18th. Sunday (Year C)
(Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23. Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11. Luke 12:13-21)
People today think almost exclusively in terms of this world as if everything will be ultimately decided according to earthly judgements, actions, and expectations. Our readings today however, remind us explicitly that this world is not the be-all and end-all of human experience:
Here is one who has laboured with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; and yet he must leave (his) property to another who has not laboured over it. This is vanity and a great misfortune.
Qoheleth there expresses what few people consider before they become actually aware of the sombre approach and threat of old-age: ‘What was the point of all my strivings since nothing that I have done, made, or achieved can go with me, be available to help me if needed? And as for me myself there is no seed of new promise budding within me to offer me hope: I know of nothing that I can look forward to or aspire to! Have I left a name behind me that someone might remember with a measure of admiration or gratitude perhaps? Does van Gogh’s present world-wide fame make up to him for the fact that in his life time he lived and died in dependency and poverty managing to sell only one painting, cheap? Here is one who has laboured with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; and yet must leave the fruit of his labours to another who has not laboured over them. This is vanity and a great misfortune.
Notice the difference with Jesus however; He does not blow bubbles of philosophical or mystical hues, as it were, like Qoheleth as he muses about our human experience of life; Jesus, on the contrary, speaks immediately and directly about ultimate reality, the nature and value of life itself:
One’s life does not consist in possessions.
Jesus teaches that our present experience of life is, in Divine Providence, but the essential preparation and testing ground for what is to come, either the true life of our eternal fulfilment or else eternal loss:
He told them a parable: ‘There was a rich man whose land (having) produced a bountiful harvest (said), “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 then the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.’
The widespread persuasion that the Good News of Jesus needs to be subjected to our scholarly adaptation and current spiritual appreciation if there is to be any hope that people will learn from it and begin to store up for themselves treasure that matters to God, is an unacknowledged capitulation to modern society’s craven worship of popularity. And therein is the root error: for popularity has neither role nor authority in matters of faith; indeed, at the best it is irrelevant, while potentially it is most harmful in matters of faith.
There are many in the Church today who are in sympathy with Pilate rather than Jesus:
Pilate said, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)
What is truth? Pilate doubted there was such a thing as truth. Today, pseudo-disciples of Jesus give that same thought their own particular twist: visible success is the only criterion for the successful proclamation of invisible truth (whatever that might be of itself), which means that, with regard to the successful proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, we must surely seek both to make Jesus Himself popular and His teachings acceptable. Consequently it is up to the disciples of Jesus and promoters of His teaching to study modern attitudes and practices carefully and sympathetically in order to make adaptations – only those which are essential, of course! -- to the Gospel message that will enable it to gain more widespread acceptance.
Now that can never be the authentic Christian, Catholic attitude; we only need to look at and listen to Our Blessed Lord once more to realize that:
Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him Who sent Me. (John 15:20-22)
Today we need to renew our trust in God; indeed, we have to stir up our courage on the basis of our faith. The original apostles, the original Christians who were called Catholics from the very beginning, did not cower before the world's criterion of popularity as so many do today. For example, the gentle, loving, Apostle John says quite defiantly:
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)
And they had this confidence and strength because they firmly believed what the Scriptures and the Catholic Faith taught them, as we heard in the second reading:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think on what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.
In other words, they looked forward to a heavenly, not an earthly, ultimate fulfilment, and, in order to attain that blessedness they proclaimed a Gospel of Truth, in the sure knowledge that only divine truth can re-form a human being in the divine likeness:
The new self is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator.
That very truth required them to preach what would be unpopular at times. Indeed, the essence of the Gospel message is that we can only find salvation through the Cross of Jesus, Who died for our sins before rising again for our salvation:
(He) bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
As a result, even in the early Church there were those to be found who wanted to preach a Gospel without the Cross, a popular Gospel instead of the Gospel of righteousness; and in their regard the Apostle Paul said with incisive clarity:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1 Cor. 1:18s.)
People of God, in our modern times of trial we must cling to Jesus all the more closely in Spirit and in Truth for, as St. Paul (2 Timothy 2:11-13) counselled Timothy:
This is a faithful saying: if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
Today, even where Catholics still appear to value their faith, many are tempted to live for the world that so oppressively surrounds them and so temptingly allures them: they will not openly or totally give in to that temptation but they become ever slower and more reluctant -- and even at times unwilling -- to deny themselves in order to live seriously with and for Jesus. And they will often enough excuse themselves saying with the ‘popularists’: ‘People will come to the Faith if, and only if, they find us nice people not overburdened with troublesome principles, and if they find our message accommodating and comforting, showing that the portals of mother church are open wide, welcoming, and obstacle free, for all and sundry’.
This is a most fundamental and insidious perversion of the Faith. Jesus tells us quite categorically that it is the Father alone who draws disciples to Jesus:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37)
Saint Paul, of course, remains the great bugbear for such protagonists of ‘cosy’ Catholicism, because he is, uniquely, both the gentiles’ Apostle of Jesus Good News of salvation, and his letters are Mother Church’s earliest and purest appreciation of and response to Jesus’ teaching; and he makes abundantly clear that would-disciples of Jesus must always be willing to practice self-discipline and -- where and when necessary -- to embrace suffering in order that Jesus’ gift of the Spirit might form them as authentic witnesses to Jesus in their lives:
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming (upon the disobedient). Stop lying to one another and put on the new self.
The Father draws and gives to Jesus disciples who come to know Him through the witness of Mother Church and her children, and who go on to make Jesus further known, by themselves proclaiming His Truth and ‘incarnating-in-their-own-lives’ His teaching to all and before all who are sincerely seeking God and His salvation. That is our wonderful vocation: to proclaim Jesus in Mother Church by the power of His Holy Spirit working in us for the glory of His heavenly Father and the salvation of all who will hear us.
An old priest has just been slaughtered in his parish church in France. That was done most certainly because he represented Jesus – the authentic Jesus of Mother Church. I hope and pray that he was killed also because he himself had proclaimed Jesus in the truth of his priestly and personal life, for if that was also true then indeed he is now a truly happy and blessed man! Grant him eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him!
People of God, there is no place our world today for a ‘cosy Catholicism’ where young men, naturally inclined to a measure of violence – ‘sons of thunder’ -- can search in vain to find any challenge or inspiration, that would guide and sublimate such natural masculine tendencies because acceptable piety and popular ‘proclamation’ are too timid and apologetic, too feminine indeed, where God’s ideal embraces both male and female.
As I mentioned just a few weeks ago, Jesus chose sons of thunder to become His apostles, followers of dynamic Peter the Rock and fellow-workers with Paul whom Jesus deliberately chose to suffer so very much for His name. Is there any room for such people today in popular Catholic devotion and public, priestly, ministry? Of course there is, for Mother Church is Jesus’ Church and holy; but whoever is called along such paths will have to suffer much as he or she struggles to penetrate the smothering jungle of conformity with men rather than oneness with and commitment to the Person of Jesus and the guidance of His Spirit under the protecting veil of Mary in Mother Church.
People of God, that dear priest (about my age) was taken when he could least have expected it, and his example is a warning for all of us. Will we be found - at our testing --to be one with Jesus, or basking in human approval? Note well that I am not in any way preaching anti-clericalism against Popes, bishops and hierarchy, many of whom have indeed been great saints, martyrs and models, but rather an anti (self-seeking, self-promoting, self-indulging) religiosity which mocks true worship in Spirit and Truth and mimics authentic Catholic spirituality, and which abounds on every hand and at every level in Mother Church today.
Dear People of God, the world situation today -- for it is indeed world-wide – is making it ever more likely that we may all have to face up to and decide on the question: ‘Am I to be found at my testing to be a Cosy Catholic, reputable before and acceptable to any modern society, or to be possibly regarded as an illegal or even dangerous Apostolic one??