18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 4th 2013
Eccl. 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
The foolishness of greed
Today’s Gospel passage reminds me of the story of St. Thomas More, the 16th century English scholar, lawyer, civil servant, author and devout Catholic husband and father. He was jailed by King Henry VIII of England because he (Thomas More) will not support the king in the king’s attempt to divorce his wife Catherine and declare himself the Head of the Church in England in 1527. This was in clear defiance of the teaching of the Catholic Church on the indissolubility of a valid consummated marriage. The king had already obtained the support of the many of the English bishops and political class in his plan to divorce his wife because she could not bear him a male son as heir for his throne. Even the resignation of Thomas More on conscience grounds from the position of Chancellor of England was not enough to let him off the noose of King Henry. The king demanded he signed the Act of Succession that declared the King the Head of the Church of England.
St. Thomas’ wife Alice once came to visit him in prison trying to talk him to change his mind and accept the Act of Succession that all other people had done even though they all knew that it was wrong for the King to divorce his legitimate wife and become head of the church in England. She said to him, “Why are you living in this dungeon like a fool? Do you prefer this place to your home with the family?” Thomas said to her, “How long do you think I shall be able to enjoy this life?” She said, “God willing, maybe 20 more years.” He then answered her, “Do you wish me then to exchange eternity for 20 years? Is that wisdom?” He did not take the oath and he was beheaded in July 6, 1535 and canonized in 1935. Before his death, he said, “I am the King’s good servant – but God’s first.”
Wisdom is not about getting all that we want in this life. St. Thomas Aquinas considers the supremely wise person as the person who maturely and without qualification contemplates God, the eternal being and the things of eternity and lets this contemplation of eternity guide the person in all decisions. In short, the wise person is one who never loses sight of eternity even as he engages the present world. We too are wise when we are willing to use or sacrifice the passing things of life so as to pursue and hold on to the things of eternity. St. Thomas More chose to sacrifice his position, prestige, education, comfort, successful career and many more things rather than violate his conscience and approve the King’s attempted divorce and claim to be head of the Church. He proved to be a truly wise person.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. The rich man is blessed by God but he never considers that his destiny depends on how he used these blessings to attain the things of eternity. Rather, he focuses on providing for his own comfort and to guarantee a comfortable life in this world without any thought that his life will end one day. God, the only eternal being, calls out to him, “You fool, this night you life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared to whom will they belong?” The rich man is indeed a fool because he does not focus on the things that will never end but he focuses on earthly and passing things. He does not think about his death, the judgment of his soul, the needs of other people, or the will of God for him with his wealth. He only thinks of resting, eating, drinking, having large barns filled with grains, etc. What a fool?
St. Paul reminds us that if we are raised with Christ, then we must seek for and think of what is above and not of what is below. By our baptism, “we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God” such that we now have access to the eternal dwellings of God as God’s beloved children. This passing world is not our home and passing things cannot be our ultimate focus. God is so serious about the things of eternity that He sent His own son to die for us and to bring us into the eternal dwellings of heaven. Jesus Christ has given His own life to prepare for us to spend all of eternity with Him. How come we can forget eternity so easily in all our decisions and live for this world alone?
It is easy for us to say that we are created and redeemed by God through Jesus Christ. But do we ever pause to remind ourselves why we are alive at each moment of our lives? The same God who created us conserves us at every moment of our lives for a particular reason. St. Ignatius of Loyola puts it to us plainly in what he calls Principle and Foundation: “God created me to praise Him, to reverence Him, and to serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul. All other things on the face of the earth are created for me to attain the purpose for which God created me.” At every moment of my life, at every breath that I take, in all the circumstances that I face, God is calling me to embrace the vocation to eternal life by the way that I use or sacrifice the passing things of this life.
In today’s secular climate, it is so easy for us to make decisions just to alter our present conditions in life. We need to pursue things that are needed to keep body and soul together and to provide for others. But as we pursue these things, we must not forget eternity. We must pursue, sacrifice and use these things in ways that foster our journey to eternity.
God takes eternity so seriously that He did not spare His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to bring us into His eternal dwellings. Jesus Himself took eternity seriously too as He laid down His own life for us and sends us His own Spirit to guide us home. He comes to us in this Eucharistic sacrifice to draw us to Him, the only eternal being, and the only one who does not pass away. We will be truly wise if we do not forget that we will all die one day. We will be truly wise if we remember that we will be judged by how much we have used the passing things of this life that we have to foster our relationship with God and others. This is what matters most to God.
On the other hand, if we too forget eternity, if we sacrifice eternity for the passing things and pleasures of this passing world, we will be considered very foolish people indeed.