Aug. 16 in St. Mary Church, Colts Neck, NJ
It’s a fairly common question when you first become a leader these days whether in the Church as bishop or pastor or lay minister or in some other business or professional organization: what is your vision for the group you are leading?
I find the question both amusing and hard to answer for the same reason: you only get a first time doing something once. It’s hard to have a vision without really seeing firsthand how an organization works. Of course you have some ideas — or you wouldn’t have been chosen to be the leader … but a vision, that’s much more than just seeing or having a few ideas.
With the tragic death of Robin Williams this week, I found myself looking at some of his movies. In “Dead Poets Society,” Williams mentioned Henry David Thoreau as one of his favorite authors. Mine too! In Walden, he wrote: “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.”
That’s what vision is. Vision is being able to connect the dots, to pull together what you see and what’s in front of you into a coherent whole that gives you both a sense and a hope of what can be, what can inspire those you lead to go with you.
The Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah in our first reading today, were people of vision. They saw the state of the chosen people of Israel; they knew their past and were immersed in their present; they offered to their people a glimpse of what could be, what should be — all the while confident and convinced that God was with them, loving them, leading them through the prophet’s words and guidance. That’s what they “saw.”
To say that the time in which the prophet Isaiah lived was characterized by one crisis after another would be an understatement. The northern kingdom of Israel was in slavery. Judah was engulfed in idolatry and evil. Assyria was a military and political threat to both these Kingdoms. And Babylon was a threat to Assyria. The Chosen People of God, the children of Abraham, wondered whatever would become of the covenant, of God’s promises. What would become of them?
Isaiah brought a vision to this disunited people: don’t lose heart. Be faithful to God. Be faithful to the covenant. God would keep the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. That’s what he “saw.” Isaiah prophesied: “Observe what is right. Do what is just. … my salvation is hand. … hold to my covenant and I will bring you to my holy mountain. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
What a great vision! Eight hundred years before Christ. Twenty-eight hundred years since then. What has become of that land? What has become of that house of prayer for all peoples?
It is tragic to see the Holy Land today and what it has become. Pope Francis has asked all Catholics throughout the world to pray for peace there, especially today. He asked us to have a “vision of peace.” The plan, the vision of Isaiah was simple: “observe what is right. Do what is just. Hold fast to my covenant.”
In the Psalm today, we prayed “let all the nations praise you.” In other words, live in the peace that makes God’s praise possible. In the second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul told us “the gift and call of God our irrevocable.” God doesn’t turn his back on us, never has; never will. It is we who are disobedient, we who lose sight of him, his promise, his vision for our world. And chaos flows from there.
Our readings end today with the Gospel of Matthew, the story of the Canaanite woman so persistent in seeking a cure for her daughter. Great was her faith and God answered her prayers.
My sisters and brothers, what is the take away from all this, from the Scriptures? I believe it is this: no matter what the world looks like at any moment, see with God’s vision; no matter what your life looks like, see with God’s vision; no matter what life throws at you, see with God’s vision and remember Isaiah’s words: “Observe what is right; do what is just.” Hold firm to you faith. See God and God will be there with you.
God’s is a “vision of peace” for our world. May we see the world his way.