18th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 4, 2013 Father De Celles Homily

August 4, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

It seems that every day somebody somewhere has
some bad news to report about the economy.
Perhaps for some of us here economic problems may be very real and direct:
some of us may have lost jobs, or lost a raise, or even lost your home.
Right now I’m hearing from a lot of you about the difficulties the government sequester and furloughs are causing you.

But if you stop and think about it, in the big picture,
there’s never been a time in history when a country has experienced
such a tremendous level of economic prosperity as our country does today.

Many of us here look back on our youths and wonder at the changes.
Those of you who were around in the earlier part of the last century,
must sometimes shake your head in amazement,
especially from memories of the Great Depression,
or the shortages during World War II.
I can remember just over 45 years ago,
when my family was the only one on the block with a color TV
–and the only reason we had that was that we won it in the Church raffle.

We live in a very prosperous society, in fact in a very prosperous region
even our neighborhood is prosperous.
Unfortunately that also means that we live in a society, region and neighborhood
where “success” is often measured by how much money you have or make,
or how many things you have.
And where the well-being of individuals and the country as a whole
is often expressed primarily–sometimes almost exclusively–
in terms of economic prosperity:
the rise of the stock market, low unemployment,
higher salaries, home ownership.
All these things are good things
–God gives us the world to use and, as Genesis tells us, “have dominion over;”
–all of us have a right to property
and to receive recompense for our labor,
and to provide a margin of financial security
for our selves and our families.

What concerns me is not prosperity or the hard work that produces it.
What worries me is the attitude
that worldly wealth is the primary or almost exclusive measure
of the well-being of a people.
[What worries me is] that what we often consider pursuit of success or security,
is often really nothing more than the thinly veiled sin of greed.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“Take care to guard against all greed”
or as it might be better translated: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
He goes on to tell us about a man who, by all accounts, has it made.
–who has all the material prosperity he could hope for.
Most of us would call this man clever or at least lucky–but Jesus calls him “you fool.”

All three of today’s readings remind us that nothing in this world can compare
to the wonderful riches of heaven
–riches that we can begin to enjoy even in this world.
And all three remind us
that when we place the pursuit of worldly success at the center of our hearts,
as the goal of our lives,
we soon find ourselves forcing out and ignoring the God
who gives us these things.

The attitude that things are of primary importance is the sin of greed;
and greed inevitably corrupts whatever it touches.
When we start seeing things–objects–as having the central value in our lives,
we wind up putting persons in second place.

The first person we put in second place is God,
and if we can place divine persons in second place
we can very easily place all the human persons in our lives in second place.
Eventually it gets so bad, so corrupt,
that the only way we can even begin to think of valuing persons
–to give them some sort of value in our lives–
is by treating them as things, objects.
So that they become, in effect, things that we can possess,
things valued primarily for what they do for us,
rather than persons to love and honor for who they are.

Jesus says: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
And in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul puts some flesh on these words when he says:
“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual](1) immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

When we value things more than persons, including God and neighbor,
we are not avoiding greed in all its forms.
But this attitude is also directly linked to an attitude that
people are only as good to us as the material satisfaction that we personally derive from them,
and that our actions are always justifiable if they bring us satisfaction,
even if they hurt others,
or break down the bonds that bring people together
in personal relationship.

And so you see that greed corrupts our whole lives
–into every way we deal with people.
We start seeing the poor and defenseless as
not people who deserve our love and help
but rather,
either, on the one hand,
as excess useless baggage
or, on the other hand,
as the outlet of our selfish desire to feel good about ourselves
by either seeing ourselves
seeing ourselves as well off in comparison to them,
or seeing ourselves as kind
because we give to these things that need us.

Soon we begin to see the people around us as objects
that can satisfy our personal sexual desires,
rather than appreciating the dignity and meaning of man
being created as male and female together
to be the image of God’s love and life in the world.
Then we begin to see children both as something we have a right to possess
when we want it and how we want it.
And we begin to see even the gift of speech, of words,
that should be used to bring persons together
–we see this gift as something to be manipulated as a tool in using persons
–and so we accept the lying that tears down the relationships
between us and God and in families and in society,
as normal.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

This is what happens when the individuals of society pursue the good of things
versus the good of persons
–the love of God and neighbor;
when material prosperity is used as the standard of measuring the welfare
of individuals and societies
–instead of using heaven and the love of God as the standard.

Today we come together to celebrate a sacrament which is the antitheses of greed:
a sacrament that is all about mutual giving.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving,”
Christ gives himself to the Father as a sacrifice for us,
and gives himself to us.
And in this sacrament, we give ourselves to Christ,
and in Christ, give ourselves completely to the Father.

We come here to receive much more than we come here to give,
but in this mutual giving and receiving we’re drawn into the life of Christ
–the one who is truly completely without any form of greed.
And we are transformed, as we share in the life of heaven,
as we eat the Bread of angels.
And as we enter the sacred mysteries of heaven present to us in this Mass, our greed
–our focus on things and tendency to treat people as things–
is replaced by a focus on heaven in mutual giving in love between persons.
A Holy Communion with the Trinity of Divine Persons,
and through them, the whole Church, and each and every Christian.

We come together today to: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
But as we leave here today,
as we go out and enjoy our things and return to work tomorrow,
we must not return to being intent on the things of this world.
Keep your hearts set on heaven this week,
and let this sacrament we receive today
remove from your life all forms of selfishness and greed,
transforming it into a life of Holy Communion with God
and with his people.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.”
“Avoid greed in all its forms.”

1. The translation read at Mass is very poor. The Greek word used here is porneia, which refers to sexual immorality, usually (in Scripture) specifically incest.