22 September 2013

You become what you love

NB. I've been slowly. . .very slowly. . .getting sick since Wednesday. I think it's a low-grade flu or something similar. Maybe it's a wormy case of the Existential Dreads, who knows? Anyway, the Holy Spirit is having a hard time breaking through all of the snot and sneezing. . .so, here's a re-run from 2007 w/a few updates.

FYI: as posted below this one is too long for a standard parish homily, so I will delete the fourth paragraph when preaching it this evening. 

25th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

What will I be when I grow up? What will you be? Most of you here are still young enough to be asking that question with all seriousness. Some of us here ask the question with a little more humor and some sense of having failed to figure this out before now. For a 49 year old to ask, “What will I be when I grow up?” is a bit sad, a bit funny, and, I will argue, a perfectly reasonable question to ask, if that 49 year old is a Christian with a burning desire to be pleasing to God!

Here’s a basic spiritual principle that you can apply to your living out the faith day-to-day: I am now and will become that which I love most. So, one way to figure out what you want to be when you grow up is to figure out who or what it is that you love most. The underlying theological truth here is that since God holds us in being and since God is love, then it is love that holds us in being and love that defines our existence fundamentally. How we choose to participate in the love that is God is a decision about how we will shape, express, and nurture love for God, self, and others. In other words, what or who you choose to love most now is who or what you will become…eventually. Love God most, become God. Love money most, become money. Love sex most, become sex. Though this may sound appealing at first glance, please keep in mind: vanity, vanity, all is vanity…except Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—that is, God. So, whatever/whoever you choose to love and eventually become, make sure that that What or Who is permanent, everlasting, eternal b/c choosing anything less is the first choice you will make for your inevitable annihilation. Just ask yourself: do I want to become something or someone that will or who will die, rot, and never rise again?

Before moving to the gospel, let’s make a quick stop in the Psalms to shore up this basic teaching about superlative love and our existential future. Psalm 115 starts with a question from the enemies of God and ends with a profound insight into human nature: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’/Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done./Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands./They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see./They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell./They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk, and no sound rises from their throats./Their makers shall be like them, all who trust in them.” The idols have all of the features we have as humans (eyes, ears, noses), but they do not have life. They have no souls, no spirit; they are dead matter and without love. As the psalmist makes clear: if you love these idols, these lifeless statues, then you too become lifeless, without a soul, unable to love—the makers of idols, all who trust in the idols, will become their idols, their gods. Our God is in heaven—permanent, eternal, loving, and merciful—and so our destination, if we love God most, is a permanent, eternal, loving, and merciful life in heaven.

OMIT: [From psalmist to evangelist—St. Luke, specifically. In this gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” The standard read on this teaching, and the standard homily derived from it, focuses on not becoming too attached to material goods—Mammon being the pagan god of wealth and all. A perfectly good approach. However, I want to bring in the prophet Amos and then go in another direction. Amos warns: “Hear this! you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” Who is he shouting at? Amos is shouting at those who will, after the festivals of the New Moon, begin to cheat the poor of the little that they have by rigging their scales and selling the refuse of the wheat. To them the Lord through Amos says, “…by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing [you] have done!” And just to emphasize this warning to those who would cheat the poor, the Church places Psalm 113 right next to this reading. Our response to this psalm: “Praise the Lord, who lifts up the poor!”]

Let me ask you again: what do you want to be when you grow up? Listen again to what the psalmist sings this evening: “The Lord raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor/to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people./Praise the Lord, who lifts up the poor!” Now, by show of hands: who here wants to grow up to be among the poor? Exactly! It’s not the first choice of many. But it will be the last choice of those who remain. How can I say such a thing? “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Who will be the Master of your life? In more contemporary terms: who will you choose to be your Teacher? Will you choose to love most Wealth and take your lessons, get your education from earthly treasure? Or will you choose God to love most and take your most basic education from the One Who made you and loves you most? I doubt anyone here is going to shout, “Oh! I choose Mammon!” But do you choose Mammon in quieter, more subtle ways?

Let’s see. Who is Mammon? Yes, “who.” Mammon is a “who,” a noun; he is a demon, in fact, mentioned by St. Thomas Aquinas: "Mammon being carried up from Hell by a wolf, coming to inflame the human heart with Greed.” Milton says that Mammon is a fallen angel, a devil, who lusts after treasure. Avarice, then, is the cardinal vice that Mammon tempts us to. Greed is the spirit we invite in when we love wealth more than God. How do we do this—love wealth more than God—on a daily basis? The standard answer is that we are students of Mammon when we become inordinately attached to material goods. That’s true. But can we be students of Mammon if we consistently choose not to be “among the poor,” that is, if we make daily decisions that leave us outside poverty, outside the community of those who are routinely denied what is owed them in virtue of their status as children of the Father? Aquinas is clear on this. Generosity is a matter of justice, the virtue of giving others what is theirs by right. In our liberal democracies, we see this as a “violation of human rights.” In the Church, we must see this injustice as a violation of human dignity, violence done to the image and likeness of God in which we are all created. Simply put: to violate one’s own dignity as a person, or to violate the dignity of another as a person is a demonic act, an act of greed, violence done in the name of the demon, Mammon.

Lets’ go back to our basic spiritual principle: I am now and will become that which I love most. Given everything said here tonight: what do you want to be when you grow up? Are you ready right now to pray to God to put you among the poor? How ridiculous, Father! We can’t get any poorer! Ah, but you see: that’s just a delirium brought on by all those Ramen noodles you’re been eating. You can be poorer. Much poorer. You could empty yourself entirely for another. You could give your life for a friend. You could die on a cross for your worst enemy. You could be starved to death in the Sudan. You could be tortured in Iraq or burned alive in Burma or thrown in prison in England or shot in the back of the head by the PLA in China. You die when your church is blown up in Egypt. And why? Because you profess Christ as Lord. You can have nothing but Christ and die for that alone. That is poverty. What do you love most? That for which you are willing to die.
One more time: who do you love most? Love Love Himself and become Love for others—emptying yourself on the cross you have been given, using the gifts with which you have been graced. Anything, anyone less than this is to squander your inheritance as a child of God; you trash that which makes you loveable, you spit on the image and likeness of God Himself; to love anything, anyone less than God Himself—to serve a Master smaller and weaker, to take your education from a Teacher who will not die for you, who did not die for you—is to choose a life of folly; it is the choice to live your life as an enormous fool. You cannot serve two Masters. Nor can you love two Masters. Nor can you grow up to be both of those Masters. You will grow up to be one or the other. Choose then to be counted among the poor, those who have nothing but Christ and will die for everything they have.

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  1. Anonymous12:01 PM

    Psychosomatic illness. Response to how you really feel about the Pope Francis interview?

    1. Naw. More like something got in my CPAP machine.