Ottawa Congress Centre—Friday, November 8, 2013
TO KNOW CHRIST JESUS AND HIS CALL
[Texts: Romans 15.1–7, 13–16 (Psalm 98); Luke 16.1–8]
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I recently returned from Rome where Pope Francis has everyone buzzing. He has been drawing crowds of close to a hundred thousand at his Wednesday audiences and Sunday Angelus addresses.
People are fascinated by him and how he relates to common folk, as well as by his comments on life in the Church. He has stirred up expectations. Many are hoping that our fresh pope will reform or renew the Church.
A key question is, are you and I open to an encounter with Christ? Any change must come from that encounter. This is what Pope Francis is all about.
He said as much when he asked bishops to tone down talk about certain moral issues. These topics are creating so much static that people cannot hear the most important message, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis wants to move the church away from ideological fixations of a moralizing sort and toward proclaiming the gospel. The order of church life must be inviting people to know God in Christ first. Then comes the moral order, as a response to coming to know God’s mercy, forgiveness, and joy.
Often, the order gets reversed and that’s where trouble occurs. This is where the issues of abortion, contraception, active homosexuality, and other life issues come in. Virtuous behaviour in these areas is a response to God’s grace. It is not a pre-condition to belonging to the community of God’s Kingdom and the Church.
Most people need a close walk with the Lord to understand why the Church says no to certain behaviour. Without Jesus deeply in one’s life, it is hard to understand these prohibitions. But how do people get to know Jesus? It is by God’s people—you and me—evangelizing and telling them about our Lord and Saviour.
You must share with your family, students, and associates, how Jesus has saved you, loved you, and healed you. It has to be done sensitively and respectfully, delicately and finely. Then you must let the Holy Spirit take over as you pray for that person.
Let me illustrate what I am getting at. Today’s gospel reading touches on the wise use of money. One understanding of the parable would place you in the key role: the manager or steward. As a steward, you are responsible for things—material things, your family, your time, and your soul.
But you don’t actually own them. They belong to the rich man—God. In this story, you have squandered the riches you were told to manage. The rich man is about to terminate you. What to do? You don’t want to beg for mercy or dig ditches for eternity.
You decide on radical giving to your debtors—poor people. You give away 50% of the oil that was owed to you and 20% of the wheat. Now, your boss commends you. But by calling you a child of light, Jesus reminds you that you are called not only to radical charity, but also to a close relationship with Christ.
Being good and doing good are just not enough. We can imitate Jean Vanier in doing good for the disabled and marginalized. But he, Mother Teresa, and the other great champions of Catholic social justice show us the extra step we need to be taking. We must spend an hour in prayer before serving.
Merely doing good without first seeking holiness will lead our students to conclude that they don’t need God or the Church. Many Catholic students and their families believe that they don’t need to be nourished by the Mass anymore. Sadly, by cutting themselves off from the vine, they cause the fruit of their lives to wither.
The trend toward strife, personal isolation, and burnout is increasingly evident. Sterile forms of doing good and even some forms of religion can become ideology. Pope Francis said, “Ideology does not beckon people. In ideologies there is not Jesus, in his tenderness, his love, his meekness.” The attitude becomes “rigid, moralistic, ethical but without kindness.”
The Pope, when asked how a Christian can become like this, answered, “Just one thing: this Christian does not pray.” You can reverse this in your circle of influence by your words and your example. You can help restore to God his inheritance: the children of light.
Christ tells us that we are called by the Heavenly Father to be not just good, but more than that. We are called to be holy. We are to become, as Matthew Kelly puts it, the best version of ourselves as Catholic Christians.
That’s what I hope our schools will help all who are part of the Catholic Community to claim as their vision: strong, holy men and women who are both good citizens of Canada and of God’s Kingdom of holiness, justice, love and truth.
The conclusion of today’s gospel “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” is just part of Jesus’ interest in money.
Money is the second most popular topic in the Gospels after the Kingdom of God. Jesus noted that money can become a tyrannical master, a veritable rival to God. Jesus concluded, “You cannot serve God and money.”
Returning to today’s parable, the way to avoid idolizing money is to recognize that everything we have is on loan to us. We are but stewards. Hoarding is not an option.
The way is not easy. You have a mortgage to pay, children to raise, elderly parents to look after. There are things you need and things you want. There are countless worthy causes. You have precious little time to think, let alone pray. How does a Christian get out of this bind and find peace?
First off, Jesus urged his followers not to be anxious, for “each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6.34). His followers are to “set your hearts on God’s Kingdom, and these other things [food, clothing, relationships] will be given you as well” (Luke 12.31).
Christians should recognize, too, that different people praying for inspiration about what to do will come to quite different conclusions. We should not be surprised at this today, for this was the experience of the early church.
Jesus told the rich young man to sell all he had and to give it to the poor (Luke 18.18–23). By contrast, Zacchaeus reformed his life, making restitution for fraud and giving generously to God’s poor (Luke 19.1–10). The women who followed Jesus helped sustain his ministry with their resources (Luke 8.1–3).
However, all are called to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6.3) and to share the Good News that Jesus has come to save us (Mark 16.15).
Your encounter with Christ will help you realize that your time and treasure are not your own. There is freedom in trusting in his Providence through radical giving.
Whatever the choices the Lord Jesus calls you to embrace, let us pray that we may know the path we are called to follow and embark on it to God’s praise and glory.