Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
6th Sunday of OT, Year C
February 11, 2001
Jer 17:5-8; 1Cor 15:12,16-20; Lk 6:17,20-26
1) Today’s readings draw an extraordinarily sharp contrast that is highly relevant to us, between two different ways of living, two different trusts, two different treasures.
The Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah says “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD,” for they shall completely wither in the desert, but “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,” who will be like trees planted by water who grow and give off much fruit.
The responsorial psalm curses those who “follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners” and praises those whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” who meditate on it day and night.” They too are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Jesus draws the strongest contrasts in the Gospel: Blessed are you who are poor, but woe to you who are rich; blessed are you who are hungry now, but woe to you who are full; blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who are laughing; and blessed are you when you’re persecuted and hated because of me, but woe to you when everybody speaks good of you.”
2) Even though it might not seem like it at first, all three readings are pointing to the same conclusion. Namely, those who put their trust and hope in earthly things — in money or possessions, in earthly power, in earthly pursuits, in their own will or ego — will end up like withered trees in the desert, fruitless in the final analysis. But those who put their trust in the Lord, who love his law and put it into action, who follow the Lord all the way — they are the ones, who even though they might experience some sufferings now from those who think they’re crazy not to live for the present moment, will rejoice in the future forever.
3) Jesus draws these conclusions very starkly in today’s Gospel, which is taken from his Sermon on the Plain. He blesses those who now are poor, not because they’re poor per se, but because their treasure now is the kingdom of heaven. He defines the poverty he’s talking about not negatively, as the state of having small bank accounts, but positively, as those who put their treasure in the kingdom of God. Even people who would be materially well-off could be “poor” as Jesus is talking about, if they put all of their being and resources to the pursuit of God’s kingdom. Similarly, those who have very little money might indeed not be poor as Jesus describes, if they’re greedy, if they’re cheating in any way to get ahead, if they’re putting their goals in some type of material success rather than setting their hearts on God’s kingdom. From the point of view of God, all of our money, our houses, our cars, our material possessions are like money and property in a game of monopoly. As soon as the game finishes, the monopoly money, the houses on Park Avenue, is worth nothing. The only currency that is worth anything in the final analysis, God says, are acts of love flowing from faith. These are what we need to pass into heaven and to collect eternal life.
4) The other contrasts are very helpful to us as well. He blesses those who are hungry but defines those who are hungry as those who are hungering for God’s kingdom and contrasts them with those who are full, who think they now have everything they need. Jesus blesses those who are crying now because of what they see going on in the world, the terrible killings that occur every day, the sheer bloodshed, the hatred, those who take these problems seriously and weep for them like Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and says woe to those who think human life is just one big laugh. Finally he praises those who are persecuted, hated, excluded, mocked, reviled and defamed on account of Jesus, on account of putting their treasure in him. Jesus says it happened to him as well and they will clearly receive their reward, whereas he says a firm woe to those about whom everybody finds acceptable today, who are “tolerant” of everything including evil, and compares them to those who killed the prophets and killed him.
5) How are we doing in terms of the contrasts Jesus describes? What set of values do we treasure? In a typical day, where is our heart or mind, is it on material things, things of this world, or is it in God, in things of the kingdom of heaven? Where do we turn for advice? Do we turn to the worldly talk-show hosts or politicians or sexologist gurus, or do we turn to Jesus, to the Church he himself founded, in which the Holy Spirit works guiding it to truth?
6) To help us to answer this question as honestly as possible, I’d like to turn to the analysis of someone who lived these beatitudes to the full, someone who is probably the greatest example of holiness that we’ll see in our lifetimes, Mother Teresa. Following Jesus, who made himself poor for our sake, who was hungry for our souls, who weeped over the fact that so many like those in Jerusalem won’t convert and who was hated, rejected, cursed and defiled, Mother Teresa herself took the vow of poverty, moved to one of the poorest places on earth, Calcutta, to care for the poor, who often times sacrificed her own meager portion of rice for those who were dying of hunger on the streats, who cried over the great misery so many people were experiencing there, abandoned by everyone, and who herself was taunted and persecuted by some segments of the media who accused her of doing this all so that she could become famous, because they understood so little of the logic of love.
7) When Mother Teresa came to the United States in 1982 to speak at Harvard’s graduation and again in 1993 to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, in the presence of President and Mrs Clinton and Vice-President and Mrs Gore and Washington politicians, she said that she has sisters in 126 different countries, many of them the most destitute on earth, but in all her travels, she had never found a country as poor as the United States. She said that the US was one of the most spiritually bankrupt countries on earth. Her calculus was simple: it was all about love. She said that those who love are spiritually rich, those who neglect love, those who do not love, are spiritually poor. And she said there is such a lack of love in the United States.
8 ) This comes from a woman who was so pure of heart that she could see God in all things, and hence if we want to see things from the point of view of God, we should listen to her very carefully. She mentioned three ways that America, which is so materially rich, showed itself to be so spiritually poor, which we’ll confront in turn, because we are so affected by the culture that she was criticizing in order to turn us back toward God, back toward a culture of love. She focused on how we put so much more emphasis on money here in America than people, on the terrible effects of abortion, and the terrible effects of the breakdown of love within American marriages. We’ll focus briefly on what she meant.
9) She noted how in the America that we so often fail to care for others, that we spend so much time doing things to earn more money and get more material possessions that we neglect the most important things of life and our most important duties to God and to each other. She cited many examples, but I’ll give you one:
I was surprised in the West to see so many young boys and girls given to drugs. And I tried to find out why. Why is it like that, when those in the West have so many more things than those in the East? And the answer was: because there is no one in the family to receive them. Our children depend on us for everything — their health, their nutrition, their security, their coming to know and love God. For all of this, they look to us with trust, hope and expectation. But often father and mother are so busy they have no time for their children, or perhaps they are not even married or have given up on their marriage. So the children go to the streets and get involved in drugs or other things. We are talking of love of the child, which is where love and peace must begin. These are the things that break peace.
She added as well about the way American society is established that we really don’t love our neighbors; oftentimes we don’t even know who they are:
And so here I am talking with you. I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people first. And find out about your next-door neighbours. Do you know who they are?
We saw this just a couple of days ago when the man from Illinois tried to shoot the President and then was planning to commit suicide outside the White House. The television crews went to his home in Illinois and interviewed his neighbors. None of them knew that this man had any problems such that he was planning to try to kill the President and then himself. No one knew! This is what Mother Teresa is talking about. We take on here in America so often the attitude of Cain who killed his brother and said to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is Yes, we are. But so often our attitude in action is no, we’re not.
10) The second way Mother Teresa said that America was so poor was in our attitude toward abortion. Not only do we allow 4000 of our own children to be killed each day, but we try to export this terrible spiritual disease and carnage to all other countries as well, especially the Third World. Listen to what Mother says:
Today, today [it is] unbelievable that the mother herself murders her own child, afraid of having to feed one more child, afraid to educate one more child. The child must die. This is one of the greatest poverties. A nation, people, family that allows that, that accepts that—they are the poorest of the poor. They are afraid. The fear of that child. And so we see that.
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts here plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion. Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today — abortion — which brings people to such blindness.
The Church has to be unambiguously pro-life, as Cardinal Law said at Cardinal O’Connor’s funeral. There is no possibility for someone to consider himself or herself pro-abortion, or pro-choice and Catholic at the same time. We have to be clear about that. We must condemn abortion in every circumstance. No exceptions. A Catholic must seek the kingdom of God, God’s will, in all things. But we must also back up our pro-life position by caring for pregnant women in distress and always mercifully welcoming back women who have had abortions.
11) Finally, Mother turns to the breakdown of love in the family, and she focuses on, what in many cases, is its cause, the use on contraception in marriage. All the statistics describe the damage contraception does, that it increases the rate of divorce astronomically. Not easy for people to understand. Catholic couples do use contraception.
(Contraception and spiritual poverty): I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning. The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception. In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily. I also know that there are great problems in the world, that many spouses do not love each other enough to practice natural family planning. We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion. The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning and said: “You people who have practiced chastity, you are the best people to teach us natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other.” And what this poor person said is very true. These poor people maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home to live in, but they can still be great people when they are spiritually rich.
12) Jesus himself made himself to be poor, emptied himself completely, for the sake of love, for the sake of the love of us. This weekend, let’s ask ourselves honestly if we seek to be materially rich or make ourselves materially poorer, so that we may make the room to have God as our sole treasure. Do we use the blessings God gave us to take care of those in need, not just our money, but our time and our talents. People are hungering for God. Are we trying to feed them?