30 July 2022

Homily - 31 July 2022 - The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (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, and the second, because we do not often want to think much about our use of money.

Pope 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.[1]

Though we know that each of us will indeed one day 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. He was certainly successful, at least in terms of earthly estimation, but he was not really very wise. He said to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19)! How many people today live in this way, or at least strive to live in this way?

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, and at how quickly their wealth can disappear at the whim of the stock market. 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 this question to decide how to acquire at least some little 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.[2]

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 and brought little – if anything – with him when he died (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.[3]

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). Notice here that it is not money itself which is the root of all evils, but the love of money. 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 himself. 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.[4]

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.”[5]

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, 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.”[6] Let us, then, beg the Lord 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 and every day which we are given. Amen.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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. 

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 4 November 2006.

[6] Saint John Vianney, in Mike Aquilina, Fire of God’s Love: 120 Reflections on the Eucharist (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2009), 52.

16 July 2022

Homily - Why does Jesus want to be friends with us?

The Sixteenth in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Friendship is a great gift and is filled with wonder. Each of us has within us the great desire for friendship, for companionship, and our Lord, too, being both fully divine and fully human, also sought friendship among humanity. Indeed, he seeks it from us still: “No longer do I call you servants,” he says, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

What must it have been like for Mary and Martha and Lazarus to be friends with Jesus? Have you ever wondered about their friendship? How did they come to be friends with Jesus? They lived in Bethany, not far from Jerusalem; Jesus lived briefly in Bethlehem and then in Nazareth, some distance away from Bethany. Together with Mary and Joseph he certainly would have visited Jerusalem each year, but how did he connect with these three? Were they relatives? Did their parents know Joachim and Ann, Mary’s parents, or even Joseph’s parents? I wonder about this, and I marvel at the gift of friendship with Jesus.

It is very likely that Jesus chose to be friends with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and not the other way around. Why? Because Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Simply consider it for a moment: to be chosen by Jesus to be his friend, to have with Jesus the blending of “honesty with kindness, truth with joy, sweetness with good will, and affection with kind action.”[1] As Jesus chose Mary, Martha and Lazarus to be his friends so he chooses each of us. This truly is a humbling gift if we consider it even for a moment.

Why would Jesus choose to be friends with us? The answer is simple: he chooses us to be his friends because he loves us.

He loves us, not because we are especially good, particularly virtuous, or of any great merit, not because we are useful or even necessary to him; he loves us not, because we are good, but because he is good. He loves us, although we have nothing to offer him; he loves us, even in the ragged raiment of the prodigal son, who is no longer wearing anything lovable.[2]

This is the great wonder of friendship with the One who “is love” (I John 4:16). His friendship is not like our own.

Why did the Lord befriend Mary and Martha and Lazarus? He befriended them because they knew that he loved them – they had heard his words and seen the works he performed - and they “welcomed him” (Luke 10:38). Like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Jesus himself drew near” to the three and they said to him, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Luke 24:15, 28). Like Abraham who welcomed the three strangers and put himself at their service, they said to Jesus, “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest” (Genesis 18:3-4).

As the Lord draws near to us, what is our response? He draws near to us in the Scriptures when they read and whenever they are proclaimed in the Church. He draws near to us in the person of his bishops, priests, and deacons. He draws near to us when the faithful gather together in his name. He draws near to us in the sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist. He draws near to us as friend.

When he quietly draws near and speaks to us, when he stands before us, beside us and even within us, how do we respond? Do we recognize his presence and place ourselves at his service? Do we welcome him? Do we invite him to stay with us? Do we listen intently and eagerly to his words? Or do we simply keep walking by in the vain attempt to ignore his call to friendship? Do we truly know who it is who asks our friendship and seeks it out even to the point of giving his life on the Cross?

Woodcut, Urs Graff, 1511

Martha and Mary offer their loving friendship to him each in their own way. Martha follows the way of Sarah, seeing to the duties of hospitality and being “burdened with much serving” (Luke 10:40). Mary follows the way of Saint Paul “to whom God chose to make known the riches of his glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Lord says that “Mary has chosen the better part” – not that Martha has chosen poorly – “and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). What does this mean?

Christ Jesus humbled himself and took on our flesh; he became hungry and thirsty as we are (cf. Philippians 2:5-7). The Lord humbled himself to be fed by us whom he came to feed with his own Body and Blood. Saint Augustine tells us that,

with deep concern, [Martha] prepared what the Holy of Holies and his saints would eat and drink in her house. It was an important but transitory work. It will not always be necessary to eat and drink, will it? When we cling to the most pure and perfect Goodness, serving will not be a necessity.[3]

If we are to fault Martha at all, we ought to fault her not because she demonstrated her love through service, but because she failed to follow Paul’s words: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Colossians 1:24).

Amidst the burdens and distractions of serving, Martha complained to the Lord rather than uniting her sufferings with his; but perhaps this is because the Lord had not yet suffered his Passion. Remember that at the death of her brother Lazarus it was Martha who said to Jesus, “And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). “Martha’s love was more fervent than Mary’s, for before [Jesus] had arrived there, she was ready to serve him.”[4]

As Martha was busy feeding Jesus, Mary was busy eating what Jesus offered. Saint Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Like Jeremiah who devoured the scroll and found the words he ate to be “a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16), Mary knew that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). She placed herself at his feet, ready to listen, to learn, to follow, and to eat the words he spoke.

Jesus himself is the food, the bread, we need for our pilgrim journey. This is why he gives himself to us in word and sacrament to strengthen us on our way. This is why we sing praise to him, because without his nourishment we could never make the journey. Saint Augustine reminds us that,

at present alleluia is for us a traveler’s song, but this tiresome journey brings us closer to home and rest where, all our busy activities over and done with, the only thing that will remain will be alleluia. That is the delightful part that Mary chose for herself, as she sat doing nothing but learning and praising, while her sister, Martha, was busy with all sorts of things. Indeed, what [Martha] was doing was necessary, but wasn’t going to last.[5]

Let us then, with Mary, choose “the better part” that will not be taken away from us (Luke 10:42). Let us listen intently to the Lord each day, to be friends with him, because we “can find nothing more delightful than God.”[6] Amen.

[1] Blessed Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, 20. Lawrence C. Braceland, trans. (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2010), 75.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), What It Means to Be a Christian: Three Sermons.  Henry Taylor, trans.  (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2006), 69.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 252.2 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke. Arthur A. Just, Jr., ed., et al.  (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 182.

[4] Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron 8.15 in Ibid., 183.

[5] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 255.1-2, in Ibid., 183.

[6] Ibid., Sermon 385.