I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Focus on making virtuous choices in life

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Since we are a people covenanted to the Lord, the readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time spell out the everlasting consequences of our everyday decisions, whether good or bad.

In the first reading, the Lord clearly speaks to His chosen people, "Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!"

The Lord isn't condemning wealth, but the refusal of the wealthy to share with the needy. "They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils, yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!" Their self-indulgent pleasures cut them off from the covenant of the God, who "hears the cry of the poor."

Since they have lived a life of disobedience to the covenant of God, "they shall now be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with." Friendship with God is a gift freely given to those who obey Him. It isn't a condition forced upon an unwilling people.

In the Gospel story of the rich and poor man, Christ explicitly depicts the contrast between intimacy with God and alienation from God through refusal to obey.

The rich man lives a life of self-indulgent pleasure at the expense of ignoring Lazarus, the poor man covered with sores, lying at the rich man's gate. Lazarus was starving and in need of food, water and medical attention, to say nothing of human compassion.

Even the dogs had compassion by licking his sores. The rich man saw him every day at his gate, knew his name but ignored his deplorable condition.

Both men died. Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham, the place where the souls of the just went before the Resurrection. The rich man went to the "netherworld where he was in torment." From there he cried out to Abraham to send Lazarus "to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames."

Abraham simply reminds him, "...you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to your side or from your side to ours."

With this parable, Jesus makes it clear that repentance only takes place before death, while one has the freedom to choose. Death fixes the choices we have made in our lifetime. Both readings focus on these choices.

With this in mind, Paul urges Timothy to focus on making virtuous choices in life. "I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandments without stain or reproach until the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ...."

He encourages Timothy to practice "righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness." These are the virtues that flow from within us when we nurture our hearts with daily prayer and reflections on the word of God.

The question to ask ourselves is this: "How much time do I spend in daily prayer or in prayerfully reflecting on God's word, compared to the time I spend weekly watching television or surfing the Internet for distractions and entertainment?"

Might Amos, describing God's chosen people as "lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on the couches," really be describing our behavior? Is the quantity and quality of our TV consumption really helping us to keep our hearts on guard against sin? Is it awakening our hearts to the virtues Paul is advocating?

The answer to the last two questions is a resounding "no."

I also know that those who spend a specific time each day in quality prayer or in reflecting on the word of God, are growing in the virtues Paul proposed. People who spend quality time reflecting on God's word, even twice a week, and keep a journal of what God is saying to them, find their behaviors transformed, and it isn't because they have superior willpower.

It's simply that they find welcome relief in the word of God from their homemade way of thinking about themselves and about others. They are liberated from slavish habits of self-destructive thinking. Burdens of guilt are lifted. Unconscious lies about themselves, about others or about God are dissipated as truth sets them free.

A whole new world of hope and freedom opens up for us. The choices we make lift us up and bring us energy and joy. We become a source of light and encouragement to others. This dramatic lifestyle change brings increasing happiness and adds great meaning to our lives.

May I make a simple suggestion? Ask Jesus for the courage this coming week to write down the number of hours you spend watching TV or surfing the Internet, and then compare that with the amount of time you spend in daily prayer or prayerfully reflection on the scriptures. You don't have to show this to your spouse or children. Then have an intimate conversation with Jesus. Ask Him for help in getting started. Make this an intimate conversation. 

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