God will be generous in our obedience Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Sep. 25, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

As with most anniversaries and milestones, it’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago, this past Sunday, that I knelt on the floor of the Cathedral of St. Helena, with the Gospel book opened over my head, being commissioned and ordained a bishop.

In some ways, that morning in Helena, Mont., seems like an eternity ago, and in other ways, it seems like just yesterday.

Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways

When I was ordained bishop, I certainly expected to be in Helena much longer than I was, if not for the remainder of my ministry. But my call to Madison, a short four years later, only goes to show that the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways -- but always for our best, in the end.

I told those gathered at my Stational Mass this past Sunday that as a boy, growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I would never have expected to have served as a priest in the Midwest Diocese of Kalamazoo, Mich., nor to be named a bishop, nor to have served in Montana, and then Madison, Wis. -- but so it was, according to God’s plan, and I am nothing if not obedient.

Taking the vow of obedience

Obedience has been a recurring theme of mine, time and again, for two reasons.

The first is that it is certainly essential to who I am, and how I was formed. While Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and are called to honor those vows with the same faithfulness, it is the vow of obedience which is most stressed.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of firm obedience, and obedience was of tremendous import in the formation in my day.

Those who were present for our St. Thérèse Lecture this past Friday heard about that by way of the life of young Fr. Jorge Bergoglio (our Holy Father, Pope Francis), when he was in leadership of the Jesuits in Argentina.

Our excellent speaker, Mr. Alejandro Bermúdez, recounted how Father Bergoglio would challenge the young novices and priests to obedience when they least expected it -- asking, in at least one instance, that a young novice leave in the midst of the Spiritual Exercises to care for a young single mother in need, telling him he could return to his prayer when his mission was done.

God asks us to be obedient to him

It is obedience that opens us in this life to what the Father wants to do for us here and hereafter. Thus, it is so fitting that we had our Gospel this past Sunday, from Matthew (Mt 20:1-16A).

In that Gospel, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the landowner who hired workers for the vineyard. Some of the workers began early in the morning, and others came through the day, even until the last hours of the work. In the end, the landowner paid all who had worked a full-day’s wage.

This infuriated those who had been working all day, “who had born the day’s burden and the heat,” who cried, basically, “it’s not fair! We’ve done far more work and yet you’re paying them the same!”

The landowner’s response (and that of God in this parable) is simply, “I have not cheated you . . . Are you envious because I am generous?”

It should be a wakeup call to each of us and a call to obedience. God is not motivated by worldly “fairness,” but by generosity toward those who come to labor in his vineyard.

Those who labored the whole day were treated fairly, in the sense that they received what they were due. Yet they were jealous of those who were treated with generosity and received just as much as they did.

‘Fairness’ in today’s world

It’s important to note that our world today is trapped in a sense of “fairness” that is stifling.

The word “fair” in our day means that everyone should get what he or she thinks they need or deserve. If anyone stands in the way of my getting what I think I need or deserve, they are treating me unfairly, and I am oppressed.

This leads to all sorts of insane demands with regard to the law -- with regard to our definitions of marriage, our treatment of human life and dignity. “If I want it or think I need or deserve it, I must, ‘in fairness,’ have it!”

What does each of us deserve?

What do we deserve in the grand scheme of things? Given the sinfulness of each of us, we deserve nothing, and especially not an eternity of joy. Were God to treat all of us with fairness, we would be due nothing, not even the lives we have.

But this is where the Good News comes in. God does not treat us with fairness -- he treats us with endless generosity! Regardless how long we think we have been laboring in his vineyard, we are all the late-coming laborers, who are given the opportunity for a full day’s wage. In the plan of God, with the redemption granted us by Jesus Christ, we are given the opportunity for everlasting life!

Remaining obedient for God’s generosity

This requires, however, that we remain obedient. We must continue to labor and recognize the generosity of our Father.

Do you think it is possible that those first laborers did not return the next day? Is it possible that they gave up? I think it is. We must be faithful, in obedience, which means measuring the standards of this world by the standards of the Kingdom of God, especially the standard of fairness. For God’s ways are not our ways.

As I look back on 15 years as a bishop and 40 years as a priest, I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to practice obedience.

I’m grateful too for the opportunities I’ve had to practice obedience with joy and with willingness. This is not a gift to take for granted.

There is also such a thing as the obedience of darkness. May it be that I’ve been prepared by the Lord for such moments of this obedience of darkness in the days to come? If so, I ask Him to continue to grant me the grace to respond with a constant and daily “yes, Lord.” For remaining in faithful obedience is the key to experiencing His generosity.

Thank you all for all that you’ve been to me over these past 11 years in Madison. Thank you for all your prayers and support -- please keep them coming.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God bless each and every one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!