My friends, today we are challenged to look at what is really important in our lives—what drives us. Is it to accumulate more and more, or is there a sense within us that what I have is gift and I am meant to share it with others. We may reason that we have worked hard for everything that we’ve acquired in life, and that no one gave us a free ride and that we are entitled now to a bit of the good life.
While that may be true on the one hand; we must remember that certain gifts within our persons were given by the nature of who our parents were, that they decided to and were able to have children, were the kind of people who encouraged us to use our gifts—worked to give us an education that enhanced the basic traits that came with our births. Then there is the fact that we were born in this country instead of in the Third World where opportunity is so much less. And that is another whole homily—why the Third World has so much less.
I know some of you, as I, have had the opportunity to travel in Third World countries and are aware that each day people are forced to choose between feeding their children or educating them. Such trips are life-changing as one returns with a new sense of gratitude and a resolution to work to see that all of God’s people have more of a chance to enjoy the good gifts of this earth that God intended for all of us, not just some of us. That is why I just can’t quite get my heart around the fact that some members of our Congress find it so difficult to advocate in every way for good medical health care for their constituents when they themselves enjoy this same privilege, and instead of making it a moral imperative, they turn it into a political game.
I often think about how many people struggle in this world for many things like food on the table, that I basically take for granted will be there every day. In a trip that our family was privileged to take to Guatemala some years back, we were impressed and deeply moved by the inadequacies in this world and one doesn’t even have to leave this country to have that awareness.
Pope Francis, has called us to attention and rightly so, to keep our eyes on the poor—to remember that our brother Jesus came into his world preaching a message for all times and places, that basically said, that none of us can be satisfied to be rich if any of us are poor and live without the basics of life. We do, as Jesus’ followers have a responsibility to work for justice and equality in our world. As I watch Pope Francis in action and think about his calling all of us to a renewed awareness of the poor in our midst, I am reminded of a pope of some 30 years ago, John Paul I, who I mentioned last week and I repeat, we lost him too soon!
He said, “As long as there is any child in this world that is hungry and starving to death, that is the only problem that we have!” As I have shared before, he was poised, in fact, to sell off the Vatican treasures to eliminate poverty in our world before his untimely death—the author of a book about him guessed that may have played a role in the mysterious death of this otherwise remarkably healthy man.
This year, I have had the privilege to witness the vows of two couples professing to live in love with each other for as long as they both shall live. Today we are speaking about the physical poverty that many in this world are challenged to live with that causes them to be hungry. Within the marriage rite, part of the service includes a reaching out within this liturgy of love to pray for the needs of others because the love we give in a special way to one other should expand and enable us to love all others in our world, better and more fully. There is a beautiful petition within the prayers for others that asks the couple and the community gathered to remember “the hungry poor and the hungry rich, the lonely young and the lonely old.” There are many ways that people are poor.
As people of faith, we have always been called to care for the least among us. The prophet Amos in our first reading today is chastising the rich for becoming that way on the backs of the poor. Present day prophets like Francis remind us again and again that poverty exists in our world because a small percentage of people are using the lion’s share of the world’s goods. This is something that we all will be called to answer for one day. Did we ever raise a finger, speak a word, write a congressperson, or support an initiative to balance the use of our world’s goods?
Very soon we all will be called to our political duty of voting for individuals who can best meet the needs of most of the people. We really need to consider well and pray fervently that we and our country will choose wisely.
We see the difficulty of the questions that face us in our world when we ponder Jesus’ words to us today. What are we to make of his story? Is he really telling us that the dishonesty of the steward is to be praised in taking care of him, ultimately? No, exegetes tell us that what Jesus is praising is the steward’s creativity in working out his problem. What he is suggesting is that we, who are supposedly his followers,would be as equally creative in finding ways to serve not just ourselves, but the needy throughout our world.
Can any one of us do all that needs to be done? No, of course not—but if each of us would make a point to work on our piece, whatever that may be; to conserve the world’s goods, to use less to start with, grow a garden, raise a plant on our porch, share our excess—basically opening our minds to what causes poverty in our world and make our voices heard through the Legislature to change policy, making life more just for all of God’s people, not just in our country, but throughout our world.
As a Rochester Franciscan Cojourner, I am part of a Water Group that basically looks at water use, our own consumption of it and how it is used in our country. Recently, our group was looking at what hurts our water supply like the massive mining of sand for fracking.
Our churches too can do so much more. Unfortunately, our Roman Catholic church, in its hierarchy tends to get stuck shoring up its walls of power as opposed to doing all that it can to insure that the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the People of God are being met.
I mentioned last week reading a biography of Raymond Hunthausen, archbishop of Seattle, Washington from 1975-1991. As I said, he was a Vatican II bishop and believed that it was the Spirit of Jesus that was calling our Church to reform –to open windows and doors, following the inspired man of God, John XXIII.
Raymond Hunthausen’s bottom line was always, what was the most loving thing to do as he struggled with current issues of his day: celibacy for priests, married priests, the ordination of women, just treatment of gays and lesbians within the Church, and the ironic thing, in the end, was that his stance of openness on these issues and willingness to dialog were not what caused the Vatican to turn their collective backs on him. His stance on nuclear weaponry butted heads with an American president and a pope.
The whole papacy of John Paul II was devoted to backing away from the vision and inspiration of the Spirit of God as laid out for the People of God in the Second Vatican Council and Archbishop Hunthausen was one of the pope’s scapegoats to keep forward-thinking prelates in line.
Our present pope, Francis, one whom I believe is truly trying to be open to the Spirit of God, is constantly asking the question of what Jesus might have done and he does this best when calling us to care for the poor and disadvantaged of this world.
I believe Paul’s words today are good marching words for each of us as we truly try to be all that Jesus calls us to be for our world. Paul says, I want people everywhere to lift their hands up reverently in prayer without anger or dissension—“there should be prayers offered for everyone,” he says. The prayers Paul asks for include prayers for those in leadership—that they might “live godly lives”…and “do what is right.” That is why we always pray within our Masses for the pope and our local bishop, because leadership takes courage, strength and wisdom. Our prayer is that one day we will all be one, doing what God has called each of us to do, without putting up the false barriers of gender, race, lifestyle, but simply living lives that extol love, mercy and justice for all.
Another book that I have been spending time with now over several years as I meet with my Franciscan mentor and friend, Sr. Marcan Freking is, St. Francis and the Foolishness of God, compiled by several Franciscan women and men. In a chapter entitled, “Francis and Transforming Friendship,” the authors recall the Old Testament Jacob returning to his brother Esau whom he stole the family inheritance from in his youth. With the years, often comes maturity and spiritual growth. The repentant Jacob was able to embrace his brother Esau and say, “Coming into your presence is like coming into the presence of God.” The authors seem to be telling us that when we can truly share life with others on more than a surface level, hearing and appreciating their stories and what they struggle with; it is then that we see the face of God.
My friends, please recall our Alleluia verse from today where we remembered that Jesus became poor so that we could become rich—let us pray for each other that we can walk in his footsteps. Amen? Amen!