Saturday, August 4, 2007

What Matters to God

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
4-5 August 2007, Hutchinson, Kansas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

“Vanity of vanities… Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave his property”.

“…seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

The readings for this Sunday lend themselves to a real rip-roaring sermon on detachment from material things. Just quoting Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel, I guess I could really come down hard on a congregation exhorting them not only to change their ways and seek first the kingdom of God, and I could also urge them to give of what they have to help those in need, instead of leaving it to their estate. Giving a tough sermon like that, however, is a job for the pastor and not for a guest like me, so I suppose you could say that Fr. Ned is getting off easy this week. He asked me to give a missionary sort of talk to you and I’ll try to do that not losing sight of the powerful message in these readings.

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

What is it that matters to God? Who is it today who merits Jesus’ condemnation like the successful big farmer in the Gospel, if not the person in any walk of life and at any age who is totally caught up in himself or herself? The farmer with his storage barns for years to come is right in not worrying about next year’s drought. He’s wrong in concentrating on creature comforts as if having them was all there is to life. What are those things which “matter to God” in which we should be rich and thereby spare ourselves the Old Testament writer’s head shaking “vanity of vanities”? Let it be clear that we’re going much beyond the question posed in the First Reading of what’s the point of storing up this world’s goods with hard work and intelligence, if it means leaving them for someone else to squander? In asking what matters for God and how can I be a part of that kind of important business, I’m asking the profound and basic question concerning why I was placed on this earth and which is the way to the really big happiness which God has willed for me. It is certainly seeking God’s kingship over me, but more than that, it’s sharing joy; it’s sharing truth with all those I can. It’s sharing the wealth, not only in the material sense, but in terms of life and ideas. It’s what it means to be a missionary.
What is being missionary all about? It’s about reaching out beyond me and inviting others to know truth and share my joy. In that part of the world of today which we glorify with that funny expression “virtual reality” sharing truth and joy seems to be harder than it was in the past. People read blogs and listen to podcasts but the virtual nature of that sort of activity gives one the sense that things are just sort of out there, that people don’t really, I mean really, exchange ideas or reach out to one another.

The Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries were times when the missionary consciousness of the Catholic Church was truly dynamic. Not only were there lots of vocations to the missions from countries like France, but this was the time of the birth and growth in France and beyond of what we call today the Pontifical Mission Societies. We’re most familiar with two of them: the Propagation of the Faith, which manages the October Mission Sunday collections from around the world, and the Missionary Childhood, which works to involve small children in praying and sacrificing for the sake of other children their age in mission countries, that those children might come to know Jesus, too.
I can remember yet as a little boy in the 1950’s how strong the Missionary Society of the Holy Childhood was in our parish and school and how we used to save money and say our prayers for children elsewhere in the world that they too might come to know, love and serve God as Catholic Christians.

If I have a message for you today, that would be it. Namely, I would like to invite all here present to rediscover that kind of focus from the past now in the Twenty-first Century. My hope would be that all of you, young and old, might prize the spread of the Gospel more than creature comforts. That you would do something in proportion to your age and state in life to share the Good News about Jesus with someone else near or far.
That’s saying it a little too abruptly. In a sense you are already going beyond yourselves. You’re here today at Mass and I’m sure that you’re here on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, offering God the praise He is due. I’m sure prayer is a part of your daily life as well, and that you strive to live a good and holy life. I’m sure that all of you parents have taught and are teaching your children their basic prayers; I am sure that you pray with them at mealtimes and most certainly also at bedtime – no doubt you talk to them about God Our Father, about Jesus, His Son and Our Lord, about Mary, the Virgin Mother of God and our Mother, too. I am confident that you all share the wealth of your faith, that you are all truly missionary, at home.
What I’m not so sure of is whether you are eager to share your faith with others farther afield, that you really are convinced that your life is at its best within the Church and that others would be happier too if they shared your same faith. I guess I’d like to see another “golden age” of missionary zeal in our day and time. I say this because I know that the little children who in significant numbers in 19th Century France dreamt of spreading the Gospel in North American or China haven’t crossed my path in the Midwest of the United States today. Whether such an environment of mission consciousness exists or not determines whether or not there will be the numerous vocations necessary to preach the Gospel to those who have not as yet heard about Jesus. I’m wondering too where the people will come from who will come to the part of the world where I serve and provide for those numbers which are missing. I had the great joy of seeing Father Boor the other day and he said that one of the big things he’s preaching about out in the Dodge City diocese where he’s helping out these days is vocations. He’s convinced and I’m sure he’s right that the Lord is calling more than enough young men and women in Western Kansas to be priests and sisters. They just have to hear the call and respond. The region of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, where I live, is not that fortunate for a lot of different reasons. The regional seminary is almost empty and that means that even if things were to turn around in a big way those good people (let’s say a million Catholics) have to face a whole generation without ordinations and desperately short of priests to celebrate Mass for them, hear their confessions and do all the things only priests can do for their people. The life of the Church in the Antilles is very much endangered.
The Caribbean is right on your door step. I’d ask you to keep your neighbors down south in your prayers. Let your prayer reach out in missionary fashion beyond your home and neighborhood.
“Lord, let the Gospel be alive in our hearts, in our parish, in our community, in our diocese. Lord, call forth priests from our parishes, from our families, from our homes for the service of your Church here in the diocese of Wichita, in the Dodge City diocese and farther afield. Lord, let the Gospel be proclaimed anew in the countries our ancestors came from. Lord, send workers into your harvest for the sake of your people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”

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