For more reflections on the Basilica Hymns of each season, purchase Perpetual Jubilee: Meditations on the Chaldean Liturgical Year on Amazon.com.
In his unsurpassable mercies, God created us with many natural gifts and talents, and second only to the intellect, the greatest gift he gave us at our creation was the gift of free will. Though all things are in his hands, God deigned to allow some things to be in ours, and he respects that freedom until today; that is, he does not force our will to any decision, but in his grace he guides us gently to the truth and goodness that come from him. What is in our hands, then, is ultimately the following: to decide what to do with the gifts God has given us. The Master in Matthew 25 who gives a different amount of coins to his three servants expects them back with 100% increase, but not all of them live up to this expectation.
It is easy to call ourselves “servants of God,” and in fact giving ourselves this name is Christ’s direct command: “When you have done all that you have been commanded, SAY TO YOURSELVES, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). But this servanthood of God is not simply a matter of names. Do we act as servants, unprofitable or otherwise, or do we rebel in disobedience to our Master? Do we follow other masters, like money or pleasure? Do we run away from our true and kind Master only to find ourselves enslaved to another? Indeed, the temptation to follow, and ultimately serve, the pleasures of this world is a real one:
The desires of the passing world have separated me from you, and through them the rebel sets traps for me and ensnares me, that I may not please you, O Lord.
The parable of the two sons in Luke 15 gives the example of the son who ran away from his father after taking half of his father’s property. Having “squandered it on a life of dissipation,” he finds himself in servitude to another master, one who does not even provide him with the basic essentials of life, for “he longed to feast on the pods on which the swine fed.” The “prodigal son” turns back to his father after realizing his own hunger.
What hunger it must have taken to make this son, who had insulted his father so badly, return to him in shame! But what of us? What type of spiritual starvation must come upon us before we return to our Father above, after we have spent our gifts and our life running after the passing and empty pleasures of this world? How dark is that moment when, having sold our soul and filled ourselves with some sinful delight, we realize that it no longer tastes as it did! How shockingly sad when we discover we have been duped by a lying salesman! Indeed, all the delights of this world, delicious as they are, without God are fading in flavor rapidly, and in the end leave us starving even for our basic sustenance of life:
And as I earned little, and the world and its enticements passed away, regrets and sufferings overcame me, for I saw that the hope of my life has come to naught…
The first and worst mistake we can make in thinking about God is in reducing him to our mindset, in “creating him in our image.” This mode of idolatry is expressed when we fear his anger and avoid returning to him. Yes, God is perfectly just, but his mercy is perfect as well, and, according to Christ’s own symbol, he is a Father who enthusiastically runs out to greet us when we turn back to him, no matter what we have squandered our life upon. Our return to him is humbling indeed, but this humility only puts us in our place in relation to God. Indeed, even the fear we have of God’s punishment should be motivation to turn back to him. Between the spiritual starvation, the promise of mercy, and the threat of punishment, there are many ropes in the net which pulls us back to the Father:
…and now I have no refuge aside from you, O Lord. In the greatness of your mercies, turn to me, and in your grace, have pity on me; rescue me from my sins, as is your custom, O Lover of mankind: forgive me, O Lord!