Empowered by Faith to Store Up Treasure for God, 29th Monday (I), October 19, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of SS. Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf and Companions
October 19, 2015
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. He was the one who told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, of course, which 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. St. Paul would say that “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10).
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • The second means is by building up his family, his kingdom. 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.
  • And today we have a great example of those who can show us what this life of faith and true wealth looks like. The eight Jesuits whom we call the North American Martyrs had the task, in the early 1600s, to bring the Gospel to New France, which encompassed most of eastern Canada as well as some of the areas of upstate New York. Practically speaking, it meant carrying the word of Jesus Christ to the native Americans — the Hurons, the Mohawks, the Iroquois — who by the time the Jesuits arrived in 1625 had already earned a reputation for resisting missionaries and making them martyrs. St. Jean de Brébeuf was one of the first Jesuits to arrive in 1625 at the age of 31. Earlier, he had been rendered an invalid by tuberculosis, but having recovered his strength, he wanted to use the health he had to pass on the treasure of the faith, becoming rich in what matters to God and seeking to help the natives likewise grow in that richness. As soon as he arrived, he began to study the difficult Huron language. Over the course of three years of hard work, living alone among the Indians, with much suffering and constant danger, he did not gain a single convert. When England took over Canada in 1629, he was summoned back to France. It would have been easy for him to say he had paid his dues and spend the rest of his life at the Jesuit institutions of Europe, but when France re-obtained title to the Canadian colonies four years later, he was on the first boat back. For 16 more years he labored about the Hurons, with his perilous adventures covered in detail in The Jesuit Relations. He would drag his canoe and bags over mountains and valleys for miles, going from location to location, wherever the Hurons were. His apostolate began to bear fruit, especially with the young. In 1649, the Iroquois attacked the village where he was stationed and he was sentenced to death. His death is about as gruesome as that of any missionary ever recorded. He was stripped naked and beaten with clubs on every part of their body. Then they cut off his hands, applied white-hot tomakawks to his armpits and groin, and fastened searing sword blades around his neck. Next, they covered him with bark soaked in pitch and resin and lit him on fire. During all of this, as the eyewitness account records in The Jesuit Relations, he continued to encourage and exhort the Christian converts around him to remain faithful. To stop his preaching, the savages then plugged up his mouth, tore off his lips, cut off his nose, and then, in mockery of baptism, put him in a tub of boiling water. They proceeded next to cut off his flesh, roast it and eat it in front of him. The final blow came when they sliced open his chest and ripped out his beating, valiant heart, so that they could drink his blood when it was still warm. To the world his life was a waste, his talents had gone for naught, he would have been able to make a difference elsewhere but it would have seemed his life was a failure. But out of all the financiers who lived in the 1600s, how many do we remember? How many are considered important in what matters to God in heaven?
  • The missionary life and death of Isaac Jogues are similarly inspiring. He arrived in New France in 1636 at the age of 29. His hard work among the Hurons bore fruit; in 1637, he rejoiced to baptize 200. In 1642, the Iroquois attacked the village where he was. He was beaten to the ground with clubs, and then had his hair, beard and nails torn away and forefingers bitten off. He was then made a slave. Eventually, he was rescued by the Dutch and sent back to France, where he was greeted both with both pity and as a hero. Because he no longer had the fingers to hold the Sacred Host, he was technically incapable of celebrating Mass, until Pope Urban VIII gave him a special dispensation. “It would be unjust that a martyr for Christ,” Urban said, “should not drink the blood of Christ.” Despite all that he had suffered, however, when the opportunity came to return to New France in early 1644, he jumped at the chance. It didn’t take long for him to receive his imperishable wreath and cash in the great portfolio of faith he had amassed through so many deeds of faith. He was ambushed at a meal by the Mohawks, who tomahawked him as he was entering the cabin. They cut off his head and placed it on a pole facing the direction from which he had come, as a warning to other missionaries.  But what the Mohawks were not planning on was that the blood of Jogues, Brébeuf and the six other North American martyrs would soften and fertilize the Indian soil to receive the Gospel. At the very place where Jogues was killed in Auriesvilles, New York, ten years later Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha would be born. Even though they didn’t experience many conversions during their missionary work, the North American Martyrs’ heroic deaths, perseverance in the faith, and zeal for the salvation of their torturers would become renown not just in the Christian world, but even among the sadistic executioners. When the next wave of courageous missionaries arrived, they would Christianize almost every tribe they encountered. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of Christians. The wealth of a faith until the point of death continues to pay dividends.
  • As we come forward today to receive the same Jesus in faith that made them so strong in bearing witness to them, 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.”

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