RSVP: Yes, No or Maybe – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

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Welcome to October! The months are disappearing. The calendar says that we are in autumn, and with this new month, we are starting the final quarter of 2017. My body just doesn’t feel like that.

I’m not sure what your weather has been like recently, but our hottest summer days here in southern Ontario have been in late September, that is, in autumn. My whole being has been ready for fall, my personal favourite of the seasons.

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I’m no longer certain whether it’s the weather patterns that are off or my body that’s playing games in mid-life.

I’ve written before about the parallels between the spiritual life and the skies and weather patterns around us. It’s an old theme in literature. I also find it to be a theme in my own life, for instance, in my appropriation of this Sunday’s scripture.

Basically, like the two sons, I’m as unpredictable and fickle as the weather. This Gospel offers a good chance to look at our level of commitment.

The Gospel for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time helps us to reflect on how firm we are about commitments. I’m referring to social and church commitments, and events such as that. The presumption is that we need to be firm about certain commitments.

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I can’t easily have a free and flexible approach to work commitments, the completion of which might lead to a paycheque. The alarm clock wakes me up and I have to start my day, regardless of how reluctant I am.

But there are those events that fill our evenings and weekends: meetings, concerts, parties, and extended family gatherings. Do I go? Or, do I not go?

There are two sons with different approaches to their father’s request about working in the vineyard. The first son in the Gospel said that he wasn’t available to work, but then changed his mind. “I will not go”, but afterwards he thought better of it and went. We can only speculate about what went into this decision to go work in the vineyard.

The second son said that he would work, but then he changed his mind (perhaps something more appealing came along).

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Jesus uses the illustration to commend the tax collectors and prostitutes, as more responsive to message of John than the chief priests and the elders.

“For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did.”

Of course, the reality is that attending or not attending are not the only options. Some of us are pretty clear from the start about whether or not we will do something. If they  say yes, they mean yes and, if they say no, they mean no. They have the gift of making a decision and sticking to it.

The fact is that we can choose to go and resent being there and secretly fume that we should have stayed home. Or, we can opt to stay home and then regret it, wondering what we missed.

I’m somewhere between the strategies of the two sons, changing my mind depending on new data. I like to think that I am open to having a change of mind. Others might say that I am just indecisive and wishy-washy.

(Full disclosure: I am hearing impaired. Many of my decisions about social events depend on my sizing up the situation and assessing how likely I am to be frustrated because I have such a difficult time in the event.)

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I wonder if I’m unintentionally in sync with a basic trend in society. I remember reading somewhere that the majority of people will check “maybe” when it’s an option on an invitation.

Many of us want to keep our options open. Something else might come up. Or, I may not feel up to going, despite what I had hoped and planned.

I know myself pretty well. I’ll probably commit to attending something and then, for a variety of reasons, the day of the event will approach and I will look for a way to get out of it.

It’s usually fairly simple, except when my expected attendance is important. I recall my experience in dealing with registrations for programs at a retreat centre. When there was no registration fee, people signed up for an event and could easily back out. Non-refundable registration fees made that less likely.

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Perhaps it would be helpful to reflect on my level of commitment about the events and activities that compete for space in my calendar. Do I mean it when I say yes? Am I firm in my no? Or, do I spend much of my time in the “maybe” camp?

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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