26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 6:1,4-7  ¾  1 Timothy 6:11-16  ¾  Luke 16:19-31
September 26, 2010

“Fight the good fight of faith.”

If we reduce the spiritual life to something trivial, something two-dimensional, we’re in trouble.  We need a deep understanding of the battles that make up the spiritual life, the good fight of faith.  One way that Christians often reduce the meaning of the spiritual life to the moral life, and the meaning of the moral life to avoidance of punishment, is for him to think that the whole of the spiritual life is about “staying away from mortal sin”.  A well-meaning Christian might thus say to himself, “As long as I stay away from mortal sin, I’m on my way to heaven.”

Obviously, it’s incredibly important to stay away from mortal sin:  we might say it’s foundational.  But you only build a foundation in order to put something on top of it.  When someone looks at a house, the foundation had better be there, or the house isn’t going to be.  But when someone admires a house, he doesn’t focus on the foundation.  When we die, and God judges our soul, the foundation had better be there.  But that won’t be God’s focus.

What are we building upon the foundation of our Christian life?  Above and beyond staying away from mortal sin, we are called to choose among many good things, and to do the greatest amount of good that we can in this world.  That’s where the parable of the rich man and Lazarus comes in.

Jesus begins by describing the rich man and Lazarus.  They stand in sharp contrast to each other.  Actually neither stands:  even their postures contrast.  The rich man reclines at table, while the other lays before a gate, excluded from the palace.  The action of the parable takes place following their deaths, which reveal the truth of who these two are.  Lazarus, the one who was poor and sought comfort at the gate of the rich man, longing to enter his presence, is taken after his death into the bosom of Abraham, a metaphor for the very heart of God.

Yet Lazarus is not the focus of Jesus’ parable.  The focus is the rich man, who resembles the Pharisees, and who very likely in some measure resembles you and me.  The rich man, in whose presence everyone wanted to dwell on earth, descends after his death into the depths of solitude.  He is completely alone.  This, in fact, is one description of Hell:  utter isolation.  One philosophe claimed that “Hell is other people.”  The contrary, in fact, is true.

Jesus’ parable, however, is not just a warning about what we have to fear if we are not generous.  For even if the rich man was selfish in this world, he does shows some concern for others as he faces eternal isolation.  He seems to have a selfless desire to help his brothers, who are living the same life that he had.  But in Hell nothing of this sort is possible.  There, everyone is cut off from everyone else.

This is the problem with death-bed confessions.  This is the problem with waiting until tomorrow to begin praying seriously for others.  Even if we are somehow converted at the last moment of our life on earth, we have lost the opportunity to bring others closer to God.  We must each day, beginning today, take up the good fight that Saint Paul speaks of in the second reading.  Not only are our own souls at stake.  We are put here on earth for the sake of others, in order to give our selves for the sake of those whom we love.  This is what Christ does in giving us His Body and Blood.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 8:4-7 — 1 Timothy 2:1-8 — Luke 16:1-13
September 19, 2010

“No servant can serve two masters.”

Multi-tasking defines our day: it’s a chore by which we carry out many chores at once. Our lives our like our computer screens: we have too many windows open at once, rendering all them opaque. Although the temptation to serve mammon remains with us, modern man is further burdened by his slavery to time. However, a distinction about “time” is needed. In theological Greek, two words can be used to translate the English word “time”.

The Greek word chronos (from which our English word “chronology” comes) expresses secular time: the time of the stopwatch and computer. Chronos was a god of the ancient Greek pantheon, and rules again today as modern man’s Master, forming disciples into a new paganism. Chronos takes a person’s day, and minces it ever more finely with the march of human “progress”: into hours, and then minutes, and then seconds, etc. ad nauseam. Chronos leads one down into a prison of frantic finitude.

The Greek word kairos (from which, tellingly, few if any of our words come) expresses sacred time: the time of God’s Covenant. Kairos is the time through which God effects salvation history. God takes a person’s day, and reveals it as an invitation to dwell in His Kingdom: this invitation He extends over the course of weeks, and then months, and then years, etc. ad infinitum. Kairos leads us into the fullness of the Divine Presence.

In terms of Jesus’ warning today—that no servant can serve two masters—it’s clear that one can serve both God and chronos no more than one can move both forward and backward in time.


But if chronos is the prison within which the devil enslaves us, mammon is the tool by which he leads us there. Often the word mammon is thought to be a synonym for “money”. But money is only one type of mammon. St. Augustine of Hippo tells us that what “the Hebrews call mammon, in Latin is ‘riches.’” The idea of riches is broader, and reminds us of Jesus’ warning that where your riches are, there your heart is also (Luke 12:34).

The mammon of unrighteousness is anything finite to which we give our heart, rather than using it according to its purpose. St. Augustine, who famously prayed in his Confessions that “our hearts, O Lord, are restless, until they rest in Thee”, continues his commentary on today’s Gospel passage by pointing out that the mammon of finite things “are not true riches, for they are full of poverty, and ever liable to chance. For if they were true riches, they would give you security.”

What, then, is the purpose of finite things? When one begins to believe that he is the master of his things, he ends as their slave. The only honest way to relate to finite things is to use them: not as their master, but as their steward. We have only one Master. As Saint Ambrose notes that worldly riches “are foreign to us, because they are something other than our nature: they are not born with us, and they do not pass away with us. But Christ is ours, because He is the life of man.”

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Exodus 32:7-11,13-14  ¾  1 Timothy 1:12-17  ¾  Luke 15:1-32
September 12, 2010

               The picture of God drawn by the Old Testament is incomplete.  When God sent His Son to earth to become human (in the person of Jesus of Nazareth), God became human.  By looking at Jesus we can begin to understand better both who God is, as well as what it means to be a human being.
               As we read the record of salvation history throughout the Bible, we see three basic types of persons:  for convenience’s sake, we might refer to them as Adam, Moses and Jesus.
               Adam, like the people in the first reading:  seek to make God in the image of man, instead of realizing that it is the human being that is created in the image of God.
               Moses is the human being who seeks to follow the will of God, with the Law as his guide.  This person seeks to be a person of faith, but unfortunately has a guide that is incomplete, that can only take him so far.  The perfect guide--- the perfect human being--- is seen in Jesus, who is the perfecter of the Law.  Jesus teaches us today that the Law finds its meaning in love.
               When Jesus teaches us about His heavenly Father, he’s teaching us about a God who demands even more of us than what He asked of the people of the Old Testament.  Because of the relationship that Christ invites us to, the God whom Moses called “Lord” we dare to call “Father.”  The God whom Moses approached in awe and fear we dare to approach in love.  The God who commanded Moses and the people of Israel to follow the Law in all its parts, commands the apostles and us, the members of the Church, to follow His Son with daring faith.
               And in fact, it’s harder to live by Love than it is to live by the Law.  It takes courage to call God our Father.  It might seem at first glance that it should be easier to approach God as a loving Father into whose arms we can run, than as a Lawgiver who towers over us, threatening to destroy all who are unfaithful as in the first reading.  We tend to think of love as something that’s freeing, that lets us be who we want to be, and lets us do what we want to do.  But in fact, that’s not what real love is like.
               Jesus’ beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son shows us what Christian love demands of us above and beyond the Law.  In the parable, the older brother is someone who understands how the law works.  The father had struck a deal, and when the younger son took off with his inheritance, he cut himself out of it.  Perhaps the older brother even began from that point to re-figure how much more he stood to gain each year without “little brother” around.
               In a way it would be easier if we lived like the older brother.  Imagine after the events of today’s parable what would have happened if, at age eighty, the father gave all his money to his sons, and soon after began to fall terribly sick.  Very likely the older son would have done nothing:  the deal was done.  The younger son, however, had been taught by his father’s example to live beyond the Law, to live out of love for others.  Even if the father grew sicker year by year, you can be sure that the younger son would spend every last inherited cent in order to care for him.  Each day, the younger son would face uncertainty about the future, while the older son could rest comfortably with his wealth.  The Law offers sure knowledge of what lies ahead.  Love demands that we journey through darkness, with Christ leading us by His Hand.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wisdom 9:13-18  ¾  Philemon 9-10,12-17  ¾  Luke 14:25-33
September 5, 2010                

Seven books of the Old Testament are called “wisdom literature”.  This literature differs from the other three types of books in the Old Testament:  the five books of the Pentateuch describe God choosing a People by means of a Covenant; the 16 books of “historical literature” tell the stories of His People’s fidelity and infidelity to their Covenant; and the 18 books of “prophetic literature” describe God calling prophets to announce to Israel their need for reconciliation to their Covenant.  In contrast to the other 39 books of the Old Testament, the seven books of “wisdom literature” are transcendent, largely ahistorical, and even at times mystical.  These seven books could be considered Israel’s “handbook” for living out their Covenant.  They hold an analogous role in the life of the Church’s members.

Today’s First Reading is from one of these books.  Reflect on two sentences from it.  The first begins by reminding us of the difficulty we humans have in understanding even earthly matters, much less heavenly ones:

…scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty…
…but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
As the “wisdom literature” so often suggests, the first step of the spiritual life is humility.  The next sentence, however, hints at the possibility of moving from humble ‘unknowing’ towards understanding:
…who ever knew your counsel,
except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?

Only God’s wisdom and holy spirit make it possible to move beyond mere human comprehension to the things of Heaven.  Today’s Gospel passage is certainly beyond mere human comprehension.  Jesus challenges us with His insistence:

“If anyone comes to me without hating…
even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

“Whoever does not carry his own cross
and come after me
cannot be my disciple.”

Consider these sentences as two sides of the same coin.  Christians often get hung up on the idea of ‘hating one’s own life’ because they try to understand it only according to the things on earth, rather than by things in heaven.  Consider the first sentence in light of the second.  Consider the first sentence in light of the example of Our Savior on Calvary, and the grace of that example which we’re offered through the sacraments.

The hating his own life that Jesus speaks of is self-renunciation, which Christians fulfill in a two-fold way.  Both steps are necessary.  Each reinforces the other:  (1) carrying one’s own cross; and (2) following Jesus.

Reflect on examples from your life when you have…
(1a) tried to follow Jesus without carrying your own cross;
(1b) tried to follow Jesus by carrying someone else’s cross for him, instead of your own;
(2) tried to carry your own cross without following Jesus, but rather going your own way.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)