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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

I don’t know if any of you are J.R.R. Tolkien fans, but even if you’ve never read any of his books, you’ve probably heard of the movies based on his books that came out a few years ago.  His Lord of the Rings Trilogy is one of the great literary epics of all time.  There are those who would say that Tolkien wrote some of the most beautiful and profound words ever put to paper.  Fr. Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit and founder of Ignatius Press, was once asked what books, other than the Bible, he’d take with him if he knew he were going to be stranded on a desert island.  He shocked his interviewer by responding unhesitatingly The Lord of the Rings.

In the middle of the first volume of this great epic, the central character, a diminutive creature named Frodo, weighed down and wearied under the burden of his terrible mission, says to his friend Gandalf, a wise old wizard, “I wish I had never lived to see these times.”  And Gandalf replies very gently, “We all feel like that now and then, but the times in which we live are not ours to choose; we can only choose what we’ll do with the times we’ve been given.”

Today’s readings are about the choices we make concerning what to do with the times and other circumstances we’re given.  The woman praised in the Book of Proverbs is praised precisely because, given the times in which she lived, she made the right choices.  Life for those around her—her husband and family, the poor and needy—was better and more blessed for her being more concerned with their welfare than with her own vanity.

In our second reading, St. Paul explicitly talks about times and seasons and the coming of the Lord like a thief in the night, but says that we have nothing to fear if we live as children of the light, walking in the way of the Lord.

Jesus, for his part, tells one of his famous parables, this one about the effective and Godly use of the gifts and talents we’re given.  He’s not giving advice on financial investments, although these too can be made and used in Godly ways; he’s telling us that we’ve been given time, talent, and treasure to be invested wisely, for the glory of God and the good of each other, and that we’ll be judged on how well we make use of the things He’s given us.  Do we squander His gifts?  Do we use them chiefly to make life easier for ourselves?  Or do we, like the woman in Proverbs, use what God has given us to bring blessings on others?

To put it another way, do we treat life like a pilgrimage on which we help one another on our journey to God, or like a vacation on which the needs of others are perceived as interfering with our enjoyment?

The message of today’s liturgy is that we are pilgrims, not tourists in this life, that we each have a mission (which is our reason for being here) to be blessings to each other, that we’re called to pray more than to play, to serve more than to be served, to give more than to receive.

My little friend Frodo and his friend Gandalf were part of a fellowship, “the fellowship of the ring.”  The odds against them seemed overwhelming, their chance of success or victory almost nil, but success or victory, in the end, was not theirs to achieve.  All they could achieve was fidelity to their mission and to each other, and because they were faithful to those two things, victory was given to them.

We are the fellowship of Jesus Christ, called to faithfully bring his light to each other in these times using the gifts he’s given us, for his glory and the good of each other.  We are called to be pray-ers more than players, givers more than takers, pilgrims more than tourists.  If we are faithful to our calling and to each other, Christ will see to the victory, not in the short run necessarily, but in the long run, in eternity, which, after all, is all that really matters.