25th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
I had knee surgery in the summer of 2015. Before the anesthesia hit me, I told the surgeon, “Doc, I can't dance. I can't sing. My modeling career ended 30yrs and 200lbs ago. All I got is my brains. Please don't mess that up!” Confused, he responded, “Father, we're operating on your knee not your brain.” I said, “Yeah, well, I take no chances.” Knowing your gifts and protecting them is just good stewardship. Likewise, coveting the gifts of others, being jealous of the riches God has given your neighbors, is a waste of time and a doorway to spiritual misery. While you are busy envying your friend's gift of song, or your neighbor's gift of dance, you are also busy neglecting the gifts God has given you. The Devil loves envy precisely b/c it is a monstrous wasting of your limited time on earth. Envy is an empty longing to possess a gift that will never be yours b/c it was never meant to be yours. When you find yourself daydreaming in jealousy, think back on this reading: “My friend, I am not cheating you...Take what is yours and go...Are you envious because I am generous?” Great question. Are you envious of God's generosity?
I'll confess. I often am. I know my gifts, and I am grateful for them. But there are times when I read a great novel and find myself jealous of the novelist. Or when I see someone drawing a portrait and wish that I could do that. People who can sing or play musical instruments provoke a bit of envy at times. God's generosity is abundant, but it is also specific; that is, we do not all get the same gifts in equal measure. This goes for spiritual as well as material gifts. Some trust God more easily than others. A few are able to live in hope more deeply than most. For many, sacrificial love rises to the challenge more slowly than it does for the gifted. We are all called to be saints. But we are called to be the kind of saints we are gifted to be. That's not an easy truth to swallow. Different gifts means different paths, different tasks, different challenges. It also means resisting the temptation to covet gifts you haven't been given. Envy is poison. It breeds resentment and anger. It darkens the mind and rots the heart. Envy encourages neglect of one's own gifts and violence against those you covet. Ask yourself: am I envious of God's generosity? If so, how do I move toward gratitude?
Paul, writing to the Philippians, shows us one way to answer this question. Paul is torn between his desire to be with Christ after death and his duty to continue preaching and teaching the Good News. He writes, “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” Paul recognizes that he has been gifted with the authority to lead the Church, to labor fruitfully among Christ's people as an apostle. And at the same time, he longs for nothing more than to be with Christ in heaven: “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” BUT his gifts require him to “remain in the flesh,” among his people, serving their needs; preaching, teaching; building up the Church. Paul sacrifices his life in the flesh – makes his life holy – by freely giving his gifts from God back to the Church in service. He could've use his gifts to set up a church in competition with Christ's church. He could've declared himself a prophet and gathered a following to rival Peter, James, and John. He could've even used his gifts of oratory to deny Christ and continue his persecution of the Church. Instead, with gratitude, he receives his gifts and puts them to the good use of preaching and teaching the Good News...even as he longs to be with Christ in death. Do not be envious of God's generosity; be grateful.
Think about how much anxiety, resentment, and anger are churned up in your life by envy. If you measure your worth against the gifts other have received, while ignoring your own gifts, you will always fall short. You will always appear diminished, less-than, neglected. If you spend your time and energy longing to have what was never given to you, you throw away – unused – everything that has been given to you. If you are anxious, resentful, or angry, it might be b/c the Devil has succeeded in drawing your attention away from God's generosity to you and toward the apparent “better gifts” of your neighbors. There are no “better gifts.” Each gift is given precisely to the one to whom it belongs. No one else can use your gifts in the way you can. God knows this. And His generosity ensures that everyone possesses exactly the gifts he/she needs to serve Him and His people. The challenge our Lord levels at each one of us is to receive His gifts and make them holy by using them to preach and teach the Gospel in the world. There is no room for anxiety, resentment, or anger in this charge. There is only surrender to God and gratitude for His infinite Goodness and Generosity.
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