Fr. Paul's Homily
“Take care to guard against greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” These words of Jesus from today’s Gospel are filled with wisdom and I would like to explore them with you for a few minutes today.
At another point in the Gospel, Jesus says, “We cannot serve both God and money.” And yet, we need money to survive in this world. Bills have to be paid and when there is not enough money to pay the bills, tremendous stress is put upon people. When one looks at all the divorces in our country, over 40% occur because of conflicts over money. A slightly humorous story that makes this point is about a four year old who stood by the mailbox as the postal carrier approached. With his feet spread and his arms crossed upon his chest, the young boy proclaimed: “My Mom said she can’t handle one more bill!” We can smile about this, but we can image how many homes are filled with this anxiety…we can’t handle one more bill.
We need money to survive in this world, so what is Jesus asking of us? Let’s look at the first phrase from the Gospel quote, “Take care to guard against greed.” Greed is when we are driven to possess more than we need. Another translation of the Bible uses the word, ‘covetousness.’ To ‘covet’ is to desire and to crave what someone else has. Both greed and covetousness has a way of controlling the heart, causing is to be blinded to life.
When one’s heart is filled with greed or covetousness, he or she is never happy with want they already have. When our hearts are filled with greed, we are always looking to get what we don’t have: a bigger house, a more luxurious car, a second home, a larger retirement account.
The question is, “Can I be happy with what I have?” Have you experienced the wonderful Grace of God’s goodness? Are we seeing what we already have? A few years ago I attended a prayer day for priests and one of our fellow priests was giving a talk. During the talk he shared about a time in his life when he was struggling with celibacy. One day, when he was praying, he felt God say to him, “When are you going to stop looking at what you do not have, and start enjoying all the blessings I am giving you?” These words really hit me, and I suspect, they speak to you also. When are we going to stop focusing upon what we do not have and start enjoying all the blessings God has given us? Greed and covetousness is always focused upon what we do not have, and this can become an obsession.
Another danger with riches is that we can put all our security in our wealth and not in God. We can find ourselves drawing a lot more peace of mind from our retirement fund, then from our relationship with God. Years ago I was on a medical mission to Central America. People walked for hours to come and receive the limited medical care we could offer. One particular woman had walked for two hours with three small children, waiting all day in the hot sun and finally was able to see one of our doctors around 7 PM. As she was leaving, she thanked the doctor for her help, but then she added, “We know that you will come and you will go, but we know that God is with us always.” Wow!! There is no doubt where this woman has placed her faith and security…in God.
Finding security in God must be practiced. We must train ourselves to trust in God. Because of her poverty and her limited resources, this woman had come to a clear awareness of God’s abiding presence. She TRUSTED God, day after day. The person who is wealthy may find their spiritual ‘senses’ dulled so that they are not even aware of how much they have lost touch with God.
Sir John Wilson travels 50,000 miles a year in behalf of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an organization that annually brings sight to 141,000 people. What is amazing is that Sir John is blind also. A few years ago he visited a village in Ghana where almost everyone in the village was blind! Farmers taught Wilson how to plant grain by following a straight piece of bamboo. The women went to the well for water by following a rope. Sir John Wilson discovered that these villagers were so accustomed to their blindness that they found it difficult to believe that the rest of the world could see.
While this is a powerful story of creativity, it carries a spiritual truth. Sometimes we can become so accustom to the darkness that we no longer believe that the light exist. We become accustom to living without trust in God; without putting our security in him; without planning with God in mind, that we live in a darkness that we don’t even know is there.
When am I trusting in God? How have I put my security in the Lord, and not in money?
Once our needs are met, wealth can create an opportunity to serve others. When we have more than we need, we should be looking for ways to share with others. A generosity of spirit should permeate how we live our lives. Large or small, we can all develop this attitude of generosity.
Occasionally someone will approach me, saying that because of a financial downturn for them, they will not be able to contribute to the church. I try to empathize with them in their misfortune, but I will also encourage them to continue to give a little to the church, even if it is small. Why do I say this? Not because we absolutely must have their donations to survive as a church. Rather I encourage them to continue to give because the spirit of generosity needs to be maintained, even in our poverty.
In Honduras at San Francisco de Asis Parish where we visit, there are 40 small villages in the mountains where clusters of 100-1000 people might live. Since these villages are hours of walking from the central village of Texiquat, most of these people do not have weekly Mass available to them. Yet, the community does gather each Sunday when they teach their children about the faith, listening to the Word of God and sing God’s praises. They will also bring to church any extra food they may have. This food is then taken to the members of the village who are extremely poor and would starve without the support of their brothers and sisters. All the members of the community are poor, and yet a spirit of sharing continues to permeate their lives. Do you see why we like going to Honduras? We have so much to learn!
Returning to the statement of Jesus, “Take care to guard against greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist in possessions.” Life is not about possessions; rather life is about helping others and serving God. Life is about the relationships that God has already blessed us with and how those relationships are signs of his goodness. Life is about seeing with new eyes and allowing our deepest securities to be found in God alone. We don’t have to be poor to enter heaven, but we do need to guard against the possessive nature of money and things. Let’s recommit ourselves to a spirit of generosity toward others.