Homily for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
This past Wednesday, at the General Audience, Pope Francis had some pretty stark words as he recalled the observance of World Environment Day. He spoke about a culture of waste and indifference that is increasingly the norm.
“This "culture of waste", he said, “tends to become the common mentality that infects everyone.”
“Human life, the person is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if poor or disabled, if not yet useful - such as the unborn child - or no longer needed - such as the elderly.”
“If in so many parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. In contrast, a ten point drop on the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.”
“Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the "culture of waste." If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs, the dramas of so many people end up becoming the norm.”
“We are living in a time of crisis.” he said. “The human person is in danger.”
It is not hard to see his point. It seems that so many things have become disposable, easily thrown out when we are through with them or when they no longer perform to our needs or expectations. But it’s not just material goods, that’s what the Pope is telling us. The culture of waste, this disposable culture spills over to the general attitude about life and is affecting the way that we treat people too. Unwanted children become disposable. Difficult marriages become disposable. Elderly parents become disposable. Employees become disposable. Friendships become disposable. Churches become disposable.
Soon, the trash can seems to loom large in every sector of life. And it can seem that it is inevitable that one day each of us will find ourselves staring into it. What a challenge in our day. I don’t think most of us even know where to begin.
There are hard numbers. Our survival is at stake. Losing a house. Not being able to afford an education or the cost of healthcare. How can we keep from living in a way that is disposable when we ourselves are constantly under the threat of being disposed of? It’s not as if we are somehow outside of the whole dynamic, protected from being cast aside and dismissed.
But isn’t there also sometimes a lot of rationalizing going on?
In many cases, haven’t we made lifestyle choices that make it harder for us to be committed to others and to be good stewards of our world? If we put the t.v. in the most comfortable room of the house, what do we think is going to happen? If we get the million channels and high speed internet, how do we think we’re going to spend our time when we come home after a long day and are tired? Can we really claim that we wish we spent more time with others, more time praying, reading, or pursuing worthwhile interests when we set up our lives in such a way that it requires herculean efforts to pursue any of those things? If we choose to walk down a dark alley every day, how can we claim to be surprised when we get mugged? If we buy into a disposable lifestyle, how genuine can our repentance be when it comes time to take out the trash?
Living according to our faith has to go deeper than the mere desire to do good. Our desire must take flesh in strategies that actually make it possible for us to live according to the Gospel. What would happen, for example, if we settled for a less material wealth, less square footage, fewer gadgets, less entertainment options, fewer conveniences, a worse neighborhood, having to share a camp in the summer? Maybe both spouses wouldn’t have to work or could work fewer hours and invest more time at home and in the community, taking care of an ailing parent, spending time with children, siblings and friends, volunteering at church, and in other ways that would make life more meaningful and healthy in our community.
What really matters in life? How many people are we zipping by on the street or the screen each day? How many of our parents and children and grandchildren and friends and neighbors do we pass by on our way to the next thing. How much of our lives – how many relationships are we allowing to go hungry and neglected - and for what?
Of all the things that we should be known for as disciples of Christ, it should be our cherishing of life, of the world and the people God has entrusted to our care. Christ has told us that whatever we do to the least, we do to him. Jesus doesn’t breeze by anyone. He stops. He stops even when someone seems absolutely dead and hopeless, like the young man on the side of the road today. No human person, no human situation is disposable for Christ. Every created thing, and especially every person on this planet, even those who aren’t useful or helpful or convenient, is a gift from God and a pathway to his love. Jesus has told us this point blank. “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.” To walk away from someone is to walk away from Christ. To mistreat someone is to mistreat Christ. To neglect someone is to neglect Christ.
Jesus Christ was a dumpster diver - a saver. He didn't throw people away, he didn't throw relationships away, let them go, or neglect them. What if he went through your trash can?