Give All You’ve Got

32nd Sunday in O.T. (B); November 8, 2015

1 Kgs 17:10-16   Ps 146   Heb 9:24-28   Mk 12:38-44

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison

 

            If some roving reporter came up to our Lord today and asked, “Jesus from Nazareth: in one succinct sound-bite, what’s your message?” In response, he may have said, “My message is my life.”

            Jesus could get away with a statement like this because as the Son of God and the Son of Man (the theological expression for that is the hypostatic union), he is fully realized, fully integrated because He is God in the Flesh! So, the thoughts of his heart and the words on his mouth and the way he lives are in perfect harmony.

As such, Jesus perfectly lives the Great Commandment: he loves God with his whole heart and soul and his neighbor as himself. There is no discrepancy.   That’s why Jesus is really attuned to hypocrisy and a lot of his teaching deals with the unmasking of hypocrisy of the religious elite. Yes, they could recite and explain the Shema (cf. Deut. 6:4) until they’re blue in the face and, being learned men of the Torah, they were informed about loving their neighbor (cf. Lev 19:18). But, these teachings that were at the heart of Israel had not taken to their hearts.

How so? Self-love, self-absorption had replaced love for God. They weren’t so much into Faith but the trappings of religion. So, they liked long robes, admiring salutations in the market place, and, of course, the best seats in the synagogue and banquets. When they’d pray, they’d make sure people saw them praying.

Would they love their neighbor? They would if they’d get something in return or were also a member of the privilege class. But, if they were poor, diseased, malformed, or public sinners (read: prostitutes), they’d have nothing to do with them because they wouldn’t want to risk ritual purity.

The result of all this was hypocrisy, pretense, and duplicity. And, Jesus sees right through it.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus has consistently championed human needs over the hardened practices of the synagogue. When he would heal the broken, wounded, and marginalized on the Sabbath, the religious elite went nuts. Now, Jesus is taking on the Temple treasury: the money-making operation that sustains conventional religion. When Jesus is sitting opposite the treasury, that symbolizes that he is opposed to the whole temple atmosphere that is wrapped around money.

So, you have this public affair with the rich parading their large sums into the thirteen trumpet-shaped containers that were set up to collect money for the upkeep of the temple. The sound of the money rolling down the containers must have reverberated throughout the area, announcing the charity of the donor. Large sums made the most noise.

Then the poor widow approaches and divests herself of all her support. She gave “two small coins worth a few cents,” which probably made a thin tinkling sound. But, according to Jesus, this was “all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk 12:44). By giving all that she needed, her total giving was just like the widow in the first reading from 1 Kings: she gave because she had absolute trust in God. The Gospel passage begins with hypocrisy and ends with genuine piety of the simple and she is the one whom Jesus praises.

This should come as no surprise because up and down the Bible, God takes the side of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the poor. We see that dramatically portrayed in the call of Moses in the Burning Bush episode wherein God tells Moses that He has witnessed the affliction of his people, heard their cry of complaint, and understands full well what they are suffering. And, he sends Moses to liberate them from their oppression. God takes the side of the oppressed!

God’s graciousness to the poor is extolled in the Responsorial Psalm (146). There are a lot of situations in life that can force us to be bowed down: whether it be a mental or physical affliction, an economic or social deprivation, separation from family and friends. Whatever it might be, God raises up the needy, enables them to stand with dignity, and restores them to the security of his embrace. All of this is good reason to praise God.

The widow in our first and Gospel readings have this in common with Jesus: they were willing to give all that they had.  Most of the time, we give out of our abundance. Or, we do so out of guilt; maybe we feel some kind of debt that will go away if we give to charity. Or, we do it for tax purposes.

The generosity shown in the readings is a different kind of giving. It is religiously inspired and it comes from those who have the least to give. This kind of giving requires that one go deep down into the inner recesses of their heart and soul, to strip themselves of everything they cling to, and to selflessly give of themselves because they trust that God is with them sustaining them with a love that is boundless. They give themselves away and, in so doing, God fills that empty hole.

Brothers, these stories are about heroic generosity. And, as we stand before these readings, we are challenged to do the same. Amen.

Communion of Saints: Me, Too?

Feast of All Saints (B); November 1, 2015

Rev 7:2-4,9-14   Ps 24   1 Jn 3:1-3   Mt 5:1-12

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison

 

         French theologian Leon Bloy once wrote “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in a life is not to become a saint.” Brothers, on the Solemnity of All Saints, I ask you, “Do you want to become a saint?”

I sense a reluctance; it’s not as if I’m asking that you want to become a “goody two shoes.” Let’s get to basics: what is a saint?

To begin with, a saint is one who is a friend of God. Who wouldn’t want to be a friend of God who is all good, all loving, and all beautiful? God is a friend who will never bail on us, whose love is constant and unconditioned, and so deep that the Father’s only begotten Son gave his life so that you may have life eternally.

A saint is one who is living a virtuous life; that is, they’re living according to the Father’s will which, is to say, they are atuned to what is really Real. Saints live a holy life. Some may balk at this. Those who worked with Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, in her ministry to the poor felt that someday she might be canonized a saint, a movement that the Archdiocese of New York is promoting.   She said that she hoped she never would be, because that would set her apart from just being an ordinary person living out the Gospel, which is the serious business of all Christians. I think Dorothy Day got this one wrong because sanctity is lived in our ordinary experience, which means that you and I have the potential to become holy in our here and now circumstances. Becoming holy doesn’t stifle who you are; just the opposite, the full flowering of your personality bursts forth as you become the best version of yourself, which is your True Self made in the Image of God. Many people believe that to be holy is to be stifled, less free, less themselves.

That is so far from the truth. God is love and all that he wants for you is your good. Can you trust that? All he wants is your joy to be full and for that to happened we sanctify our lives by offering everything we say and do to our loving Father.

This desire is planted in your heart. As the Psalmist writes, God desires to give you the “desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). What he is commanding you to do is be holy, which means you live according to his will, which is the only sane way to live since God is Life itself.

To be a saint is simply to be happy. As French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” The reason that we’re not happy, not joyful, not a saint is that we settle for so much less. C.S. Lewis understood this well when he wrote, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

            Why do we settle for half-hearted desires? Why are we o.k. being a mediocre human being which is just the opposite of being a saint. I think that if we desire something, that desire must be good. Not quite: while some desires are good—the desire to be a saint, the desire to will the good of the other, the desire to do God’s will—there are some desires that are simply disordered and are not good for us. While we never will evil, which can never be desirable, we can desire something sinful because it appears to be good. The trouble is we seek happiness outside of our relationship with God and anything desired outside of that relationship is just out of whack. But it is important to realize that which we seek in sin we find in God. How does that work? St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote: “No evil can be desireable, either by natural appetite or by conscience will. It is sought, indirectly, namely because it is the consequence of some good.” Or, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

            Brothers, becoming a saint, of having your potential realized, is not a pipe-dream. With God’s grace, it is attainable. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.” If you think you can become a saint through the grace of God, then you will. As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft once wrote:

You can become a saint. Absolutely no one and nothing can stop you. It is your free choice. Here is one of the truest and most terrifying sentences I have ever read (from William Law’s Serious Call): “If you will look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be.” That insight is terrifying because it is an indictment. But, it is also thrillingly hopeful because it is an offer, an open door. Each of us can become a saint. We really can.”

            On the Solemnity of All Saints, we are being challenged to join the Communion of Saints. “BE A SAINT! WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?”