Two sons, to the father’s request to go labor in the vineyard (Mt 21: 28-32 ) one say’s immediately ‘yes’ and the other quickly ‘no’. Let’s observe the attitude, or demeanor or posture of both. The one who quickly says ‘yes’, never thinks about it again; his ‘yes’ is shallow, not truthful as he never goes to labor in his father’s vineyard. What does the other do? He also responds quickly and says ‘no, I will not go’. Then what happens? Afterwards ‘he changes his mind’ and goes to the vineyard. Changing one’s mind: what do you imagine the inner process to be like that this son went through, for his ‘no’ to become a ‘yes’? If we were to take a glance inside the heart of this son, what process would we see? The ‘no’ is said and this son then walks away…. but he reflects…he thinks about his initial reaction of ‘no’. This space of reflecting, of quietly pondering one’s reply opens the heart just enough to enable one to see that ‘life’ was not in his ‘no’. To change one’s mind means there was a pause, a pondering, a further reflection on one’s ‘no’. This pause moment is the point of conversion, of transformation…the mind and heart collaborate, and one then thinks better, one knows better…thus, grace comes forth and the ‘no’ turns into a ‘yes’.
As we search our heart, we will discover that both attitudes live within us. The quick ‘yes’ is non-reflective, shallow, the ‘ego’ is flippant in its ‘yes’. It is not the ‘yes’ that places the will of God as central to one’s life. In that moment there is no relationship to God; the relationship is ‘me’ to ‘me’, there is no ‘Other’. When our ‘will’ turns towards God it is no longer ‘self-will’…the ‘self’ part drops off and then grace comes as we offer our will, as we sacrifice our will to unite with the will of God. Fr. Thomas Merton wrote: “The highest freedom is found in obedience to God” (New Seeds of Contemplation, p.196). Dying to our self-will, the conversion of self-will brings us into greater freedom, and even the joy of experiencing our will joining with God’s will.
The epistle for today tells us to let our bearing, our demeanor, our mind be like that of Christ…It is indeed a humble posture to let go of self-will. And still the outcome is that we are freer, more our true selves, not enslaved by our self-centeredness. We hear St. Paul say: In Jesus it “was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes’” (2Co 1:19) ….always a yes to God’s will…Each giving of one’s will to do God’s will is a sacrifice. In commenting on chapter 72 of the Rule on mutual obedience, Sr. Aquinata Bockmann writes: “Obedience is the way to God…Human self-will is our greatest enemy (Prol 2-3), so obedience is a help for the individual in letting love prevail” (68:5, Perspectives On the Rule of St. Benedict, p.62). Every time we die to ‘self-will’ we are becoming freer and more alive, closer to the heart and mind of Christ.
We can say that the son who said ‘no’ had the grace of conversion. This conversion was prompted by the pause, that silent pause caused him to question his ‘no’. In this silent space where the Spirit works, he thought better, and the grace of change happened. He went freely into the vineyard and gave himself wholeheartedly to the work. No murmuring or complaining, only the joy of letting go of one’s will and drawing close to the heart and mind of Christ. Pope Francis said: “Today’s Gospel passage calls into question the way of living a Christian life, which is not made up of dreams and beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, in order to always open ourselves to God’s will and to love for our brothers and sisters. But this, even the smallest concrete commitment, cannot be made without grace. Conversion is a grace we must always ask for: “Lord, give me the grace to improve” (Angelus-9/7/2020).
Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess