The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

I have to tell you, we have two of my very favorite readings in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  I like them because they both show God interacting with us, his creatures, in powerful ways.  In the first reading, we see the prophet Elijah literally running for his life.  He has just embarrassed, and then put to death, the four hundred or so “prophets” of Baal – the pagan god worshipped by the gentiles.  Because of this, Jezebel, the wife of king Ahab, vowed to do the same thing to Elijah himself.  So Elijah is fleeing, and complains to the Lord God that everyone in Israel has rejected the Lord, turned to other gods, and have put all the legitimate prophets to death, and that Elijah is the only one left.  So God says that Elijah should stand on the mountain and wait, and soon the Lord would be passing by.

So in Scripture, when it says of the Lord that he would be “passing by,” it means something different than just that the Lord was out for a little walk.  Passing by means that he would be doing “a God thing,” something that God alone could do.  It’s a little like saying that God would be revealing his power to his creatures.  For Elijah, that was intended to be a consolation and a revelation that the Lord God would be with him even though things looked pretty darn bad.  And it’s interesting how it happens.  Elijah experiences some frightening things: destructive and heavy winds, an earthquake and a blazing fire.  But he did not experience God in any of those things.  He only experienced God in a “tiny whispering sound.”

And I wonder about that, to be honest.  Yes, we can take that as a revelation that we have to quiet ourselves and listen for the voice of God’s presence.  But I want to carefully note that this does not mean that God wasn’t present in those other things.  Because we often find ourselves in the midst of mighty winds, earthquakes, or fire.  Even if not literally, we experience these things all the time in the form of the crises of our lives.  And I want to assure you that God is with you in those moments.  But it may take us stepping back a bit, and listening for the whispering sound, to note that happening.

Okay, so that brings us to the second of my favorite readings today, and that is the Gospel.  Because I love Saint Peter.  He’s always making mistakes, but he is always letting Jesus take what little he can give and turn it into something huge.  I love this reading so much that I have this painting on the wall of my office.  It’s a painting that was given to me for my ordination by the seminarians of that time.  It’s even signed by our own Father David!  They gave me that painting because they know of the special place that particular Gospel story had in my faith life.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has just fed the multitudes, as you may remember from last week’s Liturgy.  After that, he takes some time alone to pray, and during the fourth watch of the night, walks across the water toward the disciples who were on a boat bound for the other side of the lake.  In Saint Mark’s version of this reading, it says of Jesus at this point that “He intended to pass them by.”  Does that sound familiar?  Yes, very similar to the first reading, Jesus intends to do a “God thing,” to reveal himself to his disciples this time in a very powerful way.  They think they’re seeing a ghost, but Jesus reassures them that it is he, and Peter immediately asks if he can come out and walk on the water too.  Jesus says, “come.”

So think about that.  You see the Lord walking on the water, and you actually ask if you can get out there and join him.  Who even has the nerve to say something like that to Jesus?  Well, Peter, impetuous as always, he does.  And for a while, he does okay. He’s making progress, walking toward Jesus. But then he stops looking at Jesus and starts looking at the storm, and when he sees the storm what happens?  The story tells us: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” So let’s stop right here.  Do you see that? While he’s looking at Jesus, he is able to walk toward him, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus in favor of looking at the storm, he sinks. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks him, pulling Peter out of the water.

We might be tempted to criticize Peter for his lack of faith.  But I’m in favor of cutting him so slack.  What I think we have to realize is that he at least had enough faith to get out of the boat.  The other eleven did not.  He got out of the boat because that’s where Jesus was – out there on the water.  Was Jesus present for him when the wind and the waves threatened to take his life?  Absolutely.  God is present for us when we are in the middle of the storm.

So I think that’s where these wonderful readings of God’s mighty power take us this week: into the midst of our storms, whatever they may be.  If we’re not going through one now, one will come our way at some point.  And, please God, may these readings help us to find our Lord in the midst of the wind and the earthquakes and the fire.  I hope that the faith these readings inspire in us will help us to step back in those storms and see our Lord passing by in power and might and lifting us up out of the waves.

Now let’s try a little prayer experiment.  I’m going to ask you to close your eyes.  And with your eyes closed, I invite you to think about a crisis you’ve been in recently, or even one that’s still going on.  It might be little or big, but whatever it is, bring it to mind.  That crisis is the waves in the story.  Now you get to be Saint Peter.  You’re on the boat, that safe refuge that is leading you to the place that Jesus has in mind for you.  Only on the voyage, your crisis begins a storm that tosses you around so badly that you can’t even see your destination anymore, and you fear for your life.  But you see Jesus out there, on the water, in the distance.

You call out to him and he calls back for you to come to him.  You think about it for a minute, but you realize you have to give it a shot: after all, you want to be where Jesus is, and Jesus is not in the boat.  So you get out of the boat, that safe refuge that gives you some comfort even in the storm, and you start to walk toward Jesus across the stormy sea, with the wind and the waves of your crises swirling around you.  And you do okay for a while, looking at your Lord, but then you wonder if your prayers will ever be answered, or if you should even bother God with your little prayers, or if there is any hope for your situation at all.  You feel the wind pushing at you and notice that the waves of your crisis are a lot uglier than you thought they were.  And you begin to sink into them, despairing that there is no hope for your situation.  At this point, Jesus reaches out his hand to you, pulling you up out of the stormy sea.  The storm is still raging, but with Jesus’ help, you get back into the boat, and the waves calm down, and you continue the journey to the place where Jesus wants you to be, having made just a little bit of progress, confident that he is with you even in the storm.

That’s a prayer exercise that you can come back to.  Maybe you don’t have a crisis now to bring to that prayer, but when you do, you can pull this out of your prayer toolbox.  Whether we are experiencing wind, waves, earthquakes or fire, we can be confident that our Lord is with us.  We might still have to experience all those things, but we can go through them with hope that comes from the presence of our God, who is with us in our darkest times, whispering to us, or calling out to us from the water.

The Most Holy Trinity: What is God like?

Today’s readings

There’s a little Christian Science church in the town where I grew up, on Main Street, just north of the downtown area.  They don’t anymore, but they used to list their upcoming sermon topic, followed by the line “All are welcome.”  Imagine my surprise when one day, the topic was going to be eternal punishment.  So the sign read: “Eternal Punishment.  All are welcome.”  Yeah, I had to drive around the block to make sure I read that right!

Usually though, the topics weren’t very specific.  So one time the topic was going to be “God.”  I thought that will either be the world’s longest sermon, or it won’t really come all that close to talking about God.  The problem with God as a topic is that you’re painting with a pretty wide brush: anything you say can be right, but it also might not even really finish the job.

I feel like today’s topic of the Most Holy Trinity has me faced with that same dilemma.  It takes a lot longer than I’m able to talk to really get that topic covered, and still we probably won’t understand it very well.  Our limited vocabulary just gets in the way.  But let’s see how far we can get.

There was a time when I got invited to speak to a religious education class about God.  I had the teacher ask them the week before to write down their questions about God so that I could help them with the things they really wondered about.  One of the questions, at first glance, seemed kind of a halfhearted effort to get an assignment done, until I really thought about it.  That question was, “What is God like?” and I think that young person was really onto something.

In the end, we can say a whole lot of things about what God is like, but again our vocabulary gets in the way.  We can say God is like goodness, and that would be right.  But not in the way we think of things or even people as good.  Because our view of goodness has to do with how useful it is, and God’s goodness goes way beyond that.  We can say that God is like beauty, and that too would be right.  But not in the way that the world views beauty, which is limited and selfish and sometimes objectifying.  God’s beauty goes far beyond what we could ever imagine.

But there is something we can say about what God is like that gets us a little closer to understanding the Most Holy Trinity, at least insofar as we can understand that holy mystery.  When I preach to the children in our school, I often tell them there is one thing that they have to know about God, and if they know it, they know a lot about what God is like.  And that one thing is that God loves you.  I tell them that’s so important that if they’re ever stumped on a religion test, they can write “God loves me” and it will be worth at least half credit.  The teachers love when I say that!

But even that is hard to understand, because God, who is love itself, his love goes beyond anything we can conceive of.  His love looks like what happened on that cross.  His love embraces us even in our ugliest moments.  His love is powerful enough to burn away all of our flaws and make us new creations in his image.  His love really, truly keeps the world in motion.

And our readings today tell us that love is a lot of what God is like.  The greeting I gave you at the beginning of Mass comes to us from the end of today’s second reading: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  In that greeting, Saint Paul mentions every member of the Holy Trinity, “God” referring to God the Father.  And he describes that Trinity as a loving communion that fills us with grace.  Pretty awesome!  That’s echoed in our Gospel reading, in which the very famous line from John 3:16 tells us what God is about, and what the Gospel teaches about God: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  God’s love wants us all to come to eternal life, and so he sent his only begotten Son to come and take the punishment for our sins, and in the process breaking the power of sin and death to control our eternity.  Memorize that line, friends.

Love is an apt description of the Holy Trinity, even for Saint Thomas Aquinas who famously described the Trinity in that way.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is that love between the Father and the Son.  For Aquinas, the Trinity is a loving relationship, and I think that’s helpful to us who exist in relationships.

Sometimes, we need God to be Father: correcting us, wanting the best for us, calling us to be who he meant us to be.  If we let him, the Father’s love burns away all the parts of us that are not praiseworthy and sets us ablaze to become new in his image.  Sometimes, though, we need God to be Son: a brother who picks us up when we have fallen far down, one who walks with us in the darkness of whatever is going on with us, one who leads us to the place where God’s love can encompass us.  And sometimes we need the Holy Spirit, whose love literally inspires us to be who we were meant to be, to live as new creations, and to desire nothing outside of God’s love.  We need God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit in different ways at different times.  God doesn’t change: he’s always Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But we change, needing him in different ways all through our life.

So to answer that student’s question, “What is God like?” is a challenge.  Because God looks different to us at different times in our lives.  It’s only after this life has brought us to the kingdom when we’ll really know what God is like, as we see him face to face.  So I think I’ll leave you with that question, brothers and sisters.  What is God like?  I imagine it depends on what’s going on in your life, what your prayer has been like, and what your hopes and dreams are.  But it’s a question we should often pause to consider.  So pray about it this week.  What is God like?

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” “Money can’t buy happiness.” We have all sorts of proverbs that aim to keep us at right relationship not just with our financial resources, but really with all the many gifts that we have. Today’s Liturgy of the Word gives us some humble pointers too on this important issue.

St. Paul, in thanking his friends in Philippi for their generous support of his ministry, tells them: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” His gratitude isn’t so much that their gift to him filled him with plenty, but instead that their gift was a testament to their faith, and their love for the Gospel he preached to them. He was able to use that gift to further his ministry elsewhere, making Christ known to others who longed to hear of him.

Jesus today speaks to the Pharisees, who, as the Gospel today tells us, “loved money.” He tells them that their love of money was not going to lead them to God. Instead, it leads them to dishonest transactions with dishonest people. Just as a servant cannot serve two masters, so they could not expect to serve both God and mammon, the so-called god of material wealth and greed.

We live in times where the love of money has led us to considerable evil. Greed and the desire for instant gratification has led people to be overspent and overextended. Major corporations, greedy for more wealth, playing off the misguided desires of so many people, have defaulted, and others have grown rich at the expense of the poor. Major breaches in retail security have cost millions of dollars due to hacking of financial information. In these days, it may be well for us to hear that we cannot serve both God and mammon. It may be well for us to come to the conclusion that we can live in both abundance and need. And it’s never a bad time to hear that we need to make God our only God, yet again.

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Talking about the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is perhaps the most daunting tasks for a preacher, but also one of the greatest privileges.  Here is one of the great mysteries of our faith, one that cries out for explanation, one that has kept the best minds of our religion occupied throughout time, and one that we, very likely, won’t completely understand until that day when we see our God face to face.

You may have heard me tell one of my favorite stories about Saint Augustine with regard to the Trinity.  The story goes that he was walking along the beach one day, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity.  As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore.  With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?”  The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.”  So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?”  And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”  With that the child disappeared.

We know, of course, the essential teaching: that we acknowledge and worship just one God, who embodies three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What that means for us as believers, though, is something that truly takes a lifetime, and then some, to figure out.

Just like any of the mysteries of our faith, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is not one that can be appreciated in a vacuum, outside of relationship with the God we worship and adore.  And that’s just as well, I think, because, as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, the Trinity can perhaps best be described as a relationship.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.  And this makes sense to us on some levels, because we all have been taught, and we all accept, that God is love.  And not just the kind of paltry love that our pop culture and society calls love, but love in the deepest of all senses, the kind of love that is self-giving and that intimately shares in the life of the other.  God is love, but God is better than the best love our feeble human minds can picture.  The love that is God is a love so pure that it would wholly consume us if we gave ourselves to it completely.  Just as difficult as it is for our minds to describe the Holy Trinity, so that love that is God is impossible for our minds to grasp.

But it is a love that can be experienced and lived.  We have seen, in the recent observance of Lent and celebration of the fifty days of Easter, that our God won’t stop at anything to be love for us.  Our sins were obstacles, horribly offensive to God, cutting us out of that intimate relationship and destining us for eternal destruction.  But God wasn’t having any of that.  No, instead he gave his Son, his only begotten One, to be our Savior, to pay the price for our sins, to die our death and to rise to new life so that we could have that too.  That is the love of God so deeply expressed in our religious experience.  And it’s a love we’re called to share, as we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, renouncing selfishness and allowing ourselves to get caught up in the lives of others.  I’ve experienced that over the last two and a half years that I’ve been here at Notre Dame, and I rejoice everyday at being part of this community.  It’s a feeling that I have for my family, of course, and I pray that you all experience it in your relationships as well.  Love is who God is and love is what we are called to become.

God as a relationship is a convenient concept for us, because our needs change during our lives, depending where we are on the journey.  Sometimes we need a parent.  And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray.  If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, particularly a father, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult.  But still, I think there is a part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, that longs to have a loving parental relationship.  God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son.  Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys.  God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us.  God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us.  Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our souls, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth.  Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit.  Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves.  That this is not as good as it gets.  As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we also know they are very flawed.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed.  The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

It might seem like this mystery of the Trinity is a purely academic discussion. Does the Trinity affect our daily lives or make a difference in our here and now?  Is all this discussion just talk, or does it really make any difference?  Obviously, I don’t think it’s just talk.  Instead, the Most Holy Trinity must be shared with people in every time and place.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wants to relate to all of us, be present to all of us, and call all of us to discipleship through common baptism, and it’s up to us to point the way to that Trinity of love that longs to be in loving relationship with all people.

However we need to relate to God right now, the good news is that he is there for us, giving us that relationship.  God is Triune because he wants to encompass our lives from beginning to end, from conception to life eternal.  Getting caught up in the relationship that is God is the project of our lives, and enables us to cry out with the Psalmist today, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!”

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us of the fact that God loved the world he created so much that he was determined to remain in relationship with it.  “God so loved the world,” the Gospel tells us, “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  That very familiar quote from John 3:16 has often been described as the entire Gospel all in one verse, because it tells us the reason for Our Savior’s coming, and the purpose for our existence, which is eternal life.

God wishes to remain in relationship with us, his creatures, because God himself is a relationship.  We will never really understand the Trinity in this lifetime, we know that, but we also know that in the Blessed Trinity, our Church has described God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We recall this deepest of our beliefs every time we make the sign of the Cross, every time we receive a blessing, indeed every time the priest greets us at Mass with those familiar words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”  God is a relationship: the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son with the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit with the Father and the Son.  Three persons, one God, all in relationship.

But make no mistake, I don’t come before you today to define the Holy Trinity for you as if I’ve figured it all out.  This most profound of our beliefs remains perhaps the deepest of all our mysteries.  A story about St. Augustine tells us as much: The story goes that he was walking along the beach, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity. As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?” The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.” So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?” And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”  With that the child disappeared.

But just because the Trinity is a mystery, that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it.  In many ways, the mystery of the Trinity is a great blessing.  If we could really figure God out and define God in a neat set of explanations, it would be way to easy for us to simply file God away and never give a second thought.  Because we have to struggle with the mystery of the Trinity, this means we must constantly call God to mind and try to wrap our minds around God in new ways.  I once asked some fourth grade students to write down questions that they had about God.  The questions they had were wonderful:  Why can’t we see God?  Why did God create the world?  If God created life, then how did God become God?  Why does God love us?  Was God there when Jesus was dying?  Why does God forgive us after we’ve done something wrong?  How do we know the Holy Spirit is with us?  But there was one question that seemed to get to the bottom of it all for me:  What is God like? And I realized that question was where the rubber meets the road in our faith, and that question was the whole reason for celebrating this feast of the Holy Trinity: we have to every day examine what God is like so that we can remain in relationship with our God who is a relationship and who longs to remain in relationship with us.

Again, I’m not going to stand here and tell you the definitive answer to that question.  And that’s because there really isn’t one definitive answer to what God is like.  We could pass out cards right now and everyone could write down one thing that God is like.  And every one of us would be right in some ways, and every one of us would be wrong in some ways.  We could say that God is love, and we’d be right, but we’re wrong if we think of love in the limited way that we humans can conceive of love.  We could say that God is good, and we’d be right about that, but we’d be wrong if we think of God’s goodness in the way that a candy bar is good or a new car is good or even a new baby is good.  Our limited vocabulary can’t even come close to describing God.  As the song goes, our God is an awesome God, more so than any lyrics or other words could ever describe.

So I want to go back to this idea of God as a relationship.  I do that because it’s one of a million ways I could talk about the Trinity today.  But I do it also because I think that God as a relationship is such a very appealing way to think about God.  We all know how much our good relationships mean to us, and so it is very desirable to think of our relationship with God, and of the relationship that is God.

Because sometimes we need a parent.  And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray.  If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult.  But still, I think there is part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, long to have a loving parental relationship.  God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son.  Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys.  God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us.  God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us.  Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our soul, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth.  Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit.  Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves.  That this is not as good as it gets.  As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we know they are also very flawed.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed.  The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

Maybe God comes to us as Trinity because one face of God is not sufficient to be God for us creatures who are constantly changing, and constantly struggling.  One day we need the Father, tomorrow we may need the Son and down the road the Holy Spirit.  Whatever we need, the point is that God is there.  Always was, always will be.

So back to that fourth grader’s question:  What is God like? Well, that’s a reflection I think I’ll leave you all with today.  What is God like?  I hope you struggle with that question your whole life long.  I hope I do too.

 

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Recently in the news, there have been a few stories of people who have hoarded possessions so much as to put them in danger.  In the most recent story, a woman in the Chicago area had passed away, and rescuers needed to cut a hole in her roof in order to remove her from the home.  People like this have an illness with regard to hoarding, of course.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word seems to address the hoarder in all of us.  We are people of means, maybe not the most well-off, but certainly better off than most of the world.  When do we have enough?  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 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 complacence 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 Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

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 kind of familiar, 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 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 get back to 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.

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning, the prophet Jeremiah is urgently reminding the people Israel – and us too! – that every good thing we have, every blessing we receive, all of it comes from the Lord God Almighty.  Israel was trying to find blessing in the strange gods of the peoples around them, the baals.  But we have our own baals too, I think, our own strange gods in which we try to find blessing.  Whether it’s possessions or wealth or prestige or career, or whatever else tends to get in the way of our relationship with God, none of these baals will ever grant us blessing.  “You alone have done all these things,” Jeremiah observes.  Sometimes I think we all need to take a step back and make that same observation.