“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.”
There is certainly more than enough here with which to be getting on in this new year, and if we take St Paul to heart the year of Our Lord 2024 shall truly be a year of grace for ourselves, and through us, for others.
Yet Our Lady’s maxim Quodcumque dixerit vobis, factie echoes a further call still, something beyond the straightforward and ever-demanding daily practice of the Christian vocation outlined so clearly by Saint Paul. For quodcumque—“whatever”—is a dangerously broad word: one that can call me beyond the straightforward and expected. At the Marriage of Cana the supply of wine had run out. No one expected that there would be any more.
I may be settled into my particular vocation and its demands and be living it to the best of my ability, or I may be seeking God’s will for my life, pondering exactly what path He wishes me to take in His service. Am I, however, prepared to do whatever He tells me?
Am I prepared, in my established, vowed or committed state of life—be that in the monastery, in the vocation of marriage, in the world or in the clergy—to accept a call to further service, or even to a particular suffering, that I cannot presently imagine? Am I willing to consider that in this year of Our Lord, He may well tell me to do something extraordinary—even lead me somewhere where I would rather not go? (cf. Jn 21:18)
Or, if I am seeking God’s will for my life, am I willing to consider that Christian discipleship can and often does mean following Christ in ways that I cannot presently imagine and that He may even look at me and love me so much as to call me out of my comfortable existence to “sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me”? (Lk 18:22)
But why should I? Why should we leave behind family and friends and many goods in order to follow Christ further and extraordinarily, be that into the monastery or the priesthood or religious life or in accepting greater responsibilities and even suffering in His service? If we follow St Paul’s counsel we are surely doing all that is required. Why should we do more?
The answer, surely, is because He commands it. Or to put it another way, the answer is because He is the Lord, He is God—and I am not. This is not to promote a blind, uncritical and sterile obedience (such as has been expected at times and in certain places in the Church’s history, and even today). No: today’s Gospel does not simply say Quodcumque dixerit vobis, factie—it also relates the fruit of such filial obedience: the very best of wine is made available, that wine which gives joy to man’s heart of which we sing at Saturday matins! (Ps 103:15)
Let us be clear, this parable is not advocating an oenological refinement in which some engage and that others freely eschew. For that wine which our Lord makes available is nothing less that new wine of His Father’s Kingdom of which he speaks at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:29). It is the joyful participation in the unending gift of feast of eternal life for those who have done that which He has asked of them.
Why, then, should we not only be willing but ready and indeed zealous to do His will in this new year? In the Prologue of his Rule St Benedict promises that in persevering so to do “our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments” so that “we shall share by patience in the sufferings of Christ” and “may [thereby] deserve to be partakers also of his kingdom.”
Nothing less than salvation lies in doing His will: my salvation and through my fruitful cooperation with His call, the salvation of others. As we approach the altar this morning and drink anew of the very Cup of Salvation, let us beg the renewed grace and strength we need, now, to do whatever it is that He tells us to do. +