Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
One my favorite sports to play as a kid was baseball. And although my coaches tried me out in different positions, my favorite position to play was center field. As a centerfielder, I didn’t always get a lot of action. But I was always ready for the ball to come my way. There was nothing more thrilling to me than trying to catch a fly-ball. And the more dramatic the catch had to be, the more I had to lay out for it, the better. In order to be successful though, I always had to be in the ready position: My eyes had to be on the ball and my knees slightly bent. I had to be ready to spring into action at any given moment. I also had to know where I was on the field in relation to my teammates and who to throw the ball to if it came my way.
Every sport has a ready position. It’s the position that gives you the best chance of success at playing your part on the team and hopefully winning the game. My brother’s high school football coach described the ready position in terms of four words: Eyes, Stance, Alignment, Assignment. In order to be ready for action, you have to know who to look at, how to position yourself, where you’re supposed to be, and what your role is. Eyes, Stance, Alignment, Assignment: to be ready for action you have to be attentive to these four things. And if that’s true in sports, it’s even truer in the spiritual life.
If you lived in Biblical times, and you wanted someone to get into the ready position, especially if that person was a man, you’d tell them, “Gird your loins.” Although today you might wrap or “gird” a beef tenderloin with butcher’s twine before you cook it, that is not what this expression refers to in the Bible. It’s not a cooking instruction; but an instruction to get into the ready position.
In Biblical times, men would generally have worn long, flowing robes. And these robes would have extended all the way to their feet—kind of like the white garments, the albs, that priests and servers wear at Mass. As you might imagine, wearing such long robes was an obstacle to doing anything quickly. If you needed to run, or do any sort of manual labor, you had to do something about the excess fabric that would get in the way. Basically, you had to turn your robe into shorts. And you did this by girding yourself with a belt, pulling up the excess fabric of your robe, and tucking it into your belt. This is literally what it means to “Gird your loins.” Metaphorically, it means to be alert, to be prepared for action. It’s the ancient equivalent to the ready position in modern sports.
And this is what Jesus’ tells us to do in our gospel today. “Gird your loins,” Jesus says, “and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Jesus wants us to be spiritually prepared; He wants us to be in the spiritual ready position. To be in this position, like any sport, we need to be attentive to our Eyes, Stance, Alignment, and Assignment.
When it comes to our Eyes, in order to be spiritually prepared our eyes have to be fixed on Christ. He is the one we are called to imitate; He is the one we are called to become. His mind must determine our thoughts; His will must determine our actions. When we make any sort of decision, especially if it is a big one, we have to ask what God wants, before we consider what we or anyone else wants. God alone knows the entire game-plan. And He wants us to win. “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” God wants to give us eternal life, but it’s not a given that we will attain it. In order to win the kingdom, we have to follow God’s game-plan.
Second, in order to be spiritually ready, we have to consider our Stance. In sports, your stance determines your ability to react with speed and accuracy to any given situation. If your stance is poor, you can’t make the changes you need to make in order to follow the game-plan. In the spiritual life, a good stance means an unconditional readiness to change in order to follow Christ and become more like Him. Not all change is growth, but all growth requires changed. “And to be perfect,” St. John Henry Newman said, “is to have changed often.” Because Christ is perfect, and we are called to be like Him, there is no limit to the change that we must be willing to undergo. We are called to be like soft wax so that Christ can imprint Himself upon us. The harder we are, the more resistant we are to the change that Christ wants to accomplish in us, the poorer our stance is. A good stance means an unconditional readiness to change in order to follow Christ and become more like Him.
To be in the spiritual ready position also involves a proper Alignment. In sports, this means knowing where you are meant to be on the court or on the field. It involves knowing where you are in relation to your teammates and to the opposing team. In sports, what you do individually impacts the rest of the team; and what they do, in turn, impacts you. A proper alignment gives you the best chance of making the play and your team the best chance of winning the game. This is true in the spiritual life as well. Our spiritually lives may be personal, but they are never private. We are members of the Body of Christ, of the People of God. We exist in relation to one another. And what we do, whether or good or evil, impacts all of us. “No man is an island entire of itself,” the English Poet John Donne famously said, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” To recognize this, and to act accordingly, is to have a proper alignment.
Finally, spiritual readiness requires accepting our role, our Assignment, in life. We don’t always know why God has put us in particular place, at a particular time, among particular people. But spiritual readiness requires accepting what God has called us to do, even we don’t always understand it, even if it sometimes leads us to places we do not want to go. You may like playing center field, you may not. But someone has to do it, and that someone may be you. St. John Henry Newman put it this way:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
Eyes, Stance, Alignment, Assignment: this is what it means to be ready, both in sports and in our spiritual lives. Let’s take an assessment of our spiritual readiness this week. Let’s acknowledge what we need to work on. And let’s ask for God’s help, so that we can win the game, go to heaven, and bring our teammates with us. Amen.