Memorial of Ss John Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions
Romans 4:20-25; Luke 1:69-75; Luke 12:13-21
Today (19 October) marks the Feast of Sts John Brebeuf, Issac Jogues and companions, 8 individuals martyred in 17th Century Canada. 6 of them were Jesuits. What’s striking about these individuals is the energy with which they went about spreading the gospel to the native American tribes there. They knew of the dangers and struggles involved in what they were doing – long tiring upriver paddles, poor food, exhaustion and the possibility of violent deaths by the more xenophobic tribes there. But they went anyway. St Isaac Jogues was tortured, had some fingers cut off and was enslaved for many months by one of the tribes but later escaped and was sent back to his native France to recover. Several years later, he volunteered to return to Canada where he was captured again and put to death by the natives.
Are we impressed by the single mindedness of these missionaries in their zeal to spread the gospel? Or are we appalled by their apparent recklessness and frightening disregard for personal safety. The gospel of today tells us something similar about the effects of money and our relationship with things around us. Many of us have a tendency to want to hoard things or to overprepare for things ahead. We love to plan and can sometimes go overboard with planning. The contrast of course is to be feckless and irresponsible but then again, shouldn’t we allow God to take charge at some time?
Moderation seems to be key to all this. Moderation was described at length by Aristotle who spoke of virtue as being a ‘mean’ or average point between excesses. He spoke of the virtue of being courageous as something that lies between being foolhardy (too much courage!) and being cowardly (too little courage!). Truly courageous people have enough courage to allow us to push past our personal fears yet not so much that we act rashly.
Moderation in our planning and preparation means that we are able to balance planning with reliance on God’s providence. In the parable, the Lord is not saying that keeping grain for lean times is bad but that keeping it and being completely self-satisfied with it is bad. Note that the man in the parable said that his ‘soul’ was satisfied with what he had – indicating that his entire being, not just his earthly self, was satisfied without needing anything from God. That seems quite arrogant and it ignores the presence of grace in our lives. We’re reminded in the first reading that we need to draw strength from faith as Abraham did. That’s a reminder of the need for balance and moderation in how we relate with our earthly riches and resources.
Moderation flows from prayer and an understanding of ourselves and God. We’re given gifts and free will to make choices and to dispose of the gifts. These allow us to make adequate preparations for what’s to come, to do what’s necessary for our futures without precluding the role of providence. We need to remember to leave space for God to come in – that’s what faith is all about, allowing God’s glory to flow through ourselves.
Perhaps a new riff on an old phrase might help. A saying about prayer states that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” If we reverse and rephrase it to “pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God”, something emerges. It now reminds us to pray fervently for everything, putting ourselves in a disposition of receptivity to God’s grace while remembering that all things do indeed flow from God and God alone. We can plan but part of that requires our faith in God. And it puts our work in perspective too, that the work itself has to flow from God too. By doing this, we remind ourselves that our work is never completely our own but us working with God.
And work with God is what the martyrs did. They prepared well but prayed fervently while they were on mission as well, as their memoirs and letters suggest. For us, gathering wealth is not bad and is necessary at times but that should not be the be all and end all to what we do. Moderation thus is key – to balance our planning and preparation with faith in God’s providence. With that we pray with the church to remind ourselves of the need for both:
Lord, be the beginning and end of all that we do and say. Prompt our actions with your grace, and complete them with your all-powerful help.