10 November 2005

32nd Sunday OT: Wis 6.12-16; I Thes 4.13-18; Matt 25.1-13
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

I believe that most of us are idolators. Now there’s a way to begin a homily! Idolators. Most, if not all, of us. Think about what it is that you spend the most time worrying about, mulling over in your head. What is it that claims the most time, most attention in your day? What is that you call on when you are anxious or feeling insecure or doubtful? What is it that you call on to build up your confidence, your trust? Does stress become an occasion of sin for you: some form of gluttony—food, drink, sex, public piety. Or maybe some form of pride: a false sense of self-sufficiency, or an arrogance that comes from your created beauty or talent.

What gods do we run to when things get stressed out, ragged around the edges? What gods do we worship in the silence of our hearts? Ah, but the temptations are legion, right? A whole pantheon of worthless gods call out for our attention—a temple’s worth of darkling spirits hunger of our gaze. Theses idols thrive in our hearts when we do not first bow to the wisdom of God and seek his consolation, thrive our hearts when we do not first call out His Name in prayer, and ask, just ask for what it is that we need in this moment of stress, this moment of doubt.

I can ask the question about what gods you worship b/c I too often find myself in front of strange gods offering incense and muttering arcane prayers. Frequently, I find myself in front of the god, Dessert, worshipping at his ice cold temple, the ‘Fridge, and praying his most sacred prayer, “I beesch thee, O Carbohydrate, to show me the Leftovers and make me your faithful glutton.” Turning to strange gods in times of need is a condition common among those of us who live in this world and engage it fully. The danger is not so much that we will be wholly consumed by the polytheism of the cult of modernity, but that we will be slowly cooked, slowly digested in the juices of ethical relativism, pop-psychobabble, and world-think.

At this point, you must be saying, “OK, Father. What’s the point?” The point is this: as Catholics we thrive in a world alive with hope, soaked through with the goodness, the truth, the beauty of a God who loves us first and most among His creatures. And it is to Him that we owe our worship and praise, to Him that we owe our allegiance and trust. Of course, we are tempted by the little devils of modernity, the petty spirits of a philosophy that puts the creature at the center of the universe and makes him into a god. But it is the Creator who breathed us into being, and it is the Creator that holds in being now.

I said that most of us are probably idolators b/c we turn to strange gods in times of distress. The Thessolonians are stressing out b/c some of them have died before the Lord’s promised return. In doubt, in stress they begin turning away from their baptismal vows and back toward their comfortable philosophies and pagan religious practices. There is comfort in the familiar; there is solace in habit. Paul writes to assure them. He writes, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” This is hope and consolation; it is comfort and truth: we shall always be with the Lord.

The temptation to indulge in the distraction of idolatry is short-circuited, derailed by the profund notion that we will always be with the Lord. When anxiety, stress, habitual sin grab us by the hand and gently pull us toward the hungry spirits of our age, we are comforted, consoled by the truth of the gospel: the Lord is always with us. There is no need to bow before the idols of modernity, the strange gods of the culture of death. The Lord is with us: “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” The Lord’s wisdom is poised to be recognized, ready to be welcomed, eager to be of help in time of distress. To fix one’s attention on wisdom is the perfection of prudence, to be vigilant in seeking the guidance of the Lord’s wisdom is to be fully grown in understanding. It is to be a wise virgin, a body and soul risen in faith and freed from anxiety forever.

I will confess: I said that most, if not all, of us are idolators to get your attention. I don’t believe that. Maybe some of us make votive offerings to the gods of modernity, little offerings like a too tight dependence on technology or a quick recourse to relativism when confronted by an unhappy truth or maybe a rationalization of a sin everyone else is indulging in w/o obvious consequence. But I doubt that many of us have turned ourselves over in full-blown worship to the gods of our culture. That temptation is irresistible when hope is difficult and trust seems impossible. When it seems better to you to hang on to your money, job, education, political party, ideology, anything, everything but God and his revelation, then the voice of the gospel seems muted and weak and the seductive music of idol worship vibrates harder, flashes brighter, and you give away eternity for smoke, mirrors, and spiritual fluff. I don’t think we’re there yet, b/c we’re all here now.

That we are here tonight means that we have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to join Christ’s Body in the proper worship of the Creator. Let that be fundamental. Stand, sit, kneel in the presence of Christ tonight, and know that you worship no idols. Know that you come to the altar of God to receive Him in His fullness. To take into your body the flesh of hope and the blood of salvation.

In stress, anxiety, desperation, doubt, confusion, in whatever condition you find yourself, with whatever temptation dangles empty promises in front of you, you will always be with Lord. Keep your expectation of eternal perfection lodged squarely in front of you. Keep your hope fixed on the Lord’s wisdom: “Whoever watches for [his wisdom] at dawn shall not be disappointed.”

The Good News is that there is no disappointment in the Lord, no frustration, no regret. Just watch, wait, rely in trust, rest in hope, witness in charity, and like the wise virgins, you will be ready when the bridegroom comes to celebrate with his people the wedding feast that never ends.


  1. "Public piety" is sin, like sex?

    I make it a point to cross myself and say grace at restaurants, not to show off, but precisely because I am tempted to be embarrassed and omit it. I don't think that's ostentation or the search for plaudits. Should I be confessing it instead of practicing it?

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for commenting! Public piety as such is not sin, of course. I wanted my comment about public piety to be taken in the context of the temptation to different sorts of gluttony. I had in mind Jesus blasting those who stand on street corners wailing to God for all to see so that that they be seen to be waiting to God. That's the gluttony of public piety.

    I also have to say...despite the pic on this blog I wear my habit to work 99% of the time. There's nothing more ostentatious (and public) than a 300lbs friar in a schooner-sail habit walking across campus!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP