Does being spiritual and being devoted to God mean we have to flee the material world, its wealth, pleasures and our possessions? That’s a question that comes up repeatedly as we read Church documents, listen to our spiritual leaders, or even when we page through the Bible. It may seem, to some, as if wealth is something to be avoided and the wealthy shunned.
In fact, the message about wealth in the Gospel and in our lives as Christians, is complex and has little to do with the material. It is, in fact, more about the spiritual. Think back to Adam and Eve. They were given responsibility to care for the Garden of Eden even before sin entered into the story. Work is holy and ought to be productive. And enjoying the fruits of our labor and sharing them with others are some of life’s greatest blessings.
Where we humans may run into trouble is in the way we view the material, especially wealth. It is all too easy for some to let money become a substitute for God. In other words, it is easy to let it become an idol and sometimes a substitute for God. That’s what Jesus means when he says you can’t serve both God and mammon (Lk 16:13). Those who choose mammon for their master seek their identity and ultimate security in money.
We see this in those such as the rich man of Luke, chapter 12. His problem is not that he is excited about a bumper harvest, but that he succumbs to the illusion that this wealth means security. He puts his trust in his warehouses, and they let him down. We also hear in 1 Tim 6:10 that love of money is the root of all evil. And yet we hear from those such as St. Augustine, who points out that the wrong kind of love is not restricted to money. Whenever a pursuit of anything leads us away from our love of God, that pursuit becomes idolatry and the root of all evil.
What is your passion? Is it the quest for the perfect championship? To earn a college degree? To flourish in business? The desire for all these things can be good indeed. The avid pursuit of each of these things can actually be a duty, depending on one’s state in life. It can bring benefits for a person, or for a family, or for a community, depending on how they are put to use. Achievements can be great and can honor God.
The question, however, is whether these pursuits and perhaps achievements become stepping stones or become impediments on our road to meet God, to carry out his will, to help others and therefore build his kingdom. Some of those achievements can bring great things, but none greater than what God offers. To all who will accept it, Jesus offers the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46). What we don’t like about this is that it costs us everything to buy it. We have to surrender the title to all that we have and all that we are. God holds the title but still allows us to live in the house.
But for everyone, once in a while, there comes a moment of truth when we find out whether or not we have really, in fact, surrendered that title. Sometimes we do not want to let go of what we have. Avarice, the love of money, is one of the seven deadly sins. This vice is not a matter of indulging too much in the “good things of life.” That’s gluttony, which is dangerous, but much less deadly. Avarice is not about spending money; it is about avidly possessing things, finding one’s security and identity in things, clinging to things, hoarding things.
Take, for example, the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. His wealth did not make him happy. It led him to misery (all sin ultimately leads to misery). Does not the Gospel mention that the rich young man went away sad (Mt 19:16-30)? When we read this story, we are inclined to smile smugly as Jesus condemns all those filthy rich people who own companies that send us bills each month. But when Jesus warns the rich, he is not classifying people according to what they have, but how attached they are to what they have. There are many of modest means who will cling fiercely to what little they have. Have you ever tried to get an old bone out of the mouth of a stray dog?
What we read in the Gospel when it comes to wealth is not a condemnation of the rich or of the material. It is a challenge to all of us. It is not aimed at the rich alone. Most of us are fairly decent and keep most of the commandments. But rich or poor, we can’t forget to focus on our loving God with our whole heart, mind and soul.
THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
In an amusing account, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, a well-known tax collector, short in stature, who climbs a tree in his excitement to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. His loss of dignity must have been amusing to the crowds, As Jesus passes by, he looks up and says to Zacchaeus, “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus with joy. This encounter transforms Zacchaeus and he promises to give away half his possessions to the poor and to pay restitution to anyone he has harmed. Jesus accepts Zacchaeus’ faith, saying, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.” Every encounter with Jesus brings with it the challenge to make a free decision. Zacchaeus seizes the moment and his encounter with Jesus changes his life. His experience also demonstrates the true attitude toward wealth: to give away one’s surplus to those in need and not to defraud another of what is rightfully theirs.
This story is another example in which Luke’s Gospel account presents Jesus turning social expectations upside down. The people are shocked that Jesus is inviting himself to the home of a tax collector, a sinner. Jesus goes further and acknowledges that Zacchaeus has been granted salvation and that he too “is a descendant of Abraham.” Zacchaeus’ ability to change his way of life is an example of how Abraham’s descendants should act. Abraham is among those in the Old Testament who are heirs to God’s promises.
Ordinarily, the tax collector Zacchaeus would not be thought of as poor and humble. However, when he told Jesus he would give half his possessions to the poor and would make restitution to all whom he had extorted, he humbled himself before the Lord and took on a poverty of spirit. Jesus declares that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham because he has taken a posture that shows humility before God and an appreciation for the poor. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states, “Christ’s disciples are called to renew ever more fully in themselves ‘the awareness that the truth about God who saves, the truth about God who is the source of every gift, cannot be separated from the manifestation of his love and preference for the poor and humble, that love which, celebrated in the Magnificat, is later expressed in the words and works of Jesus’” (#59).
When Zacchaeus turned his heart to Jesus, he not only acknowledged the Lord as the master of his life; he changed his attitude toward the poor, giving half of what he owned to the poor. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis explains that the Christian is to respond to the poor. The Holy Father states, “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: ‘We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside—landless, homeless, lacking food and health care—to the detriment of their rights’” (#191).
For Your Reflection: How easily do you show mercy to a person who has committed a wrong? How did you respond when the Lord lifted you up when you were falling? How does our faith community respond to the cry of the poor?
MEMORIAL OF ST. CHARLES BORROMEO
Monday, November 4, 2019
The name of Charles Borromeo is associated with reform. He lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation, and he had a hand in the reform of the entire Church during the final years of the Council of Trent.
Although he belonged to the Milanese nobility and was related to the powerful Medici family, Charles desired to devote himself to the Church. In 1559, when his uncle, Cardinal de Medici was elected Pope Pius IV, he made Charles cardinal-deacon and administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan. At the time, Charles was still a layman and a young student. Because of his intellectual qualities Charles was entrusted with several important offices connected with the Vatican, and later appointed Secretary of State with responsibility for the Papal States. The untimely death of his elder brother brought Charles to a definite decision to be ordained a priest, despite his relatives’ insistence that he marry. Soon after being ordained a priest at the age of 25, Borromeo was consecrated bishop of Milan.
Working behind the scenes, Saint Charles deserves the credit for keeping the Council of Trent in session when at several points it was on the verge of breaking up. Borromeo encouraged the pope to renew the Council in 1562, after it had been suspended for 10 years. He took upon himself the task of the entire correspondence during the final phase. Because of his work at the Council, Borromeo was unable to take up residence in Milan until the Council concluded.
Eventually, Borromeo was allowed to devote his time to the Archdiocese of Milan, where the religious and moral picture was far from bright. The reform needed in every phase of Catholic life among both the clergy and laity was initiated at a provincial council of all the bishops under him. Specific regulations were drawn up for bishops and other clergy. If the people were to be converted to a better life, Borromeo had to be the first to give a good example and renew their apostolic spirit.
Charles took the initiative in giving a good example. He allotted most of his income to charity, forbade himself all luxury, and imposed severe penances upon himself. He sacrificed wealth, high honors, esteem, and influence to become poor. During the plague and famine of 1576, Borromeo tried to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people daily. To do this he borrowed large sums of money that required years to repay. Whereas the civil authorities fled at the height of the plague, he stayed in the city, where he ministered to the sick and dying, helping those in want.
Work and the heavy burdens of his high office began to affect Archbishop Borromeo’s health, leading to his death at the age of 46.
Saint Charles Borromeo made his own the words of Christ: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). Borromeo saw Christ in his neighbor and knew that charity done for the least of his flock was charity done for Christ.
It may be that some people are unfamiliar with the fact that we have a priest on call Monday through Friday from 10:30-6:00. What this means is that if you have any reason to talk privately with one of the priests, you may stop at the Front Office and ask the receptionist to do so. He will then get in touch with the friar assigned for that time, invite you to go to the mezzanine via the stairs off the lobby, and the friar will be there shortly. The only time you might have to wait is if someone has just come before you, and the priest is already occupied.
What are some of the things why people might want to see the priest on the mezzanine? Some wish to go to confession face-to-face rather than behind the screen in the confessional. Others have a problem they wish to discuss, and the confessional is not the appropriate place to talk about it. Some might have a theological question, or there might be an issue in their family they want to discuss, or they are having a difficult time due to a death in the family. Sometimes we are asked to fill out a witness form for an upcoming Catholic wedding or baptism, or to help someone learn a bit more about the annulment process in the archdiocese. At any rate, we want to be of service, and we will try to be there for you if we can possibly help.
Some of our bulletin readers may not be familiar with Chicago Shares, a way that you can help the homeless but not actually give them cash. You can purchase Chicago Shares in our Front Office anytime the office is open. They come in packets of five (each slip worth $1.00) and they can be used to purchase food, toiletries, and other basic items at a number of stores in the Loop and in the South and North areas beyond the Loop. These shares cannot be used to purchase liquor and tobacco, nor can they be redeemed for cash. If you would like more information about Chicago Shares, you may go to www.chicagoshares.org, or you may stop at the front office to pick up a list of the stores that honor these shares
END OF DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME
This Sunday, November 3, Daylight Saving Time ends in the United States. Therefore before you go to bed on the Saturday night, you want to set your clocks back one hour so that you will not arrive for Mass on Sunday at an incorrect time. My experience is that most people remember to do so, although we usually do have a few individuals coming to church wondering why the Mass schedule has been changed.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
I waited for a very long time for my number to be called at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver’s license. As I approached the window, the clerk asked me how she could help me.
I replied, “I need to get a haircut. Can you save me my spot?”
She said, “Why didn’t you get a haircut before you came here?”
I replied, “I didn’t need a haircut before I got here!”