The Trust Needed to Serve God and Overcome Anxiety for Mammon, 11th Saturday (II), June 18, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Mary, Mother of Divine Providence
June 18, 2016
2 Chron 24:17-25, Ps 89, Mt 6:24-34

 

To listen to an audio recording of the beginning this homily — which is truncated because of a malfunction in the recorder — please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In yesterday’s section of the Gospel, taken from this three-week consecutive annual treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to us about what treasure our heart was seeking, whether we were attempting to amass treasure in this world or in his everlasting kingdom. On the heels of that distinction, today Jesus discusses how our actions flow from the treasure our heart is desiring: whether we’re planning to serve God or serve mammon and makes clear that we can’t serve both simultaneously, for we “will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” This was a truth every Jew of the age knew because to be a slave at that time meant a total commitment; one was always at the Master’s call; there was no way to serve two masters at the same time because that would always be a situation of irresolvable conflict. One had to win. We can only have one supreme desire or aspiration. Once we determine that, then everything else becomes relative to that absolute.
  • We see this truth illustrated in today’s first reading from the Second Book of Chronicles. After the death of the priest Jehoiada who had guided King Joash to be faithful and to eliminate the worship of Ba’al throughout Judah, Joash, to ingratiate himself with the princes of Judah, allowed for the worship of the pagan sex fertility goddess Asherah — Ba’al’s consort — to be installed on the temple mount and he, with the Judean princes, and the people who followed them “forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols.” He had gone from serving God to serving a sex goddess and her poles and images. Joash and the princes wouldn’t listen to any of the prophets sent by the Lord to convert them or listen to any of their warnings about what would happen to them if they continued to serve a sex goddess rather than the Lord. Eventually Zechariah the prophet, the son of Jehoiada the priest who had been King Joash’s loyal helper, spoke up against the crowd for their abandoning the Lord. He was calling them to remember that they were to serve the Lord not the scandalously weak whims of the king or the debauched royal classes. And the leaders conspired against him to kill him. Chronicles tells us, “At the king’s order they stoned him to death in the court of the Lord’s temple.” The king had the son of his mentor killed in the temple, which shows that he was attempting to kill Jehoaida’s influence and the influence of God, too. We see afterward that, weakened by their idolatry, none of the sex-crazed leaders and people could resist the invading Arameans, who with very few men wiped out Judah and Joash himself was killed. If the Lord is our strength, than serving some other pseudo-deity is truly our weakness.
  • Why would people choose to serve mammon instead of the Lord? Why would they seek to store up temporary treasure here in this world? Jesus gives an indication in his use of the word “therefore” which links what he said about serving two masters to everything that comes later. It’s not fundamentally about a “lust of the eyes,” as St. John would call it, a desire for material things for their own sake. Here’s it clear that Jesus is saying it’s because of anxiety that one won’t have what one needs. Because of this fear, one begins to place one’s heart — faith, hope, love, security — in material things. That’s why he gives five different reasons to help them and us place our trust in God and in his providential care and two straightforward commands flowing from that trust. Let’s begin with the five reasons:
    •  “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” — Jesus tells us that if God has given us life, he will give us what that life needs. He hasn’t brought us into existence so that we will starve to death, parched and naked!
    • “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” — Jesus has us turn to the fact that we’ve never seen an uncaged bird die of malnutrition. If God makes sure they have enough food, he’ll give us even more fatherly attention.
    • “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” — Worrying, in other words, accomplishes nothing positive and is useless. Dread, on the other hand, can make the time we do have miserable, incapable of living happily in the present and often missing the gifts God gives us at every instant.
    • “Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” — When we learn the lesson of the wild flowers, the scarlet poppies and the anemones that are found on the hillsides in Palestine, we see that God invests them with extraordinary beauty but only for a day. The day after they bloom, they lose their beauty and they’re good for nothing but to be thrown as a dry grass fire starter within an oven. If God so fills them with such beauty for a one day existence, Jesus is asking, will he not invest far more attention in us, who are the summit of his creation?
    • “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” — Jesus’ last argument, to his Jewish listeners, is “Don’t be like the pagans,” who are constantly worrying about material things because they believed that their pseudo-gods were capricious and even though they provided yesterday, they might totally change their mind and allow us to starve to death parched and naked today. Jesus was communicating a totally different lesson: we have not a capricious, non-omnipotent deity on whom we can’t depend, but rather an all-powerful Father who loves us as children on whom we can depend, who knows what we need and will provide. And Jesus is saying this about our true most basic needs: food, clothing, housing. If he’s saying it about all the other things in life would truly need as well.
  • From that he gives us two imperatives:
    • “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” — The only thing we need to worry about, he says, is doing God’s will, allowing his kingdom to come into our life, trying to allow his holiness to help us to hallow his name. As we do, we will see how God will never cease to provide, one way or another, for us. He wants us to strive to remain in communion with God and then we will see how he never abandons those who trust in him.
    • “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” — The flip side of seeking and serving God is that we won’t worry about turning our back on mammon. He tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Notice he doesn’t say, “Next year,” or “The rest of your life.” He says, “tomorrow,” encouraging us not merely to leave the “future” to God but actually our needs tomorrow, just like the Jews in the desert, for whom God rained down manna each day. A couple of days ago we pondered in the “Our Father” how Jesus taught us to pray each day for our daily bread and how God has never let us down. He really doesn’t want us freaking out about the next day, and, I believe with a smirk, he says, “Sufficient for a day is its own evil,” meaning that there’s enough evil, enough lack of trust in God, worrying about today like the pagans.
  • Sisters, I think these lessons are so important for those of us who work in the Pro-Life mission of the Church because, as we know, so many of the justifications for abortion, both personally and culturally, have to do with anxiety over mammon — how one will support oneself and a child, how one will fulfill one’s long-term aspirations for a particular profession — or over serving “other gods,” like what others might say or think. That’s why one of the most important ways we proclaim the Gospel of life is by our clear witness to trust in God’s providence, that God does provide what we really need, and our lives are testimonies of that fact. Moms, dads and their babies are so much more valuable than the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field. Life is much more than material possessions. Tomorrow will indeed take care of itself. But in a materialistic world, in a world full of anxiety, this type of trust in God and his Providence is a huge challenge, especially to those who find themselves in circumstances they weren’t intending. That’s why it’s so important that we not only show them by our lives that God makes good on his promises to care, but also become ministers, to the extent possible, of that care each day, helping them learn to live one day at a time together with the Lord, knowing that worry for today is evil enough, but worry for tomorrow, or for nine months, or for the rest of one’s life is an evil too much to bear and can provoke one’s committing a far worse evil in the taking of the life of another.
  • Today we celebrate a Votive Mass of Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, and the Blessed Mother shows us how to serve God, to place our heart and treasure in God, to trust in his Providential care. She did when she had her own unexpected pregnancy. In her Magnificat, she sang out how God looks upon us in our lowliness and need, does great things for us, and fills the hungry with good things. She lived a poor life, not even capable with St. Joseph of offering a lamb to redeem the Lamb of God at his Presentation. She remained trusting when in the desert in Egypt and all the way to Calvary. She knew that the same Lord who had taken care of the Jews, who takes care of the plants and animals, would take care of her just as he would provide for his only begotten Son. And she’s a model for our own trust in God’s providence.
  • And if she were here speaking, I’m convinced she would point us now to what happens each day in the Eucharist as God the Father gives us his very Son Jesus and what that gesture means. St. Paul told the Romans, “If God didn’t even spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, would he not give us everything else besides?” And God the Father didn’t spare his own Son but gives him to us each day. And compared to that, everything else is small change! God’s daily gift of his Son in love on the altar is the greatest downpayment on God’s providential care we could ever ask for or receive. And we have the privilege each day, in coming to Mass, to choose which God we’re going to serve, to lift our hearts, and place them in our true Treasure. This is the way God reminds those who serve him how, in the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm, he maintains his love for his servant!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 CHR 24:17-15

After the death of Jehoiada,
the princes of Judah came and paid homage to King Joash,
and the king then listened to them.
They forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers,
and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols;
and because of this crime of theirs,
wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem.
Although prophets were sent to them to convert them to the LORD,
the people would not listen to their warnings.
Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah,
son of Jehoiada the priest.
He took his stand above the people and said to them:
“God says, ‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands,
so that you cannot prosper?
Because you have abandoned the LORD, he has abandoned you.’”
But they conspired against him,
and at the king’s order they stoned him to death
in the court of the LORD’s temple.
Thus King Joash was unmindful of the devotion shown him
by Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, and slew his son.
And as Zechariah was dying, he said,
“May the LORD see and avenge.”
At the turn of the year a force of Arameans came up against Joash.
They invaded Judah and Jerusalem,
did away with all the princes of the people,
and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus.
Though the Aramean force came with few men,
the LORD surrendered a very large force into their power,
because Judah had abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers.
So punishment was meted out to Joash.
After the Arameans had departed from him,
leaving him in grievous suffering,
his servants conspired against him
because of the murder of the son of Jehoiada the priest.
He was buried in the City of David,
but not in the tombs of the kings.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 89:4-5, 29-30, 31-32, 33-34

R. (29a) For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
I will make his posterity endure forever
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“If his sons forsake my law
and walk not according to my ordinances,
If they violate my statutes
and keep not my commands.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I will punish their crime with a rod
and their guilt with stripes.
Yet my mercy I will not take from him,
nor will I belie my faithfulness.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

Gospel
MT 6:24-34

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
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