Sunday, September 19, 2010

We are all Frauds

Readings for Sunday, September 19:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2,4-8
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

Have you ever looked up what your name meant? When I was in high school we had to do a writing assignment that included finding the meaning of our first and middle names and writing how they might describe us in some way. I found that my first name, Patrick, meant “nobleman”. I thought that was a good start. But then I found out that my middle name, Brent, meant “steep hill”.  I was less than excited. I mean, when I think of steep hill, I think of something difficult that you don’t want to deal with; the first sounded much better.

Why do I mention this little story? Because I think it’s something we’ve gotten away from – understanding the meaning of our names. In the days of the Old Testament, a name typically prophesied the type of life one would live. Think of Abram and Sarai, whose names were changed to Abraham and Sarah when God chose them for a new mission. A name meant a lot. And so when the people of Israel heard that the prophet Amos was coming, they all got an uneasy feeling in their gut. The name Amos means ‘burden’ and so by his prophesying he was a burden to the people of Israel; he said the things they didn’t want to hear, things that would call them out for their sinful actions. This is what we hear in our first reading. The Israelite people would celebrate the feasts, such as that of the new moon and the Sabbath, and yet they were not really concerned with these things but were concerned only about their wealth and power. Rather than being people of integrity, they were frauds and Amos came among them and called them out on it.

I’m gonna step out on a limb here and say that I believe each one of you is a fraud, a fake, just like the Israelites were. But before you get upset, I must add that I am a fraud and a fake as well, and maybe more so than any of you. You see, our hearts are divided just like the Israelites and so often what is on the outside is not what is on the inside. We are not always people of integrity.  Simply put, we are sinners.

A couple of Fridays ago I was asked to join Bishop Muench and our two vocation directors for the diocese at Saint Jean Vianney school. We met with each of the classes and spoke about vocations and allowed them to ask questions about religious life. At one point the three of them went off to visit another group of children and had me stay and talk with the 7th and 8th grade boys. I spoke about my vocation and the greatness of the priestly vocation and opened it up for questions. After ten minutes or so the questions moved from vocation-focused questions to random questions in the line “what kind of music do you listen to?” and such. One young man raised his hand and said, “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?” I can’t remember my exact answer, but it was something along the lines of “I’d donate some to good charities, use some to buy things for a few parishes, and put a bunch toward buying books and stuff to evangelize.” I reflected on it afterward and asked myself whether that was entirely true and I had to wonder. I mean, when I get a good chunk of money now, what do I do with it? Buy some new books for my library, buy a nice new vestment, or spend it on something that I don’t really need but really want. Sure, I do my tithing and charitable donations, but my heart is still somewhat divided. There is something in my heart that wants to get more and more things and have more and more control. And that thing that is in me is in each one of us, that concupiscence that compels each of us to act for our own self-benefit.

Our gospel speaks to this division of the heart and Christ says to each of us ‘you cannot serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and mammon,’ that is, wealth. We must choose one or the other. The one that gets most of our attention is undoubtedly the one that we choose. So where do we put our emphasis?

The unjust steward obviously put his emphasis on the physical things. He was so prideful that he wouldn’t let himself become a beggar and he was so self-concerned that rather than repent and turn toward good, he continued in his evil ways in an even greater way. And yet, oddly, we hear the Lord commend him for his prudence, despite his wrongdoing. The steward knew that he was about to be in a bad spot and that he would have to rely on others to help him out until he could get back on steady ground again. He got creative, he started to think real hard about the future and made all sorts of plans to prepare for the inevitable and then put all of his energy into it to ensure that it would work out as he planned.

The challenge the Lord wants to speak to us today is to be more like the unjust steward, not in doing wrong and self-seeking materialism, but in the zeal with which we pursue the things that are to come in  eternity. As Christians, we believe that death is not the end of life, but the beginning. Our earthly life is the time when we determine where we will spend our eternal life. Here we must stop and ask ourselves some questions. Are we willing to put forth the effort to ensure we live well in the future? Are we willing to pour ourselves out in prayer everyday? Are we willing to boldly preach the gospel to others? Are we willing to give what is ours to serve and aid others? Are we willing to live a life of radical holiness – not simply being a good person or nice person but one who strives to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, as St. Paul says?

All of those questions really done down to one question: Are we ready to no longer be frauds or fakes, but true sons and daughters of God, no longer living with divided hearts but wholly focused on Jesus Christ and His glory?

The Holy Eucharist has the power to change hearts in a single instance if we are truly ready and we are about to receive it into our very bodies. Let us pray that each of us would be transformed today in this Mass and that we would have hearts that are not divided but wholly devoted to the Lord and his people.