on this 18th Sunday after Pentecost as part of the third year of Diaconal formation. I have one more 2 week trip to Pittsburgh in the program left, but really moments like these are the most important to help see if a life of service to the Church in this manner is something that is meant for me or not. Today I would like to share some thoughts on our Apostolic reading which comes to us from the second letter of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. Like the Gospel that was the focus of our homily today, where Christ gave life to the young man who was dead, here Paul speaks to the people of Corinth and to us today of our own call to give to God and to give to the world. Yes, this passage is indeed the source of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver”. This phrase is beautiful and it is true, it also shows up on things like our tithing envelopes. But I want to allow this whole passage to speak to our hearts and to yes include thoughts on our giving to the Church, but to do so with perhaps a broader view than we tend to have.

Second Corinthians is a letter that is mixed with some timeless truths and some very concrete messages written to the Church in the first century. We have glimpses of a very real situation where new servants of the Church such as Titus are getting a sort of “letter of recommendation” from Paul. In chapter 8, Paul focuses this upon the Church in Macedonia who despite being poor gave according to their means, or perhaps even beyond their means to help the Church in Jerusalem. He shows that this speaks to us of how Christ Himself became poor for our sakes, and that in union to Christ, the concern for the poor and needy is something that flows naturally from our hearts. It’s not a burden for the Macedonians, he argues, and so he trusts that the relatively richer land of Corinth will be like the Macedonians.

Paul also points out that love is not in one direction-no, the people of Corinth are loved by Titus, who Paul has sent on a journey to Corinth with some Macedonians to give of his life to them in preaching, mutual fellowship, and to help the church abroad that was suffering. This takes us to chapter 9. Before the section that was read today in the liturgy, Paul points out that everything he is saying about the Macedonians’ love, Titus’ love, his fellow ministers’ love is something that he is confident is also true of the Corinthians to whom he writes. We are united to Christ and as such Paul has boasted that the Corinthians will do their part and that a promised gift from them can be handed off to Titus who was journeying to help the suffering Church. This is where we have our reading of verses 6-11 of chapter 9. When Paul says “let me say this much”, it’s sort of like a lightning bolt out of the blue when we just heard it at the reading. But in the flow of the whole epistle, his words come as a natural consequence of all of this very concrete work of taking care of those in need.

As he begins, Paul makes a simple observation. If we are going to sow sparingly we will reap in the same way. If we sow bountifully we will reap bountifully. Kids: if you plant 1 seed in the ground, do you expect 100 flowers to grow? What about if you planted 10 thousand seeds? Would you get just 1 plant back? I hope not. Paul starts this passage about giving with this deeper but simpler mentality. Already I feel myself pulled to see things in a more mystical way. Think about it: When you give of your time, talent or treasure, do you look at that as something which can be sowed, germinated, grown, and then blossomed into something so much more than what it currently is? Or do you think, instead of praying or helping the poor at a food shelter or whatever it may be, I could be watching TV or hiking or just sleeping in? Once we have the more biblical mindset of what it means to give, Paul’s words take us to our attitude about this mindset when he says that we must give according to our inward decision, and to do so cheerfully and not grudgingly or sadly. So often our decisions are not only not cheerful, they are not inward. In my own Diaconal formation, I will never forget my first discussion with my vocations director. He told me that in our lives we must ask ourselves this question: How can you make your life the greatest gift of yourself possible? That is what a vocation is about, he explained to me. Making an inward decision and not doing something solely based on what I think others expect is a gift of ourselves that will be more natural and suited to the gifts that we have received. We will give from the treasure that we can honestly sow into this world. It will lead us to have a cheerful approach when we genuinely give of our time, talent and treasure. And that’s why Paul then goes to say that God loves a cheerful giver. Why? Our Lord delights in seeing us make the most of our lives, and in seeing us all give to each other as one family, one Body of Christ. This leads to the beautiful and naturally supernatural consequence that we will see the blessings of God multiply so that everyone has an abundance of what is needed, and he quotes the Psalms to prove this. But let’s go back to sowing-Paul continues in verse 10 and points out the way giving works – in a way it is all about searching our hearts about how to be cheerful givers but in another way it’s all from God. For he is the source of the seed that is sown, the bread that is eaten, and he is the one who multiplies all blessings. This why our liberality in giving, our generosity in responding to our vocations, is not only from God, it turns others to give him thanks, glory and worship.

As a beautiful link to this passage, the saint of the day for October 8th on our Byzantine calendar is the Venerable Pentitent Pelagia. Her own vocational story is profound. She was the head of a dance troupe in the 5th century and was known for dressing lavishly, living a lifestyle focused on pleasure. One day when she was in the town of Edessa, the Bishop was preaching a homily, and as she passed by she stopped to listen in. How did the congregation respond when they saw this woman? All of them but one looked away. The Bishop Nonnus who we commemorate on the Saturday of Cheesefare week, he was the one who did not write this woman off. He saw a deeper gift of life than what could be seen currently. He later explained that she took great care to adorn her body in order to appear beautiful in the eyes of men. To his brother bishops he added, “We… take no thought for the adornment of our wretched souls”. She eventually saw that her beauty was fulfilled in union with Christ and became a great and beautiful soul who prayed and gave her life to God and His Church in Jerusalem all the remaining days of her earthly life, and she now prays for us.

What about us? Will we answer God’s call to be enriched with a heart that gives cheerfully? Maybe we need a reminder that our giving is not a transaction at a bank but is indeed planting for a harvest. Scattering abroad and sowing should be our mindset whenever we give. It’s messy—we don’t have a promise that every seed will blossom and bear fruit but it gives life. Will we respond when we see need in the least of our brothers and sisters? In our day and age we have seen so much hurt, so much suffering, so many tragedies. These are all calls for us to consider where we may be able to be the love and healing that this world needs. Will we seek our deepest calling to make our whole lives a gift? Will we see that that is the path to joy and living our vocation? We all have a vocation, whether called to ordination or the religious life, or called to fatherhood or motherhood, called to be an excellent worker, student, son, daughter or friend. Will we answer that calling from within and do so cheerfully? When we can say yes from the depths own hearts and say yes to Christ, we will see the wonder of the life in Christ and we will cause the world to give thanks to God. Glory to Jesus Christ!

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