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To know you is to love you. Realy!

Faithpoint | Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do you ever have recurring nightmares? Some situation you fear that you may not even think about in the midst of busy days, but that rears up again while your unsuspecting brain has let its guard down in your sleep? Even now, nearly 20 years after the last exam of my educational career, periodically I still have a dream in which I show up for a final only to realize that I had somehow neglected to attend the class most of the semester, and am therefore spectacularly unprepared, guaranteed to reveal my stupidity to the professor in a most dramatic fashion.

Many people, even those whom society would consider highly educated, respected and successful in their fields, confess to dreams in which they are discovered to be a fraud, clothed in the appearance of professional capability, but underneath ignorant and unworthy of the trust others have placed in them.

This Sunday’s gospel is a perfect opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves if the person we show to the world genuinely represents our true self, or if we’re just “getting by” on appearances. Do we sign up for or join a group that we think will make us look good, but then neglect to contribute or participate in a meaningful way? Do we select our classes, or study and prepare for our chosen vocation or career in such a way that we truly become qualified and competent, or does our vision stop at the short-term, just aiming for the best grades we can get on the next test?

The chief priests and elders, representing the well-respected, powerful religious establishment of Jesus’ day, must have thought that Jesus himself was their worst nightmare, especially when he came telling parables such as the one we will hear on Sunday. He describes a man and his two sons. The father orders both sons to go out and work in the vineyard. One initially says “no,” but then experiences a change of heart and goes out to work. The other says “yes,” but fails to follow through on his commitment. Though the leaders can see that the father would much prefer the conversion of the first son to the empty promises of the second, they cannot (or will not) make the connection to their own willingness merely to settle for “talking the talk.” Finally, as if he hadn’t irritated them enough already, Jesus gives the chief priests and scribes a distasteful list of society’s lowest sinners who, with a true conversion of heart, will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of them.

As often happens in the gospels, we can actually find more comfort and hope in Jesus’ words if we can recognize our own sinfulness. We aren’t necessarily supposed to put ourselves in the shoes of the chief priests and scribes or of the tax collectors and prostitutes. Surely we each have some characteristics of both. Our task is to listen for the ways God speaks to us – as the father spoke to the two sons in the gospel story – and, as much as we can, respond with a genuine “yes.” Whenever we’ve just flat out said “no” to who God asks us to be; that is, whenever we’ve sinned, we can believe that Jesus still waits for us, ready to welcome us when we have a change of heart.

On the other hand, we can also listen for the ways God speaks to us when we respond with an insincere “yes,” as the second son does in the gospel. It is oh so easy to do – we might want to impress someone; we might want to fit in to a group; we might want to land a good grade, a better job or a more substantial-looking resume. The scribes and the chief priests seemingly couldn’t even recognize that doing all the “right” things with empty intentions left them with hearts less open to God than even the outcasts of society who had turned away from their sins and toward God in honest recognition of their need.

We are so blessed. We have friends to pray with; opportunities for Mass, reconciliation and retreats; and examples all around us on campus of fellow students, faculty and staff who have committed themselves in faith to service of others. Together we can explore how we will say “yes” to God more sincerely, and how the “no” of our own sinfulness can itself become an opportunity to return our hearts to God’s love. Then the person we show to the rest of the world will become just the very person our God knows so intimately and loves so well.

Kate Barrett is the director of resources and special projects for Campus Ministry and can be contacted at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.