The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we are presented in the sacred readings with two important topics for our consideration: death and the use of earthly riches.
Both of these topics often make us uncomfortable; the first, because we do not want to die, though, curiously, we also do not want to live this life forever, and the second, because we do not often want to examine honestly our use of money.
Saint Leo the Great reminds us in no uncertain terms that the first of these two topics, death,
should be the careful consideration of wise people, that since the days of this life are short and the time uncertain, death should never be unexpected for those who are to die. Those who know that they are mortal should not come to an unprepared end (Saint Leo the Great, Sermon 90.4.1. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. III: Luke (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 208.).
Though we know that each of us will indeed die, none of us can know when that day will come; we do not know when we may hear these words: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you” (Luke 12:20).
None of us likes to be called a fool, even if we are, in fact, quite foolish. This is why these words of the Lord sting so. How, then, do we avoid hearing these words, “You fool”? We do so by being foolish in the eyes of the world but wise in the sight of God.
That rich man in the parable of Jesus thought he was wise. Certainly he was successful, at least in terms of earthly estimation. He said to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19)!
This life on which he had decided for himself - a life of comfort, luxury and ease – is what the world tells us will bring us happiness, yet we can easily see that those who have attained it are not any happier than the poorest among us.
Their minds are occupied with keeping their wealth and they are worried about keeping their status and fame. All of this wears on the mind and heart and many come to ask themselves, “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)?
Surrounded by his many possessions and wealth, the rich man begins to ask the question which so many of the poor ask: “What shall I do” (Luke 12:17)? He asked the question to decide what to do with his wealth; the poor ask the question to decide how to acquire at least some wealth.
There in his palace in the midst of what he has amassed through the sweat of his brow and the labor of others, the man sought happiness in his riches.
He does not look to the future. He does not raise his eyes to God. He does not count it worth his while to gain for the mind those treasures that are above in heaven. He does not cherish love for the poor or desire the esteem it gains. He does not sympathize with suffering. It gives him no pain nor awakens his pity. Still more irrational, he settles for himself the length of his life, as if he would also reap this from the ground(Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 89. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. III: Luke (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 207.).
This man ignored the wisdom of the Psalmist, who sang to the Lord: “You make an end of them in their sleep; the next morning they are like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades” (Psalm 90:5-6). Consequently, his riches bring him little happiness, neither on earth nor in the life yet to come; he stored up plenty of treasures on earth, but stored up little in heaven (cf. Luke 12:21).
Reflecting on the life of this man, Saint Augustine of Hippo commented:
This silly fool of a man did not have that kind of riches. Obviously he was not redeeming his soul by giving relief to the poor. He was hoarding perishable crops. I repeat, he was hoarding perishable crops, while he was on the point of perishing because he had handed out nothing to the Lord before whom he was to appear. How will he know where to look, when at that trial he starts hearing the words “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat”? He was planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns. What he was stowing away in those barns was perhaps even then being stolen away by thieves. But if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely. The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches (Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 36.9. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Vol. III: Luke, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000) 208.).
Here, then, we arrive at the second lesson for our consideration, the use of earthly riches.
We must remember what Saint Paul says to Saint Timothy, that “the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (I Timothy 6:10). It is greed that leads man astray, a greed whose roots lie in pride, in an excessive focus on the self.
Those who are poor should thank the Lord for sharing in his poverty and not seek to amass worldly wealth for its own sake. Those who are rich should thank the Lord for their material blessings and seek to give their riches away in imitation of the Lord who gave all he had for us. Those who are rich will have great difficulty entering the kingdom of heaven unless they give their wealth away – which is a sign of their detachment from it – and store up treasures in the bellies of the poor.
There is only one thing, one person, to which each of us should be attached: Jesus Christ. For this reason Saint Paul reminds us to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” and to “put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly” (Colossians 3:5).
It is so very often our earthly desires that keep us from the Lord because we often confuse these desires with our desire for the Lord. Our deepest longings cannot be fulfilled now, but only on the Day of Judgment when we will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, when those who are truly wise will hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant… Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21).
What, then, are we to do with the desires we have now for earthly things? We must recognize them for what they are: intimations of our longing for God.
So now is the time for groaning, then for embracing. What we desire now is not present; but let us not falter in desire; let long, continuous desire be our daily exercise, because the one who made the promise doesn’t cheat us (Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermons 350 A.4. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Vol. IX: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000) 47).
Those who are truly wise know that they will die and that they will take nothing from this world with them. They know that they will cross the threshold of death “emptied of all but clothed in Christ” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 4 November 2006).
Today we come to the altar of God to be nourished by the Body and Blood of the Eucharistic Lord. We know that whoever receives Holy Communion worthily and well-disposed and open to the fruits of the Sacrament “loses himself in God, as a drop of water in the ocean. They can be no more separated” (Saint John Vianney, in Mike Aquilina, Fire of God’s Love: 120 Reflections on the Eucharist (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2009), 52).
Let us, then, beg the Lord this day to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Psalm 90:12). Let us ask for the grace to be aware of our death that we might be wise in Christ and live this day well. Amen.