My favourite Ad on television at the moment is the one where customers come into various cafes, just looking for a simple cup of coffee, but end up totally bemused at the vast array of options on offer, the bizarre ways in which they are presented, and of course, what they cost.
The Ad reminds me of a few years back, when I came over from Ireland to Scotland for a meeting. I was returning to Ireland the following afternoon from Prestwick Airport, along with two Passionist colleagues. We had planned to grab a bit of lunch at the airport before boarding the plane, which seemed straight forward enough, but I ended up bemused by the bewildering array of choices I was offered at the airport’s self-service restaurant, which was called The Village Grill.
As I looked at the menu above the counter I took a fancy to the sausage and mash, something nice and simple – or so I thought! “Butter mash, or cheese and chive mash?” I was asked. For a few seconds I froze but then “Butter”, says I. “What kind of sausages?” was the next question. “What kind are there?” I replied. “Apple and cider; vegetarian and herb, venison or pork” were tantalisingly placed before me. Ever the traditionalist, I opted for pork – they looked bigger and fatter anyway. “Would you like mushy peas or beans?” That was an easy one. “Beans”, says I. “Would you like gravy?” she asked. “Just a little,” I replied. “Traditional gravy or onion gravy?” she offered. Once again, I went traditional.
By this time I was wishing I had ordered fish and chips, but there are so many fish in the sea that, just in case she decided to go through them all, I might have been there a lot longer. Eventually I got my sausage and mash, and a bottle of Irn Bru to wash it down, and joined my colleagues who by this stage were nearly finished their lunch. We live in an age of choice, sometimes too much choice for our own good, and we need great wisdom to be able to make the right choices.
The Gospel this Sunday is also about choices. The father in Jesus’ story invites his sons to go and work in the vineyard. Initially it would seem there are only two choices – yes or no; but even those get complicated as the son who says yes turns out to mean no, and the son who says no turns out to mean yes. In the Book of Deuteronomy God sets before His people life and death and says “Choose life”. That would seem like a no-brainer, except that choosing life means loving and serving God, following His ways, and living by his commands, which isn’t always so easy.
Good choices require good discernment. Discernment is a decision-making process that honours the place of God's will in our lives. It is an interior search that seeks to align our own will with the will of God, in order to learn what God is calling us to. Every choice we make, no matter how small, is an opportunity to align ourselves with God's will.
Pope Francis has this to say about his own choices:
My choices, including those related to the day to day aspects of life, like my use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people, and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.