Becoming Rich in What Matters, 29th Monday (I), October 23, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. John of Capistrano
October 23, 2017
Rom 4:20-25, Lk 1:69-75, Lk 12:13-21

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel, there is a huge contrast between two types of riches, two types of inheritance, two types of legacy, one very often sought by those who are spiritually worldly, the other counseled by Jesus, one ultimately a patrimony of monopoly money, the second an endowment of God. It’s important for us to enter into this scene which is as relevant today as it was what someone in the crowd shouted the question to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
  • Over my priestly life, I have been stunned by how many people have made appointments to come to see me to get advice as to how to persuade a sibling or a cousin more fairly to allocate a last will and testament, or to ask what to do to sell the paternal home for full market value and evict one of the brothers and sisters still living there because that sibling can’t afford to pay the siblings the value of the house, or disputes over jewelry and the like. Similar disputes have taken place in my extended family when nieces have become executors of wills and then sought to consume all of the deceased uncle’s property and not allocate it according to his intentions, basically inviting the other cousins to sue in probate court if they don’t like it. I’ve seen families divided, sometimes for decades, because of such inheritance disputes. Whenever anyone comes to see me about such things, I remind them immediately of the scene in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ response to the man’s request for Jesus to command his brother to give him his share of the inheritance is, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Jesus didn’t come from heaven to earth to settle inheritance disputes but to make us aware of a totally different type of inheritance, and the desire to come to him or to the Church to settle such disputes can often reveal that someone is instrumentalizing God and the Church out of love for money. St. Paul would say that “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Jesus would show in the Parable of the Prodigal Son just how destructive the love of money can be: the essential sin of the younger son begins with a hunger for an inheritance that leads one to treat his father as if he were already dead. All sin can be summarized in a sense by a desire to place possessions, or money, and ultimately oneself over other people, including one’s family members and even God.
  • Jesus gave an important antidote as medicine against this spirit of acquisitiveness that leads to all types of sins:  “Take care to guard against all greed,” Jesus says, “for … one’s life does not consist of possessions.” He then tells a parable about the rich fool who was blessed with a bountiful harvest who instead of sharing any of his good fortune with those who were hungry after the harvest of grain had filled up the barns he already had, decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones in an unbelievable building project of selfishness. The man egocentrically said to himself, “As for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years.” He didn’t care that many others didn’t have the bare necessities. And that led to other excesses as he convinced himself to “rest, eat, drink and be merry!” Charity wasn’t even in the picture. And he had a rude awakening coming. That night he would die. “You, fool, this night your life will be demanded of you,” Jesus puts into the mouth of his Father. “And the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Jesus drew the moral of the story: “Thus it will be for the one who stores up treasure for himself, but is not rich in what matters to God.” We’re living in a culture of the grain bin. We obsess about storing treasures or even junk up for ourselves, constantly building new storage facilities to house the stuff that can no longer fit in our homes, rather than giving the stuff we don’t need away to those who do need it. Perhaps the most ubiquitous grain bin of all are financial portfolios, where so many obsess about seeing them grow, while often few think nearly as much if at all about how to share those blessings with others, especially those in desperate need. The culture of accumulation is the flip side, the reverse excess, of what Pope Francis calls the culture of waste; both fail to grasp the proper way to relate to material goods as stewards and to use them — all of them — for the love of God and of others.
  • To all of us in this culture, Jesus calls us to become rich in what matters to God. In the passage right after today’s section, which unfortunately is not included, Jesus tells us: “Sell your belonging and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” How do we become rich what matters to God? We can focus on two different ways.
  • The first is by becoming rich in faith. In the first reading, St. Paul speaks to us of Abraham’s faith. Even though Abraham was very wealthy, with flocks and lands, he was willing to uproot himself from Ur of the Chaldeans to follow the Lord wherever he led him. The foundation of his life was God, not what he owned. He was “empowered by faith,” St. Paul tells us, “and gave glory to God.” He gave glory when he trusted, even for 25 years, he would eventually become a father and the father of many nations. He gave glory when he believed in God enough to sacrifice the son of that promise, Isaac, believing God could raise him from the dead. And St. Paul says that our faith has every reason to be even greater than Abraham’s. He writes, “But it was not for him alone that it was written that it was credited to him; it was also for us, to whom it will be credited, who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification.” Jesus’ incarnation, the enfleshment of God’s love, and the triumph even over sin and death is an even greater grounds for us to believe than Abraham had. All the great miracles of the past 2000 years, the lives of the saints, the gift of the sacraments and so many graces, are all grounds of faith. The Lord has enriched us with this great cloud of witnesses and he wants us to enrich that witness still. Are we storing up this treasure? Are we seeking to invest the gift of faith we’ve inherited with the same passion with which those who love money seek to make their portfolio and possessions grow?
  • The second means is by charity. St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, showed us that the true treasure in the Church are God’s loved ones, are his people, even the poor and forgotten. One human soul is worth more than all of the wealth in the world. To become rich in what matters to God is not even to do a lot of good deeds, but to help him save the world one person at a time. I rejoice, Sisters, that with great faith in God you are seeking to do just that, saving children in the womb one by one, helping their mothers and fathers and family members learn how to look at things through the light of faith, to value the children God has given them more than all material wealth, and to respond to every situation by seeking to unite it to God. The Lord summons you today, as he summons me and everyone through the world, to grow rich in what matters to God in these two ways. Your vows are a particular witness about what  you treasure: your vow of poverty shows that the wealth you seek is eternal; your vow of obedience shows that you esteem God’s will more than yours; your vow of chastity reveals where your heart is; and your vow to defend and promote respect for the dignity of every human life shows our culture just how valuable each of us is in God’s eyes.
  • Today we have a great example of someone who is rich in what matters to God. St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456) was a brilliant young man who became mayor of his town at 26. He was used to being in charge. But he had a major conversion, recognized his vanity, and discerned that the Lord was calling him to be a Franciscan despite his marriage and personal weaknesses. The day he presented himself to the Franciscans, he mounted a donkey, sat backward toward the tail, put a paper on his back listing all his sins, and then let the donkey be led to the Franciscan monastery as the people of the town, especially the kids, pelted him with filth and epithets. Once accepted, the Franciscan who was put in charge of him knew how difficult it would be to get him to obey the Holy Spirit after he was used to being in charge, so he was brutal with him, but eventually with the help of prayer, the Holy Spirit and lots of mortification, God strengthened him to become an instrument of so much good within the Franciscan order, in Italy and even in various countries where he was sent to reconcile. He became an extraordinary preacher bringing vast multitudes to conversion and inspiring them to seek what really matters. He was such an effective preacher that he was sent to Hungary to inspire people to raise up and defend the treasure of the faith against the invading Muslim Turks. He eventually was a leading voice at the Council of Ferrara-Florence seeking to bring the Church back to unity, so that the Church Christ founded, east and west, might collaborate to invest what God had given. He was great in faith and in charity and the Church still remembers him more than five and a half centuries after his death.
  • As we come forward today to receive the same Jesus in faith that made him so strong in bearing witness to him, the pearl of great price that renders vain all the world’s currency, we ask the Lord to empower us in faith so that we might build up not grain bins here on earth but the Father’s house in heaven, being enriched by him so much that we enrich others and bring everyone to rejoice in the eternal wealth of glory.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Rom 4:20-25

Brothers and sisters:
Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
But it was not for him alone that it was written
that it was credited to him;
it was also for us, to whom it will be credited,
who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
who was handed over for our transgressions
and was raised for our justification.

Responsorial Psalm Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75

R. (see 68) Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
He has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.

Alleluia Mt 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God.”