Becoming Prudent Children of the Light through Love of the Cross, 31st Friday (II), November 4, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo
November 4, 2016
Phil 3:17-4:1, Ps 122, Lk 16:1-8

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Throughout this month of November, we ponder more deeply what we celebrated during the first two days of this month: the last things, that we will die, be judged, and eventually end up for eternity in one of two places; and that we are called and helped by God to end up in an eternal communion with him by means of his mercy and through saying yes to him in a life of sanctity. Today we are able to continue to meditate on the realities we celebrate on All Saints and All Souls Days.
  • Today’s Gospel is meant to help us to prepare for our judgment by inspiring us toward a life of sanctity minimally out of eternal self-interest. Jesus stresses in a brutal, cutthroat, bottom-line manner what we need to do and does so by means of what for many Catholics is the most confusing parable in the Gospel, what’s popularly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, something that can get some people to wonder whether Truth incarnate is praising a crooked business manager for deception, whether he who gave us the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is himself praising someone for violating it. But Jesus is doing no such thing. In order to grasp what Jesus was and was not saying and what the crucial lesson is for us, however, we first need to understand better the literal sense of this passage through grasping something about the way loans were done in the ancient world.
  • In the Parable, a manager is about to get sacked because he was squandering the property of his business owner. His boss gave him his pink slip and told him to do an audit of the books prior to his dismissal. So the man called in those mostly tenant farmers who owed his employer money or items and reduced their debts considerably. At first glance, this seems like dishonesty, like he was allowing these debtors to steal from his boss, but it wasn’t. In the ancient world, the way loans were conducted was that the manager or broker would be paid by adding on something to what was borrowed, rather than a percentage taken out of the master’s proceeds. For example, if someone borrowed 50 denarii or 50 barrels of oil, he would have to pay back the 50 to the master and another 10 — or 30 or 50 — to the broker, whatever the broker thought he could get. This dishonest steward was probably tacking on way too big of a commission, and, in order to maximize his profits, was probably, like Fannie and Freddie in our own times, lending out the master’s property to very bad risks, allowing people on the Master’s fields who were going to waste it rather than produce. Hence, when the manager called in those who owed, for example, 100 containers of wheat, and reduced the amount to 80, what he was almost assuredly doing was eliminating most or all of his commission. Therefore, he wasn’t really allowing them to steal from the owner; he was eliminating his own take. Faced with the decision of saving his life by making friends who would take care of him after he was fired or trying to hold out to the end onto the possibility of making money via these commissions, he chose to save his life. His master — and Jesus through the master in the Parable — calls this prudent and wise.
  • What’s the application to us? Jesus wants us to examine whether we are in the place of that dishonest steward. God has given each of us tremendous gifts on the basis of which we have made profits, or tried to make profit. He has given us our hands, which we use to work. He has given us our brains, which we use to think. He has given us our families and friends, our education, our lives, and so many other blessings. He has given us our vocation! With these gifts, we have profited and made a manifold commission. But have we been using those gifts fundamentally to build up our kingdom or to build up the Master’s? If we’ve been squandering his gifts on ourselves or the things of this world, Jesus gives us this parable in order to help us to see that our time is coming to an end and that we need to prepare an accounting. He wants us, like the steward in the Gospel, to start to sacrifice our “commissions,” our possessions, our time, our lives for others so that we might be taken care of in return — so that they may remember us, and then be our supporters and welcome us into, as Jesus says, “eternal homes.” The implication is that if we don’t want to do the right thing simply because it is right, if we don’t want to love others because we’re Christian or we have good heart, then at least we should do it because it is in our eternal best interest. Like the steward in the parable, we are faced with the choice between trying to keep our profits and trying to save our lives. We cannot take money or possessions with us as we go. The only thing that fits through the “eye of the needle” (Lk 18:25) are acts of love. All earthly mammon will eventually turn out to be no more valuable than monopoly money. Jesus wants us to be as wise in the spiritual realm as greedy businessmen are in the material realm. If we use whatever God has given us in this world to take care of others, at our judgment and after it, they will be among those in heaven who welcome us into the eternal home of heaven. Jesus will turn to us and tell us that whatever we did for them, he took personally: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
  • Jesus says immediately after today’s Gospel that the “children of this age” are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than “the children of light.” What he was saying is that people who are worldly are often much more “prudent” than believers when it comes to making choices that concern their survival. Business owners, if they know that a certain practice is losing them money, try to fix it right away. If they can’t, they eliminate it. They know that in order to survive, they’ve got to cut their losses, otherwise they’ll end up in chapter 11. Christians, however, when we know that a certain thing is losing us God’s grace, seldom act in such a decisive and intelligent way. Even though such a serious sin might send us into eternal bankruptcy, we often don’t get rid of it. Jesus instructs us to act with bottom-line brutality in the Sermon on the Mount, but few of us follow this advice: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mt 5:29-30). The failure to cut out sinful behavior from our lives is, for Jesus, simply stupid. Sinning in such a way is cooperating with the devil, and that would be like a businessman’s employing someone whom he knows will steal from him and try to destroy his business.
  • In this story, Jesus is essentially telling us to use our heads, to be smart about our salvation. Jesus’ words today are like a top notch group of business consultants who come in to analyze a failing business, find out where the inefficiencies are and design a business plan not only to save the company but make it thrive; but the key is not just in the information, in knowing what needs to be done, but in having the wisdom, courage and resolve to implement that plan. That’s what Jesus is proposing to us today, with urgency. Unlike in the parable, when we meet him face-to-face, we’ll have no time to return to try to fix things. We have to fix them now. If we’ve been selfish with our gifts, if we haven’t been putting God first, if we have been neglecting those left in ditches on the side of the road, the time is now to use our heads to do so. If we’ve been trying to compromise with a sin, with something that is obviously wrong but which we’re trying to deny, the time is now to change. Now is the time for us to be as shrewd about storing up for ourselves heavenly wealth as millionaires are to increase their fortunes here on earth. We cannot serve both God and mammon. We cannot worship God and the Golden Calf. We cannot be sons and daughters of the eternal Father and seek the inheritance offered by the prince of the world. Just as the steward in the parable couldn’t try to keep all his commissions and win the favor of those who owed him, so we must choose between storing up treasure and pleasure in this world, or using everything we have in this world to store up eternal treasure and happiness in the next. This is a choice the Rich Young Man was presented by Jesus and sadly refused to take. Today Jesus out of love offers us the same deal urging us to seize it and obtain the pearl of great price.
  • In today’s first reading, St. Paul wants to help those in Philippi and us here to make that choice. He encourages us to live as prudent children of the light, as good stewards of the gift of life God has given us, by joining with others in being imitators of him and observing those who conduct themselves according to the model we find in him, who based his entire life of Christ. Specifically he was urging us to model ourselves on his cruciform following of the Crucified Lord. In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul would say that his sole boast was in the Cross of Christ by which the world  — and all our commissions! — was crucified to him and him to the world. He would say that he had been crucified with Christ and the life he was now living in the flesh he was living by faith in the Son of God who died for him and gave himself up for him. He would say that that Christ and the Cross is the power and glory of God, because the Cross is not so much a symbol and instrument of pain but of the love that allows one to sacrifice and suffer so much for others. While the way of the Cross is the path of sanctity, however, St. Paul tells us “even in tears,” “many … conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” Rather than lovers of Christ and the Cross, they are enemies of it, who make pleasure their god, who glory in their shameful sins, who are on the road of destruction because their minds and hearts obsess about this worldly treasure. There remain many enemies of the Cross of Christ today. But we, as children of the light, as honest stewards, are called to be friends, lovers, of Christ on the Cross. St. Paul describes what our end should be and where our mind and heart should be directed: to God in heaven. He says to the people of the Roman Colony of Philippi, where many had become citizens after serving 21 years in the Roman Army and valued that gift as much as St. Paul did having been born in Tarsus, that we should remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We should keep our eyes fixed on the goal, because that makes it possible for us more easily to love the Cross. Even when we struggle to want it because our mortal flesh fears the pain and the suffering, St. Paul encourages us by remembering the grace of God who “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” God has the strength to help subject our appetites to his holy will. This is the means by which we will be able to “stand firm in the Lord.”
  • Today we celebrate a saint who was a great example of a good steward who always remembered his citizenship, lived as a friend of Christ on the Cross, and sought with all his being to help the entire Church leave the deification of their bellies and get back on the path that leads to God after the moral and social decay that led to the Protestant Reformation. Born of the Medici family, he was thrust into positions of responsibility at 22 because his uncle was Pope Pius IV, and we see how God brought good out of this nepotism and this early start, because he who was perhaps the principal figure in reforming the Church after the Protestant Reformation through helping to bring to a conclusion the Council of Trent and he would not have long to show us an example according to which all of us could conduct ourselves. As Archbishop of Milan, he sought to reform his clergy to model their lives on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross as they heard at their ordination. He built seminaries to train priests well. He knew that many of the problems that afflicted lay people had to do with priests who were not imitating the saints and were setting a scandalous example for the people. Such reform led to his receiving a great deal of opposition. One religious community that didn’t want to be reformed actually sent some monks to try to murder him while he was praying in his chapel. Miraculously, however, the bullet that hit him in the back simply fell to the ground. Because of his hard work at reform, however, the Catholics of Milan and — because of his continued work in Rome — across much of the Catholic world experienced the fruits of reform. There’s a powerful story from his work in Milan that relates how he was a lover of the Cross and tried to get his clergy to be as well. In 1576, there was not only a famine but a plague in Milan. The governor, most of his officials, and most of the nobles, all fled. But St. Charles remained and he begged the clergy and the religious not to abandon their flock, urging them to prefer a holy death to a late one. He exhausted his personal fortune, even going into depth. He sold many of the Church’s vessels. And every day he not only had a meal with the poor, lame, blind and crippled, but he was feeding 60,000 to 70,000 poor, handicapped and often contagious people daily. He appealed to the clergy and religious, ““How can those upon whom mercy has been given and liberally poured out be so tightly limited with theirs, and measure it out in accord with temporal and external necessities? The same Son of God, who for the sake of the salvation of all men, including his enemies and the impious, was fixed to the cross and died in the greatest shame and the bitterest torment, invites us to go forward into the danger of a quiet and glorious death for devout brethren. He to whom we owe as much repayment as we could not obtain by dying a thousand times without end, does not even request this pathetic life of ours, but only that we put it at risk. We see many go through these dangers without escaping death. Moreover, we even see many who are free from fear but still die. But if we do not escape it, this will not be death; rather it will be a quicker attainment of blessed glory, which is true life. … Our Fathers, incited by the spirit of God, did the same in similar circumstances. They taught that this is what should be done. … Moreover they extolled a work of this kind because it has the greatest power to motivate our souls to confirm that they are the stuff of martyrs. It is indeed a desirable time now when without the cruelty of the tyrant, without the rack, without fire, without beasts, and in the complete absence of harsh tortures that are usually the most frightful to human weakness, we can obtain the crown of martyrdom.” And he promised, “If someone does contract the disease, and others are no longer there, then I myself, who will be going about among you every day on account of the sick, will be there. I shall be charged with caring for your health in both body and soul. I will willingly come to your aid. I offer myself to you right now as a minister of the Sacraments if that should be necessary. Relying indeed on divine help, I have decided to spare no labors or dangers in order to fulfill my pastoral office and to serve the flock committed to me in any way I can for their salvation.” That’s a friend of the Cross of Christ! That’s someone who is as wise with the things that matter as even the most avaricious businessman is with his accounts. Because of all of these ministrations, St. Charles ended up dying basically of exhaustion at 46, but in his few years, he accomplished so much more than most people who have lived far longer, because he was a good steward who invested all the time he had, and his example, like St. Paul’s, ought to be our model.  Today we turn to God and ask him, in the words of today’s opening prayer, to help us to become more like St. Charles in this imitation: “Preserve in the midst of your people, we ask, O Lord, the spirit with which you filled the Bishop Saint Charles Borromeo, that your Church may be constantly renewed and, by conforming herself to the likeness of Christ, may show his face to the world.” Amen!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 PHIL 3:17—4:1

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters,
and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.
For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified Body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Responsorial Psalm PS 122:1-2, 3-4AB, 4CD-5

R. (1) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
I rejoiced because they said to me,
“We will go up to the house of the LORD.”
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Jerusalem, built as a city
with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
According to the decree for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats,
seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Alleluia 1 JN 2:5

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever keeps the word of Christ,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 16:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than the children of light.”

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