July 31, 2016

Fr. Butler's Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 31, 2016, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity!(Click here for today’s readings)

I think Ecclesiastes had a favorite song. It was the ancient Hebrew equivalent of “I’m forever blowing bubbles.” The refrain was: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity!”

Is life worth living? Of course it is. Then what makes it worth living? All we are really told in today’s readings is what doesn’t make life worth living. It is clearly not the accumulation of things. Greed is mentioned twice in today’s readings as the opposite of what we should seek in life.

Jesus suggests that there are other ways, good ways of being rich, “Rich in what matters to God.” We can intuit what that might mean. St. Paul, with another one of his lists, helps us to understand, again in a negative way, what Jesus does not mean. But earlier in the same text he writes, “Seek what is above.” And later he says we have “put on a new self.”

In the Old Testament, “rich” is often a synonym for “wicked, selfish, cruel.” It is clear there is nothing wrong with having possessions. True, some saints adopted a severe life style of extreme poverty; this was their response (the only one possible for them) to the universal call to holiness.

The Scriptures often reflect a society of haves and have-nots. We read, for example, in Isaiah 58:5-8: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn....”

There is no one way to respond to the challenge of today’s readings. But there has to be a way. There is surely a way for each of us, though it may not be the way we might prefer.

Suppose we lived in a society where no one was ever in need. The challenge would still be there, wouldn’t it? To become rich in what matters to God, instead of blowing pretty bubbles.

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