19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 7, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
We live in one of the most powerful and most wealthy places on earth.
Some of you have a pretty good share in that power and wealth,
and many, if not most, of the rest of you are hoping to share in it,
to a greater or lesser extent.
But then we hear the voice of Jesus echo over 2000 years and say to us:
“Sell your belongings …[for] an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Now most of you probably work pretty hard to get all this stuff and power,
you’ve dedicated your life; you’ve made huge sacrifices.
But even with all that hard work,
how much of your success has been due to the “luck”
of having good parents,
or particular natural talents
or simply being in the right place at the right time?
Well, personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe it luck.
Christians believe in providence:
God has a plan, and he provides for us according to that plan.
We believe that God created us for a reason,
and gave us our parents and our talents.
And he gave us lungs to breath
and free will to choose to be lazy or to work hard.
As St. Paul says elsewhere in scripture:
“What have you that you did not receive?
….why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
Like the servant in today’s parable,
we have all been “entrusted with much.”
Of course, seeing things this way requires “faith.”
Note, this faith is not opposed to reason.
Rather faith is the light that shines on reason,
like a lamp shining on a book to make it readable and understandable.
And when we see the world in the light of faith
we see all the things we have as gifts
most of which pass away when we leave this world.
And we see that these things we work so hard for
—money, fame, pleasure, power, whatever—
mean nothing if we forget the one who gives them in the first place.
If we love the gift more than we love the giver, God himself.
So you say, yes father all that’s true, and faith and God are important to me,
but placing them above everything else—that’s hard.
Yes, it is.
But so is getting up every morning and going to work or school,
most everyday of your life.
But you do it.
Why is it so inconceivable to work as hard and make as many sacrifices
to place God in the center of your life?
Why aren’t we willing to do that now, and every day for the rest of our lives?
You say, yes, but when I go to work
I see the fruit of my work, the reward of my labor.
I get paid at the end of the week,
and over the years I rise up in my career.
It’s not that way with God—he doesn’t give me tangible results.
First of all, how many of your employers or clients
pay you up-front for the work you haven’t done yet?
But God does.
He’s already given
every breath you take, every thought in your head, your job,
your very life itself!
Not to mention the grace that flows from his Cross and resurrection.
And how many of you work hard and wait for years to get promotions?
If your boss doesn’t promote you today,
or at least put the promise in writing today,
why would you risk working for years for the uncertain?
Unlike your boss or client, though,
God did put his promises of riches and promotion in writing.
It’s written down in scripture and affirmed every day
in the living breathing teaching of the Church.
We read it today in the Gospel as Jesus promises us:
“your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
You say, I have faith father,
but I ask God for things all the time,
and most of the time he doesn’t give me what I ask for.
True, but maybe you’re asking for the wrong things.
Imagine if you went into your boss’s office tomorrow
and demanded 6 months paid vacation.
Not many bosses would give in to that—in fact most bosses would fire you.
But God just sits there patiently listening to our requests for silly things,
things he knows won’t be good for us,
and then gives us what we really need.
How about a little oxygen in your lungs?
How about a job to come to tomorrow?
And how about I give you some of the really valuable stuff,
some of the treasures of heaven
How about a little charity or chastity or wisdom?
The bottom line is, we work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.
I know how it is.
Some of you may remember that before I went to the seminary at age 31
I worked for over 10 years as an accountant, a CPA.
I studied hard in college to make good grades, and was rewarded at graduation
with a job with one of the big international accounting firms.
And then I spent hours and hours working overtime, week in and week out,
and was rewarded with nice raises every year, and early promotions.
Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t the smartest or most talented guy.
I just threw myself into my work, making all sorts of sacrifices,
and was rewarded for it.
But for what?
As time went on,
I realized I wasn’t working hard at the things that were most important,
and didn’t appreciate who had made all this possible.
In short, I was lazy when it came to loving Jesus and being a good Catholic.
And frankly, I’m still working on that, even now, not as hard as I should.
I suspect that happens to a lot of folks here today.
And I’m not just talking about people with jobs.
Students do the same thing.
We’re still 3 weeks away from the start of school,
but the kids in band and football are already starting to practice.
And when school starts you kids will be working hard,
maybe even staying up late at night working on your homework
or studying for tests, all for a grade no one will remember
5 years from now.
And mothers who stay at home, especially homeschooling.
You work hard to help your kids grow into fine adults,
but do you work hard at your faith?
And retired folks: you worked hard all your life building a financial nest egg
so you could retire comfortably,
but did you work hard to build up treasure in heaven?
Are you working hard at it now?
We work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.
And yet we expect so much from him, including all the things we already have.
So, how do we work hard at having faith?
We begin with the basics.
If you’re a surgeon you have to obey the basic rules of medicine and science,
or you’ll work hard all day long
but not only will your patients die,
but you’ll die of starvation.
And if you’re a Christian,
you begin by working hard at keeping the basic rules of faith and love.
You keep the commandments:
you worship God,
you don’t kill, steal, or lie;
you love your family, and respect the gift of sexuality.
And you follow the beatitudes,
you embrace poverty of spirit, work for peace and show mercy;
and you accept persecution for standing up for your faith in Jesus.
It’s difficult, but you have to work hard at living the life God calls you to live.
And you spend time studying.
What professional doesn’t spend years studying
before he even begins to start his career?
And who survives in his profession
if doesn’t do continuing education?
A Christian also has to study:
to read the Scriptures, the Catechism, the writings of the great Popes
and other holy books.
To listen to talks by orthodox experts or holy people
—to pay attention to the homilies at Mass.
It’s a fact that most Catholics stopped really learning about their faith
when they were 14.
Imagine if an accountant had stopped learning about numbers when he was 14…
And you have to pray.
Prayer involves talking and listening to God.
This requires patience and time,
but imagine a lawyer who doesn’t talk and listen to his client.
Prayer also involves praising and thanking God:
what laborer does his work well when he doesn’t respect it or enjoy it?
What Christian can be a good Christian if he doesn’t praise his God.
And finally, you have to open your heart and choose to accept
the grace God gives you.
What fool works hard all week
and then refuses to cash, or deposit or invest his paycheck?
Now, in every business or line of work, there’s always critical moments in time.
Maybe it’s a deadline, or an important make or break meeting.
At those moments all the hard work comes together and pays off
—either in the product or in the reward.
For Catholics, the most important moment
is the time we spend at Mass.
Sometimes people say, but Father, I don’t really get much out of Mass.
Well, maybe the problem isn’t so much what you’re not getting out of the Mass,
as it is what you’re not putting into the Mass.
Some people come to work late every day,
then waste time all day gossiping with friends,
distracting and entertaining themselves on the internet,
maybe occasionally answering the phone when it rings,
until they can manage to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the traffic.
They were at work, but they didn’t do work.
The didn’t put much into it, and they didn’t get much out of it that day,
and they aren’t going to get much out if on pay day, or promotion day.
Sounds like a lot of Catholics at Mass.
On the other hand, some people go to work early
and throw themselves into the job
—having spent the previous evening and the drive in preparing for the day.
I have a feeling that with all the money and power in this room today,
that represents a whole lot of you.
If you want to get something out of Mass, first put something into Mass,
both before you get here and while you’re here.
Prepare before you come, and when you get here early
examine your conscience:
think how you’ve kept the commandments this week;
and read the scriptures and study what the Mass is about.
And during the Mass listen to the prayers, the readings and the homily carefully.
Maybe my homilies are too long and too boring,
but there’s something, even if it’s only one sentence,
that God wants you to hear in them.
And pray: the whole Mass is one long prayer:
listen and talk to God, sing his praises,
and thank him from the bottom of your heart for all he does for you!
And finally, open yourself up to the grace he gives you so generously
in this sacrament of the Eucharist.
Every good thing we have or want is, in one way or another, a gift from God.
But why do we work so hard to enjoy and even abuse
the lesser gifts God gives
and spend hardly any effort to enjoy
His most profound gifts,
and the ones that last forever.
“Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
…where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”