Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time C 2010

What are the big barns that we want to build?  Perhaps many of you have set money aside to provide for a comfortable retirement but market losses wiped out your gains.  Maybe you want to purchase a different house, a vacation, a car, or leave savings for your family.  All of these are good uses of money but if we only look at these, we have a shortsighted view of our Christian responsibility.

St. Basil the Great shared these words with his Church:  “You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not.  On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through your good works…  Your reward for the right use of the things of this world will be everlasting glory, a crown of righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven… Do you care nothing for these things, and spurn the hopes that lie in the future for the sake of present enjoyment?  Come, distribute your wealth freely, give generously to those in need.

How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs!  But you are ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings even a little.  You can say only one thing: “I am a poor person.”  A poor person certainly you are, and destitute of all riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God, and hope of eternal happiness.”

Perhaps Basil’s and Jesus’ conception of charity is too negative for us today.  Instead, we can see them reminding us that those big barns we want to build are things external to us.  We can never bring a barn or an object into our very being, but we can bring other people into our lives through strong blood, emotional, physical, and spiritual bonds. 

Over the years that I have been with people dying, rarely have I heard people speak about their barns or external things.  They speak about family, failures, their relationship with God because the things that we spend most of our lives preoccupying ourselves with don’t matter in the end.  It is hard for us to spend our lives in the present.  So often we thing of the past, but then we are not living in the moment of now.  Or we think about the future but there is not guarantee what may come.  Jesus wants us to be free from past baggage and free not to worry about the future.

May this Eucharist give us the strength we need to recognize that the barns we build are only idols.
We live in an age which prizes knowledge; people go to school in order to be competent.  A hundred years ago, the sisters who taught in schools often had little formal education, yet people respected their positions.  One thousand two hundred years ago, few priests could read and write.  In fact, one church council said that candidates for the priesthood probably should know the Our Father.  One of the wisest people I knew, my great aunt, only attended school through the third grade.  Maybe some of you are were the first generation in your family to graduate high school or college.  Knowledge is something to be strived for; however today’s reading from the Book of Genesis paints a different picture.

In the 1800’s a Danish philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard thought long and hard about Abraham.  Kierkegaard lived in an age like our own and he saw that something was wrong.  People wanted knowledge yet Kierkegaard recognized Abraham had little knowledge.  Abraham was not formally educated; instead, he is a man of faith.  It took faith for Abraham to open his tent up to three strangers but Abraham provided for their needs.  It took faith for Abraham to believe these strangers that promised a child when both he and Sarah were both advanced in years.  For Kierkegaard, faith is greater than knowledge because faith is a response to an invitation. 

Our faith is not a catechism that is memorized; faith is something lived out in our daily lives.  It takes faith in God to deal with the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or the loss of one’s health.  Faith allowed people like Archbishop Denis Hurley in South Africa to oppose discrimination; faith transformed the life of St. Anthony who sold his belongings and went out into the desert to be closer to Christ.

Each of us has faith and that is why we are here.  At times, it may be weak and need to be strengthened.  Our prayer may be like that the person who told Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  We may not be great saints but each of us are called to follow Jesus.  The greatest way we follow Jesus is by listening to his words and by responding to his invitation.  At this liturgy, we are nourished with the word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist.  May the faith we received at our baptism be effective and transform our broken world.
Seventeenth Sunday In Ordinary Time C 2010

Imagine receiving a slick glossy brochure in the mail inviting you to spend your next vacation in their city.   On the cover is a picture of a river flowing on the outskirts of town.  Opportunities to swim, fish, or go boating are in abundance.  Lists of enticing stores and delicious restaurants attract your interest.  There is something for everyone in the family.  It sounds like a great place to visit, maybe even live.   So would you travel to Sodom and Gomorrah?

So often, we think Sodom and Gomorrah are so wicked that no one would want to be there.  That’s not quite the case; in fact, Abraham’s nephew Lot traveled there because of its fertile land.  It was a grazing paradise for animals.  We can easily dismiss these people as wicked but maybe in dismissing them we fail to recognize our own sinfulness.

Jewish rabbi’s told stories of Sodom like, the residents gave money or even gold to beggars, after inscribing their names on the coins, and then subsequently refused to sell them food. The unfortunate stranger would end up starving, and after his death, the people who gave him money would reclaim it. 

In another incident, Eliezer, Abraham's servant, went to visit Lot in Sodom and got in a dispute with a resident over a beggar.  Eliezer was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The resident demanded Eliezer pay him for the service of bloodletting, and a judge sided with the resident. Eliezer then struck the judge in the forehead with a stone and asked the judge to pay the resident.

We might be horrified by these stories and thank God for destroying these towns.  At the same time, we live in a country were the poor are harassed in parks, abused by teenagers, and even killed out of pleasure.  We live in a country where lawsuits are out of control, where honest citizens are sued under frivolous charges.  Even worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, we live in a country where teenagers bring guns to school and kill their very own.  At least Sodom and Gomorrah tortured outsiders and the poor,

But all is not lost, we are here today taking the place of Abraham.  At times, like Abraham, we fail and we sin but we also gather here interceding for the world.  Our Father in heaven always loves us and calls us to share in his life.  He is willing to send forth the Spirit to renew the face of the earth if only we but ask. 

Jesus promises that if we are persistent, the Spirit will come.  This Spirit can do something greater than destroying a land; it can recreate what sin distorts.  The Spirit gives us hope because no matter how bad things seem, God is in charge of human history.  Sin and death cannot reign forever because Jesus Christ has reconciled all things to himself.  May the Eucharist protect us from sin and allow us to trust in God’s love for us.