01 August 2010

The Worldly Christian

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – 1 August 2010

Readings: Ecc 1:2, 2:21-23; Ps 90:3-4,5-6,12-13,14,17; Col 3:1-5.9-11; Lk 12:13-21

The readings this Sunday talk about the ephemeral nature of things. Ephemeral is what comes to mind when the psalmist uses the image of the changing grass “which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades” (Ps 90,6, Responsorial Psalm). Thus, it is foolish to trust in worldly goods and not in the Lord.
Col 3,1-2 (in the Second reading) sums up the message: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

The readings teach us lessons on dealing with worldly riches.

1. We should not make riches our master.

Qoheleth (in the First Reading) says: “Vanity of vanities!” All our toil is pointless. When our lives are mainly centered on working or gaining profit, ironically our toil is reduced to pointless vanity. That is not how we should live. It should be the other way around: we work, and bear fruit, and lead happy productive lives. We don’t make money our master.

St. Paul asserts in Col 3,11: “Christ is all in all.” Our master is Christ.

St. Ignatius of Loyola says it even more directly: “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.”

Our purpose in life is to worship and serve the Lord. Otherwise, we worship and serve somebody or something else. If we do not follow the standards of Christ (to use another Ignatian imagery), we follow the standards of His enemy.

St. Ignatius continues: “All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created. It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.”

2. We do not view riches as inherently evil either.

The readings this Sunday don’t say that it is wrong to acquire material possessions or dream of improving our lot. They are not against getting rich, but getting greedy and being blind and deaf to the plight of the needy.

It also doesn’t say money is the root of all evil. 1 Tim 6,10 actually says: “The love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.”

Another extreme that a Christian needs to avoid is romanticizing poverty. Renowned lay preacher Bo Sanchez narrates his conversion from this particular point of view in his book “8 Secrets of the Truly Rich”. He said an incident has become chiseled in his memory, and he was never the same again after it happened. 

After one prayer meeting, a woman with her small daughter approached him and asked, “Bo, can you pray over me?” “Of course”, he smiled, “what can I pray for?” “Tomorrow is the last day for my daughter’s enrollment and I have no money…” She quietly sobbed, clutching her daughter to her waist. She explained that she’s been praying to God but it seems as though nothing was happening. “Bo, please pray over me that God will increase my faith.”

He became curious. “How much money do you need exactly?”, he asked. “P700”, she said. “P700? P700 only?” He couldn’t believe his ears. “It’s a monthly installment thing”, she explained. At that precise moment, he wanted to pull out his wallet and give her the 700 bucks. He wanted to say, “Look sister, I don’t have to pray over you. Here’s the money and go home!” But he couldn’t. No matter how much he wanted to. Because as he stood there in front of her, he knew that he only had P20 in his wallet. P20!

So what did he do? He prayed over her. After he laid his hands over her, she thanked him and bid farewell. He said: “Believe me, I’ve done a lot of difficult things in my life. But one of the most difficult was watching this lady and her daughter walk out of the room empty-handed.”

When they disappeared through the door, he sat down on a chair and felt a deep pain inside. A prayer formed in his heart: “Lord I don’t want his to ever happen again. Oh, to have money to help others! Help me help them.”

Fast forward a few years later. Bo Sanchez now earns enough to send a few children to school. And he says the feeling is incredible. 

3. We are asked to share and be generous with what we have.

The Fathers of the Church have generally interpreted this parable to mean our social obligation not to abandon the poor and the needy. Their position is well summed up by Venerable Bede: “The reason the Lord reproved the man who tore down his barns in order to build bigger ones was not that he cultivated the earth and collected its fruits into his barns, but that he did not divide with the poor what went beyond his needs–in which case he wouldn’t need larger barns–but instead built larger barns in which to keep them for himself.”

As far as giving and receiving are concerned, this dictum applies: “Nobody is too poor that he has nothing to give. Nobody is too rich that he has nothing to need.”

And if we find ourselves relatively well-blessed than others, remember Lk 12,48: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

4. We have to trust in the Lord.

The call to use earthly things wisely and lovingly is actually a call to trust in the Lord.

Sirach 11,21-22 advises: “Admire not how sinners live, but trust in the LORD and wait for his light; For it is easy with the LORD suddenly, in an instant, to make a poor man rich. God's blessing is the lot of the just man, and in due time his hopes bear fruit.”

Material wealth is passing. So are we, for we are made of the same stuff as the earth. But not entirely, for there is a part of us that remains: our soul. And our destiny, as Christ promised, is to dwell in eternity.

Mt 6,20 reminds us: “Store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.”

Ultimately, our greatest wealth is the Lord, and the greatest gift anyone could have is His gift of Himself. Fr. Manuel Francisco, SJ, writes of it in his song “Tanging Yaman”.

“Ikaw ang aking Tanging Yaman
Na di lubasang masumpungan
Ang nilikha mong kariktan
Sulyap ng 'yong kagandahan.”

And if we have been loved by God, trusting Him inevitably leads to loving the neighbor. So we may share God’s love to others as well.

“Ika'y hanap sa t'wina,
Sa kapwa ko Ika'y laging nadarama.
Sa iyong mga likha,
Hangad pa ring masdan ang 'yong mukha.”

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