Homily for 18th Sunday of the Year

This weekend’s readings certainly invite us to reflect on our relationship with earthly things such as money, possession, and superficial or temporal goods. The first reading from Ecclesiastes has the famous refrain “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” that St Philip Neri and his disciples used to sing in the streets of Rome. It reminds us of the passing nature and superficiality of much of what we prize and work for in our lives. The Gospel presents the parable of the foolish rich man who wants to store up his grain yet dies that night, reminding us of how our death can come at any time and we cannot take our earthly treasure with us. Jesus commands us to store up riches for ourselves in heaven, rather than to focus on earthly treasures. And St Paul in the Second Reading speaks of other passing pleasures that should be avoided, namely the passions, such as immorality and impurity.

St Paul calls them idols, and indeed brings the whole focus of this weekend’s admonitions back to the first of the Ten Commandments “thou shalt have no other gods besides me”. These passing goods into which we invest ourselves are indeed idols – things that we have elevated in our lives to a place from which they can influence, direct, inform, and dictate our actions. Indeed, this question does pervade our daily lives. It is a question with which each of us struggle. We gather idols (be they possessions, positions, perceptions, opinions) very quickly. So, we are called to spirit of detachment and poverty as the Gospel Acclamation verse from the Beatitudes sums up, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

We are called to the very clear stance that we do not hold in value that which is temporal or passing. While we can recognise the utility of certain things such as money, position, health, they have no intrinsic value, and their value exists only insofar as they advance eternal realities or truths – our salvation, the building up of the kingdom of God. Jesus labels the prioritisation of passing goods over heavenly goods as “foolish”, whereas the proper priority of our immortal soul over our earthly life is praised as “wisdom” in the Scriptures.

This challenges many areas of our lives.

  • It challenges, most obviously, our pursuit and use of material resources. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, Jesus says in another part of the Gospel. What is it that we prize and into what will we invest our money?
  • It challenges the way we prioritise our time: what activities receive the best of our time when we have energy, and what goods do they advance? Do we prioritise that which makes us money over, for example, our vocation of marriage and family life?
  • How do we use our talents that God has given us – our physical health, our intellect, our specific talents and gifts? Do we use them solely to advance our comfort or passions and never place them at the service of the poor or the kingdom of God?
  • The challenge is also to our opinions and political positions, the way we participate in civil society and in our friendships. Do we promote Christian values, or do we keep that which we supposedly hold “private” and when in public only verbalise woke, trendy, fashionable or expedient views that will advance our position, impress our friends, not cause trouble?

Ultimately these questions ask us “what will win” when earthly goods are pitted against heavenly ones? When it comes down to it, have we elevated money, status, possessions, beauty, position, acceptance, advancement, security, to a place higher than our immortal souls, salvation, virtue, discipleship? This disordered hierarchy is what Jesus calls foolishness, and the one who abides by it, a fool.

What are we to do? In summary, we must be good disciples of Our Lord, and listen to his Word. There are five things I would like to suggest you consider and reflect upon this week to operationalise this a little more:

  1. Reflect on the reality of who God is and who we are in relationship to him. The meaning of life is indeed to know God, to love God, to serve God in this life so that we can be happy with him forever in heaven. This eternal reality is not something we profess in an empty way only on Sundays, but is the fundamental reality that should underpin every choice, action, and relationship in our daily lives. We must choose consciously and actively every day to live as a consequence of this foundational reality.
  2. In order to reinforce our consciousness of this point, we must frequently come to the source of this wisdom, Our Lord Jesus Christ. We reinforce the instinct to live in this way by encountering him in daily prayer, the Word of God (particularly his words in the Gospels), and in the Sacraments. When we revisit his words over and over again, and allow them to challenge us, his words become ours, his responses become ours. When we bring those ways we fall short of imitating Him to the confessional regularly, we are reminded to listen to His commands. When we eat his Body and drink his Blood in the Eucharist, we are strengthened to co-operate with his grace in our daily lives.
  3. Challenge the idolatry in your life. It is not difficult to identify. The clutter, the things, the prized possessions, the opinions, the habits that take space in our lives in a way which disrupts the way we live – these are our idols. Rid yourself of them. Sell them and give the money to the poor. Replace bad habits with virtuous ones. Work so that you hear God’s voice rather than that of the world coming out of your mouth.
  4. Consider what you will regret on your deathbed. Hopefully this is many decades away, but it may be next week. It may be long or short. Don’t wait until then. What do you know already that you may regret? Time spent at work rather than with your family; a wound or relationship unforgiven or unreconciled; a resentment held onto; poor stewardship of your health, possessions, or creation; time spent pursuing destructive habits rather than in prayer or in service of the poor;  the way you treated those in your service, those in need, those who loved you. Hear the call today to change and conversion. Bring these facts to confession next weekend and work to remedy these now.
  5. Then imagine yourself at the gates of heaven, being asked to give an account for your life. Are you ready to do that today? What parts of your life would you rather put behind your back and hide from your Creator? How will you present what you have done with what your Creator has given you? What needs to change? Hear the invitation this weekend to make those changes rather than delay.

Of course, next to us, will be standing Our Lord, offering Himself eternally to the Father on the Cross. When we have truly sought to follow Him and listen to His commands, he does not abandon us. Having eaten his Body and drunk his Blood, we are part of that Body that he offers to his Father and our life of co-operation with this grace is presented as pleasing to God the Father. And so, indeed, our Christian hope is that at that moment, we will hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant, your reward will be rich in heaven”.  AMEN.

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