Ordinary Time 19, Year C
- Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test (Mt. 26:41)
The members of the Congregation of the Mission are told in their Common Rules, XII, 11:
- ... [A]ll should be on their guard against two further vices,
- from opposite extremes, both militating against the whole
- purpose of the mission. They are all the more dangerous
- because it is not immediately apparent that they are vices,
- as they insidiously assume so different an appearance that
- they are very often taken to be real virtues. This pair are
- laziness and undisciplined enthusiasm.
Laziness disguises itself as prudence with regard to taking good care of oneself so that one may be healthy to serve God and one’s fellow human beings. Undisciplined enthusiasm—which, needless to say, can easily be mistaken for genuine missionary zeal—is, on the other hand, the mask that self-love or anger wears. In order to practice genuine virtue one must steer a middle course between these two extremes.
It strikes me that either of these two extremes indicates lack of hope and being out of step with Divine Providence. The lazy lags behind, while the indiscreetly zealous runs ahead. Laziness to the point that one does God’s work “carelessly or fraudulently” makes one tempt God by throwing oneself down into the abyss of mediocrity in order to dare God to come to one’s rescue. One’s laziness makes one to think he deserves grace and one sins against hope by presuming too much on God’s benevolence. Undisciplined enthusiasm is likewise presumptuous. The overactive beyond discipline “takes on more work than he can manage” and presumes too much on who he is and what he can accomplish, attributing way too much importance to himself and his action. He thinks he is the one to bring about the kingdom of God. Not infrequently, though, such presumption results in burn-out; the indiscreetly zealous ends up “sluggish and sensual.”
The genuinely zealous, for their part, accept their limitations and acknowledge that God is the one who ultimately brings about his kingdom. True zeal recognizes that grace has its moments and it waits and watches for those moments attentively, closely, carefully, peacefully and patiently (P. Coste, II, 453). True zeal makes the co-workers of God realize that divine works have their moment and that God’s providence “does them then, not sooner or later,” so that these co-workers only need to “wait patiently, act, and, so to speak, make haste slowly” (Ibid., V, 396). Those who, in the manner indicated by the paradoxes Jesus made use of, wait patiently and yet act and make haste slowly, they surely succeed in steering a middle course between laziness and undisciplined enthusiasm, holding thus in healthy and creative tension both passivity and activity (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “An Upside-down Sign: The Church of Paradox,” Vincentiana [1998, 180] and “Providence Revisited,” Vincentiana [1993, 594]).
And a life of paradoxical tension between passivity and activity, a life of faith and trust in a personal and provident God on account of which “the ancients were well attested,” shows itself most clearly in confident prayer. The genuinely virtuous know that the kingdom of God comes at the moment determined by God and, therefore, they pray: “Your kingdom come.” Their petitions are persistent. But they insist too in joining the choirs of angels in their unceasing hymn of praise. And they get to do so when they gather together to remember the special acts of Providence which led to their liberation. Through these remembrances of thanksgiving and praise, God’s saving power is made effective in their midst, and they come to see a pattern of God’s solicitous care at work (cf. Father Thomas F. McKenna, C.M., Praying with Vincent de Paul, chapter 4, “God’s Loving Direction in Our Lives,”). Having “sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith,” they are not afraid any longer about either the present or the future, and they attain foreknowledge of the glorious return of Providence. Those who trust Providence indeed owe the Lord a great debt of gratitude—to borrow from a letter attributed to Barnabas—for letting them see the meaning of the past, instructing them about the present and not leaving them in ignorance about the future (cf. the non-scriptural reading in the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time in the Liturgy of the Hours).
The sleepy, the glutton and the drunkard can neither pray nor wait. They cannot do it either, those who are awed by their own selves and are enamored with their own capacities.