Sunday, July 15, 2012

Take Nothing For the Journey But A Walking Stick

Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2012

Take nothing for the journey but a walking stick-- no food, no sack, no money in your belt.
Some days these instructions to the first disciples sound pretty good.  Perhaps especially on those days when we’re trying to register the car, paying taxes, cleaning or painting the house.  Just a walking stick.  Ahh…

But a family can’t survive with just a walking stick.  In order to develop the gifts we’ve been given, each of us requires many things.  And so as we hear Jesus’ instructions to the 72 in the gospel today, we know that he cannot have meant for this command to be literally followed by all of us.  Yet we are all disciples, to be those who announce the good news in our world.  We all share in the same prophetic ministry of the 72 who Jesus sent from Jerusalem to preach the Gospel.  So we can’t just say, well none of this applies to us.  We know that Christ’s teaching about the need for disciples to live a life detached from material things must apply at least in principle to us too.  But how are we to understand and live a Christian detachment from the material world that is appropriate for our state in life?  How are we who must raise families and live in the real world to be faithful to this teaching?

What a great question!  I hope that you ask yourself this question all the time.  How am I, how are we, how is my family called to live in a way that keeps material things in their proper place? 
This is really a question that you must ask, because it is not the role of the priest to dictate the concrete choices that each family must make regarding the material goods that they possess.  42” tv?  Ok.  44”  Nope, too big.  2 smart phones, ok.  3?  Nope, over the line.  No, the hierarchy does not produce documents that go through and detail exactly what you need and don’t need.

Yet the fact the magisterium does not delve into these financial matters does not mean in the least that our choices with regard to material possessions are unimportant or unrelated to faith.  On the contrary, one of the most visible ways that Catholics who live in the world demonstrate and proclaim their faith is by their attitude and treatment of material goods.  How you and I choose to spend our money, how much stuff we have and how much we are preoccupied with our stuff says something about our priorities, about what we think is important.  And being a follower of Christ has to change your priorities, has to change what you think is important. 

If you and I, who believe that heaven is our final destiny and that what matters on this earth more than anything is loving God and others – if our monetary choices are the same as people who don’t believe in heaven and who think that money, power, and pleasure are the goal of life, than something has gone horribly wrong.

Let me close by making this very concrete.  If I showed up tomorrow for Mass driving a Ferrari at a time while our parish is facing a budget shortfall.  You would be scandalized.  And rightly so.  You would wonder about my priorities, my integrity.  You would maybe even wonder about my commitment to the Church and the faith.  My credibility as a spiritual leader would be seriously compromised, not only among Catholics, but especially among non-Catholics.
Now what if I showed up in a Mercedes?  Probably there would still be a lot of talk.
What about a Volvo?  Probably less.
A Ford?  I think that passes the safe priest car standard.

How do I decide?  There is no church document or diocesan policy telling me what kind of car I should drive.  But clearly, that choice matters – not only for me, but for the Church.  In fact this monetary choice probably has as much impact on the community, or more, than any homily that I might give.

Now, you might say, well Father you are different from the rest of us – you represent the Church.  You are a priest and you are supposed to be detached so that you can point us to heaven.  True, very true.  But just because a priest more visibly represents Christ does not mean that none of you do at all.  Far from it.  Every Christian represents the Church, personifies the Church very clearly and directly in the place where they live and work.  And each of us, priest or not, is supposed to point others to heaven in our own way and according to our state in life. 

Does that mean that we all have to drive a Ford?  Of course not.  Does that mean that no one can drive a luxury car?  Of course not.  Some of us have received greater opportunities and greater material wealth.  That, in and of itself is not bad at all, but a good thing.  In fact, we might say that stuff, things, money represents an opportunity for us who are disciples of Christ, an opportunity to witness to the greatest goods of faith, love, truth, and beauty by the way that we manage our wealth. The things that we choose to have, the attention we give them, speaks to the world about our priorities, about what we think is important.  Monetary choices have spiritual and moral implications – and so we must prayerfully and prudently make sure that the monetary choices that we make are consistent with our faith and witness to its priority in our lives.

In a society that tends toward consumerism, we who are charged to proclaim the Gospel must be constantly on guard that our witness does not falter.  We must continue to ask ourselves “Are the monetary choices of my family witnessing to the priority of faith in Jesus Christ in our lives?  Have we begun to obsess over things or have we become distracted by them – are they keeping us from giving our attention to God and to those around us?  Are we generous to those in need and to efforts to promote what is good and true and beautiful in our community?  Are we truly grateful for the things that we have? 

We must all ask these questions, priests and deacons laypersons alike.  We cannot be content to simply follow in the footsteps of those who seek mere earthly treasure.  Our material wealth, our  belongings, are meant to be at the service of the great commission, the command that we have all received to proclaim the good news of Gods kingdom.  And so wealth cannot be the prized possession for the Christian, instead wealth must be understood as an opportunity.  An opportunity to witness to the true treasure in life: our faith in Jesus Christ.

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