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Cecil B. DeMille directed the epic classic film Ben Hur. While he was filming, he told the lead actor, Charlton Heston, that he was planning to include a chariot race. The director said to the actor, “I want you to be in that race, and I do not want a stand-in.”  In so many words, Heston told his director, “If you want me to stand on an apple cart while four horses drag me around at full speed around a track, then I will need some training.” After some time, the actor told the director, “I’m ready; I know how to ride a chariot. I am not sure if I can win, but I can drive a chariot.” The director responded, “You just stay in the race. I will make sure you win.” 

I like that story because it reminds me of God and his message to us. If you are a student who is struggling, you just stick it out. I will make sure you succeed. If you are a struggling parent, you just keep parenting. I will make sure you succeed. If you are looking for a job, you just keep looking. I will make sure you get what you need. The workers in the parable of the vineyard workers, who went to the unemployment office did not expect to be there all day. What can you make for picking apples for one hour: twelve or fifteen bucks? You can’t pay the rent with that; you can’t go to the grocery store and buy food for a family on that; you can’t put away money for the kids’ college education on one hour of work. If I was in the unemployment line, I would have left at noon to go fly-fishing. Yet, the workers stayed there all day, even for one hour. Happily, the master gave them a whole day’s pay even though they only worked for one hour. What does that tell us about God? It tells us that God rewards availability. God rewards those who persevere, who stick it out to the end, who stay in the race.

I was on-call for the Longwood hospitals one Saturday. I got one call. I went to the hospital and introduced myself to the family, and they said, “Oh, our parish priest was just here, we do not need you. Sorry to put you out.” I said, “That is all right,” and I went home and didn’t get another call all day. I had an appointment in the afternoon and that canceled. I was going to say Mass at the local parish, but they had a visiting priest do it. All told, I had nothing to show for the whole day. I pictured myself meeting one of the local parish priests telling what he did that Saturday. “I had a funeral in the morning, two weddings in the afternoon, Saturday evening Mass and I heard confessions for an hour.  What did you do?”  I would have to say, “I was available.” Now you may say, OK, fine; you had an easy day, and you got to relax. My response is this. You try to relax while you are on-call for five hospitals, five emergency rooms, fifteen intensive care units, and about fifty floors of sick patients. No, I did not relax. I was available. The good news is that God rewards availability.

I admire the saints of the church. Some wrote important studies for our faith such as the Summa Theologica. Others traveled to missionary territory and converted thousands to the faith. Others wrote spiritual memoirs and inspired people over hundreds of centuries. Others were elected to high positions and were great leaders who guided their people through trying times. I look over my life and I have accomplished nothing like that. I look over my life and I have not done anything that would be considered great. I can say I was available to God. I persevered through transfers, the clergy sex abuse crisis, and Covid-19. I do not have a lot to show, but I have stuck it out and persevered. I look at all the great saints and see myself at the bottom. Today in the Gospel we learn that for God the last become the first.

Here is the faith lesson. God is not generous with everyone. God is fair. He is generous to those who persevere, who stick it out, who do not quit. If you are struggling to find a job, or struggle with your studies in school, or have a teenager and struggle with parenting. Just hear God say to you,  “You just stay in the race. I will make sure you win.” 

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