Tag Archive: God

This is a copy of the homily given at Holy Name Church on Sun 21st September, 12pm Mass.  Gospel Matt 20:1-16, First Reading Isaiah 55:6-9

Why be envious because I am generous?

1360aPerhaps today’s gospel is the most unpopular parable by Jesus that is recorded in the Gospel.  It is a story that when we listen to it offends our sense of justice.  Why do those who have done one hours work get paid the same as those that have done a heavy days work in the heat of the day?  It doesn’t seem fair. You can understand how upset you might feel if that happened to you.  It is very annoying when we are waiting patiently in a queue and someone walks to front and jumps the queue.  It is not fair. What is Jesus trying to tell us in this parable?  Things seem to be unfair ……..Sometimes the richest parts of the scriptures are those that we have to wrestle with – were it is not so simple to grasp the meaning –

When we focus on God in this parable – God  is tireless in his desire for souls   – he is seeking out for labourers all day – he is happy to hire the rejects and desires to pay them a full days wage –    he is happy to bring into the vineyard those who had given up hope, those who had been discarded. This image of God is underlined in the first reading of Isaiah – God is rich in his forgiving . Compare this rich, generous God, merciful and free with the self centeredness of the labourers.  How quickly they have a sense of entitlement – forgetting to be grateful for their employment. The disgruntled labourers have become self focused – self centred – like children complaining – with a  narrow sense of justice – Feeling sorry themselves they are obsessed with the latecomers.

It is when we are limited by our human selfishness, with our narrow sense of Justice – when we are victims of a narrow self centeredness  that the words of the first reading are so powerful – god says in Isaiah ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts –  the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts’. 

This difference between how God sees the world and how we see the world – is referred to by St Ignatius as consolation and desolation.  When we start to glimpse the world as God sees it – in a loving creative way, in a free way, in a way full of hope and possibility, and we start to live our lives from this vision – we call this spiritual consolation.  When we are mean spirited, with a narrow sense of justice, with start to resent others generosity, we can become narrower and narrower.  When we forget to be grateful for so many gifts and blessings in our life, we become like the grumbling labourers in the Gospel – turning on the one who has given us so much.

Why be envious because I am generous?

So as this academic year starts in the universities, as a new political year starts with party conference season, let us make an honest and searching examination of conscience,  Where have I become mean spirited in my life?  How am I like the grumbling workers?   Who’s generosity and who’s goodness have I become envious of?

With all these new beginnings, Let us be sure to surround ourselves with people who inspire us with generosity, who are open, who are loving, and avoid those who draw us into that narrowness.  IF we keep our focus on God we will be drawn out of ourselves.


images (3)At the heart of the Second Week of the Exercises – is making an ‘election’ – i.e. answering the question how should I lead my life.  This can be a formal election, e.g. shall I marry this person, shall I make this career change, shall I enter religious life, or an informal election – shall I recommit myself to my work, shall I tweak this or tweak that i.e. should we be more focused on the poor etc.  The type and gravity of the election will dictate the time spent on it.   We can learn a lot from this process about decision making in general, even the day to day decision we make about what we invest our time and energy in.   What is brilliant about the exercises is that it creates the conditions of inner freedom and attentiveness that allow these decisions to be made on a sound footing.

Recent discoveries about how we make decisions – for good and for bad –  are fascinating but also echo certain movements already there in the exercises, which perhaps explaining how Ignatian Spirituality is growing in popularity and seems so relevant to so many people.   For instance the research of Nobel Prize winning Economist Daniel Kahneman is fascinating.  Counter intuitively Kahneman points out how so much of decision making process is not – rational.  For instance he talks about the difference between our remembering self and our experiencing self.  For instance we may enjoy a wonderful holiday for 12 days and then something happens at the end, a big blow up row with a companion,  a delay at the airport, an accident that ruins that last couple of days is what we remember.  So ignoring our experiencing self  ’12 days of happiness and relaxation’, we write the holiday off as a disaster.  Worryingly Kahnemann says that it is our remembering self that makes future decisions.

booksSimilarly when faced with a choice to make about the future, surprisingly maybe, fear seems to operate more effectively than hope. Specifically aversion to loss seems to operates much more strongly than the benefits that can accrue if we change. This is a significant barrier to inner freedom,  and can tie us down to the past, and it works even more strongly at an institutional level than it does at an individual level.   This ‘loss aversion’ – that the disadvantages of change loom larger than the advantages of change –  and the significance of our remembering self explain why Ignatius puts such a premium on ‘magnanimity’ and generosity of spirit as we enter the Exercises.  The disposition days are precisely to allow this inner freedom to grow before the retreat formally starts.  Remembering with gratitude is particularly important, and a grace that we pray for, knowing that we cannot do it on our own.


Listening v Hearing



Hearing (Photo credit: Keturah Stickann)

Nick Coleman is a Music Journalist/Critic, in love with many forms of music,  who writes passionately about musical taste, in short music has become his career and livelihood. One morning he woke up feeling dizzy, nauseous and soon had lost his hearing and was experiencing terrible tinnitus.  After battling with depression he has been able to teach himself to hear again.  He talked about his experience yesterday at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  A breakthrough moment for him was when he met the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, who said that to be able to hear again he had to start by remembering his favourite songs.  Through this he learnt that we hear with our brains much more  than our ears.  If you play someone some music and map their brain ‘waves’, then switch the music off  and wait for 15 minutes and ask them to remember the music, the pattern of brain waves is exactly the same.  Working on this Coleman has taught himself to hear again (in one ear) and been able to resume his career.

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Photo credit: raphaelstrada

Towards the end of the session he said, ‘Although I don’t hear like I used to, I listen more carefully, listening is hearing plus mind, I now appreciate music even more;’.  I have been mulling over this difference between hearing and listening.  In an age of an incredible amount of ‘noise’ it could be possible that we are losing our ability to listen because we hear so much.  The art of attentive listening is hugely important, it has a therapeutic value for the person being listened to, it counteracts the loneliness and isolation in modern life. Listening with the mind could also be a useful way to think about prayer or meditation.  When people talk to me about being frustrated with prayer,  getting distracted, I often suggest that some distractions may be worth paying attention to.  It could be that God, who calls us through our deepest desires can sometimes being trying to get through to us through what we classify as distractions.

Rediscovering the art of  attentive listening to each other and to God could be crucial.


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