Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Today’s readings

What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often called Nathanael in the Gospels. That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today. Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is singled out of the crowd by Jesus. Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people. He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel. This was what Jesus came to call people to do.

And that call wasn’t just for the people of that time. That’s where we are all led, of course. When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it. If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have no eternity; nothing to look forward to. We can’t accept duplicity in ourselves if we want to go to heaven. But the good news is that our Lord has given us hope of eternal life, and we hear of that by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles and especially Saint Bartholomew today.

As the Psalmist sings today, “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.” Praise God for such faithful witnesses as Bartholomew, who help us to single-mindedly follow the call of the Gospel.

The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As the current political season heats up in these late summer days, I find that it can be very easy to be dismayed. Every candidate, every bit of legislation, everything that comes at us is so disheartening. There is almost a complete rejection of the sanctity of life, there is very little concern for the poor and those in need, so much game playing and entitlement. And then add to that all the civil unrest in our society, the rampant crime, and constant threat of terror. This is most definitely a time of persecution. So it could well be that we are tempted to despair, to shake our heads and try to avoid hearing about it all.

But we are called to live differently as Christian disciples.  Despair is not an option for us; we have the hope of the Gospel, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the promise of eternity.  So the question that we have is, how do we live through all the sadness of the world around us, not to mention the sadness in our own lives, while we wait for all those promises to be fulfilled?  The virtue that gets us through that is called fortitude, something we don’t talk about often enough, but something that has real value for our spiritual lives.

The Church’s Catechism tells us that “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” (CCC, 1808) Jesus puts it even more succinctly in today’s Gospel: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He wants us to be a people on fire, a people who will not waver in our pursuit of living the Gospel, a people who will not back down in the face of obstacles or even oppression, a people who live their faith joyfully and with firm conviction that our God is trustworthy and faithful. The Christian believer is called to exercise the virtue of fortitude because nothing else is worthy of our God.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of fortitude today.  Speaking of Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of our faith,” he says:

For the sake of the joy that lay before him

he endured the cross, despising its shame,

and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,

in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. 

In your struggle against sin

you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Resisting the opposition in our society and in our lives to the point of shedding blood is the kind of fortitude that we as disciples need to live in our lives.  It’s a tall order!

Nobody says fortitude is easy. Jesus himself was very realistic about this, and warns us today that fortitude in living the Christian life can be a very divisive way of life. The disciple can and will run into all sorts of oppression, and can even lead to broken relationships with those who are close to us. If that Gospel calls upon us to take an unpopular position, and speak up on behalf of the poor, the alien, the prisoner, or a pro-life issue, we may find that even some of our friends or family cannot go there with us. Being a Christian can make us feel like foreigners in our own land. And we are foreigners, because for those of us who are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, Jesus’ vision and values come first. All because Jesus has come to set a blazing fire on the earth and that fire, to some extent, already burns in us.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that we aren’t running the race alone. We have at our disposal the support and encouragement of a “great cloud of witnesses” which the Church calls the Communion of Saints. They may be the official saints of the Church, or other saintly people we have known or do know who intercede for us in our struggle of faith.  These are men and women who have suffered much and overcome much in pursuit of the kingdom of God. This great cloud of witnesses cheers us on, is an example for us, and is part of God’s way of helping us to live lives marked by fortitude.  If we didn’t have the example of that great cloud of witnesses, the call to fortitude would surely be insurmountable.

Very often on the journey of discipleship, we may find that the oppression and division that the Gospel causes casts us down.  Think about the loved ones you have called to live the faith, come to Mass, make good decisions, and have rejected that call.  Like poor Jeremiah in today’s first reading, maybe we find that we have been thrown into a cistern of despair or hopelessness. All that sadness I mentioned in the beginning of my homily can be like that. Fortitude is the virtue that helps us in the midst of all that, to wait with faithfulness on someone like Ebed-melech the Cushite to come to our rescue and draw us up out of the pit.

The truth is, today’s Liturgy of the Word can come across as very negative. Who wants to hear about being cast into a cistern? Are we eager to find that we are going to be in angry division with people close to us? The temptation to let all of this go in one ear and out the other, remaining instead in the comfort of our luke-warmness is almost overwhelming. But that’s just not good enough. We can’t live that way and still call ourselves disciples. It is not enough to love God in our heads. We need to be on fire, actively living the graces of baptism that we have received – to live with fortitude, integrity, conviction, fervor, and burning zeal. We have to be willing to live in the shadow of the cross, where we resolve all our divisions and receive the baptism that promotes Gospel peace.

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

In every age of the world, people have needed hope.  Because in every age of the world, there has been unbelievable hardship.  There has always been war, and disease, and poverty, and oppression, and alienation, and all the rest.  There has always been sin, and broken relationships, and impure desires and that feeling of emptiness that hardens our hearts.  Evil has run rampant from the fall of humanity and ever onward. And the weight of all of that could be crushing – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t need to be abstract about this.  All we have to do is turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and see mass shootings all over our nation, violence in our cities, families broken apart, the flaunting of pro-abortion rhetoric among political candidates, and you could probably name still more.  In our own lives we have the illness and death of loved ones, family members alienating one another, loss of employment, and that’s just to name a few.  There’s no way we could live with all that – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t mean hope in the naïve sense.  I’m not going to tell you, “don’t worry – everything will work out all right” because, honestly, some things just don’t.  The hope that I think we can find in today’s Liturgy is the theological virtue that reminds us that this life is not all there is; this is not as good as it gets. Our readings remind us that there has been and still is incredible evil in this world, but evil doesn’t get the final say – not for Jesus, not for Mary, and not for us.  One look at the way things work in our world and in our lives could convince us that this has all been an unbelievable failure – if we didn’t have hope.

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. It was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and that there is a “Tomb of Mary” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay . . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”

The hope that we find in the doctrine of the Assumption is summed up in the Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer, which I will sing in a few minutes.  Listen to the beautiful words of that prayer:

For today the Virgin Mother of God

was assumed into heaven

as the beginning and image

of your Church’s coming to perfection

and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people…

The Church knows well that our pilgrim way would be filled with evil.  But the Church courageously believes that this world’s experience isn’t the beginning and end of our existence: we have much to look forward to in the life to come.  Our Savior himself foretold as much in John’s gospel when he said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)  This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our hope, and this is the hope that we celebrate today.

The reason the Church reveres Mary as much as she does is because Mary’s life is the icon of the Church. What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.  That is our hope: our unbelievably gracious, completely unmerited, lovingly-bestowed hope.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith. Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.  We can and do hope in this salvation every day of our lives.  It’s what makes our lives livable; it’s what gives us the strength to keep on keepin’ on in the midst of so much difficulty.

Today’s readings can seem pretty fantastic, in the sense that we don’t know what to believe about them.  The reading from revelation has a dragon sweeping a third of the stars from the sky, and a child being caught up to heaven.  But really, I don’t think that’s too hard to grasp.  We have all been through things in our lives when it felt like a third of the stars had fallen out of the sky.  There is that evil dragon that seeks us out and wants to devour the hope that we have, but the child of that hope has been taken up to heaven, and we can go there one day too, if we believe, and repent, and cling to Christ who is our hope.

Mary’s song of praise in today’s gospel reading, which the Church prays every evening in Vespers, echoes the hope we have in this feast of the Assumption:

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children forever.

Life is hard.  It always has been, and probably always will be. But this life is not all there is. As we walk through this life on our pilgrim way to God’s kingdom, we walk always in the presence of our God who sees us, who notices our pain and sorrow, who grieves with us and laughs with us, who never lets go of us, and who gives us hope beyond anything we deserve. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I once heard it said that you’re only a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long!  I don’t think that Jesus wants us to be childish today, but certainly he is calling us to be more child-like.

Jesus tells us today that we must become like children if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now when I stop to think about that, I wonder what it is about children that makes them so eligible for the kingdom. Anyone who’s spent quality time with a bunch of three year olds, or has been a substitute teacher for some sixth graders, knows that children aren’t righteous in and of themselves. So if it’s not that they are so pure, what is it that makes them heirs of the kingdom?

One thing about children – at least before they become teenagers – is that they are absolutely dependent on their parents or guardians. They can’t do much of their own power, so they depend on adults to give them what they need. I think this is the crux of what Jesus is getting at today.

Because so often we adults feel like we are supposed to handle everything ourselves. And we need to come to two very important realizations. The first is that we can’t do everything ourselves, and the second is that we’re not supposed to. We can’t because we simply don’t have the power. And that’s not a defect, it’s by design, and that’s why it’s important to realize that we’re not supposed to do everything ourselves. Only when we come to this point can we then turn and become like little children before our God who longs to nurture us into the kingdom of heaven.

God refuses to let any of his little ones to be lost. No shepherd worth his salt would leave 99 sheep alone to go out in search of one. But God does, because every single one of his little ones is important, every one of them was created for the kingdom of heaven. He goes out to look for those who are lost, and when they are lost they are most like children, needing God to show them the way. And he does show them the way. What is it in us that needs to change so that we can become more like children before our loving God?

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Wow.  If ever there was a frightening Gospel reading, I think we just heard it!  All this talk about beating the menservants and the maidservants, and the hope of being beaten “only lightly.”  Yikes.  Even the whole notion of the Son of Man coming at an hour we do not expect is pretty concerning.  We almost want to close the cover of the book, back away slowly, and say, “then who can be saved?”  But I promise this reading is really good news.

I think we need the good news that this Gospel reading brings us these days.  With major mass shootings happening so very often – two of them last weekend, with families ripped apart as we struggle as a nation with defense of our borders versus welcoming those in need, with politicians vying with each other to see who is the most pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate, with the very dire effects of climate change that we are seeing lately, well, again, we almost want to turn off the television, close the newspaper, back away slowly and say, “then who can be saved?”  In these days we need the good news that there is something eternal and awesome and worth living for.

Listen to the opening line of the Gospel again: Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”  That is a revelation so glorious that it should have us up dancing in the aisles, praising God, and throwing a huge party.  Think about it: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  The whole thing.  Doesn’t cost us a cent.  All of it is ours!  If there was ever any good news to share, this is it.  It’s better than a huge promotion at work, it’s even better than winning the lottery.  All those things last but a moment, but the kingdom, well that’s for eternity.

And it’s an eternity that we need to keep in mind these days.  Life on this earth is hard, so what is there to live for?  Well, we know it: we have the promise of the kingdom, and our Father is pleased to give it to us!  So now that we know that the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom, I’d like to explore two questions. First, are we pleased to receive the kingdom? And second, what on earth do we do with it?

Okay, so are we pleased to receive the kingdom?  Well, the obvious answer is “yes!” I mean, the kingdom is the great promise that brings us here to church today.  Inheriting the kingdom means we are not going to hell; indeed, we will have everlasting happiness.  But I wonder how readily we receive this gift of all gifts – and let’s be clear: this is the best gift we’re ever going to get.  But there are so many other things out there, and we want to keep our options open.  We’d rather pursue the big promotion, the latest and greatest shiny gadget, and so much more.  Lots of things tempt us and look better than the gift the Father is pleased to give us.

Another obstacle to receiving the kingdom is maybe we feel like there’s always time to receive that gift.  We’re going to live a long time, right?  So why deny ourselves so many passing things in favor of receiving the kingdom?  We can always receive the Father’s gift later. Except for the fact that none of us knows how much time we have in this life.  Procrastination is our enemy, because some day could well turn into never.  Not only that, but Jesus came to clearly proclaim that the kingdom is now, and why would we deny ourselves the pleasure of receiving the kingdom now and latch on to so many easily-tarnished things?  Now is the time, and there’s no gift greater.

And that’s what I think Jesus is addressing in the scary-sounding parables that follow.  We don’t know when our Master will return, so best to be always ready. It’s not that we should fear being beaten – severely or “only lightly” – we should fear something far worse, which would be missing out on life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus came to proclaim very loudly that the kingdom of God is at had – he says those exact words all through the Gospels.  Friends, the kingdom is what happens while we’re busy with all the things that consume us day and night.  If we don’t live like we’ve inherited the kingdom now, we’ll never get it, because we will have lived somewhere else all our lives.

So if we receive the kingdom, what are we supposed to do with it?  Well, just like all of God’s gifts, it’s not just for us.  We’re supposed to share it.  We’re supposed to live like we are part of it.  We’re supposed to live in the kingdom so that others will want to join us.  So this gift of the kingdom calls us to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness.  This may well seem like hard work, and that’s because it is.  Jesus made it clear at the end of today’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

So does that make the gift of the kingdom seem like a burden?  Well, maybe.  But it’s a happy burden, a glorious burden, a sweet burden.  All the saints tell us as much.  Even Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)  But we’ll never realize that until we go all in and receive the gift the Father is pleased to give us today.  It’s kind of like that project that seems daunting, but once we get into it, is actually kind of fun.  That’s the burden of the kingdom.

Jesus brings us the best of all Good News today: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  So what do we have to do, what do we have to let go of, in order to receive it?  How do we live with to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness, so that when people see it in us, they will want what we have more than anything?  That’s what should be our to-do list this week.  Put aside the despair of the daily news, receive the Father’s gift of the kingdom, then live in such a way that we share that gift with everyone and brighten our own corner of the world.  We have to live like that’s our job.  Because it is.

Saint Dominic, Priest

On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across people who espoused the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground. For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.

St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them – according to the gospel ideal. 

One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty. Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity. He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ. Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings) 

Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders. Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people. 

We too are called to preach to every person. We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live. When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them. As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace. 

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

This feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord can be a puzzling one for us to understand.  It’s an event we’ve heard about in Gospel readings, but it’s not something that we’ve ever seen.  So it’s hard, I think, for us to figure out.  If that’s true of us, we shouldn’t feel too bad: it’s clear that Peter, James and John, disciples who were clearly in Jesus’ “inner circle” didn’t get it either.  In fact, they were so frightened by it that they hardly knew what to say.  

But as we reflect on this feast, we should see that the Transfiguration is a sign for us of three things: it’s a sign of who Jesus really is, a sign of what would happen in the paschal mystery, and a sign of what is to be for those who believe.

First, then, it is a sign of who Jesus really is.  We get three very beautiful clues to Jesus’ true identity here.  First, there is the transfiguration, or change, itself. Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become dazzling white.  He literally shines with the Glory of God.  This perhaps reminded the people of Jesus’ time of the way Moses’ face was said to shine after he came down from the mountain where he conversed with God. It also reminds us of the way the figure who was “one like a son of man” shone in today’s first reading.  The transfiguration tells us that Jesus is no ordinary man, that the divinity the had from the beginning but set aside at his Incarnation, that divinity was ready to burst forth from him at any moment. It did in today’s Gospel, and Peter, James and John were witnesses of it.  The second clue is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus.  This appearance linked Jesus with Israel’s past, Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets.  His conversation with Moses and Elijah underscore that Jesus’ ministry in the world was part of God’s plan for our salvation.  The third clue is the voice of God.  “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If there had been any doubt, it had to be gone by now.  Rarely does God speak in such a direct manner to his creation, but he did it here.  Jesus was his beloved Son, and Peter, James and John – and all of us too – would do well to listen to him.

Second, the Transfiguration is a sign of what would happen in the Paschal Mystery.  The incredible event of Jesus’ Transfiguration foreshadows the glory of the Resurrection.  It’s a peek at what Jesus would look like after he rose from the dead.  You may remember that the first witnesses of the Resurrection had a hard time recognizing Jesus.  That may be because he was transfigured by the Resurrection, and so today’s event is perhaps a foreshadowing of what that would be like. Yes, Jesus would have to suffer and die, but his Resurrection and Ascension would be glorious, and would open the possibility of glory to all of us as well.

Third, the Transfiguration is a sign of what waits for us who believe.  The glory that we see in Jesus today is the glory that waits for all of us.  We have hope of the Resurrection, we have hope of an eternal home in heaven.  The Transfiguration shows us that this hope is ours, if we but listen to the one who is God’s beloved Son.  Sure, we come to that as those who don’t deserve that kind of glory.  We are in need of our own kinds of transfigurations.  We are in need of our sins being transfigured into faithfulness, of our failures being transfigured into joys, of our death being transfigured into everlasting life.  All of those transfigurations are accomplished in us when we but listen to God’s beloved Son.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, it doesn’t take too much thinking to see that our culture is way off base.  I saw a post on social media this week about the “do what makes you happy” aspect of our culture, and how toxic that is for us Christians. Our God does will our happiness.  But he directs that happiness to the afterlife, when all is perfected.  We are called to reasonable happiness in this life, but in this life we are called to glorify God in all of our thoughts, words and deeds, and depend on God to be the source of our joy.

But our culture is all about selfishness being the source of our joy, which is completely disordered. Our attachment to stuff borders on hoarding.  Recently I noticed the proliferation of “you store it” businesses in our area.  Stuff does not make us happy; in many ways it almost makes us less happy because we have to figure out what to do with the stuff. We can be very rich in what matters to us, but the question is, when does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is the main character in the book, a man who is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king. Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacency and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what I found in that social media post: we need to concern ourselves with glorifying God.  That’s what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, too.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds like the message of Qoheleth, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop thinking about what makes you happy and do what glorifies God; stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us. What are we stockpiling? Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone. Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight? If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates. This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God. These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

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