In today’s epistle we hear a concept that ought to be familiar to us because we hear it at almost every Mass in the “last Gospel,” the one written by Saint John. That concept is that, in the divine scheme of things, we are expected to become the adopted children of God. God has arranged things in such a way that we are no longer on the level of a paid servant who does his job, receives his wage, and goes off to his home—rather, we are members of God’s household, who do our share, and are invited to share the hospitality of heaven as members of the divine family.
Saint Paul says that for this adoption to take place we must “live by the Spirit of God” ... and “be led by the Spirit of God.” Saint John phrases it slightly differently, but the effect is the same: “to those who received [Jesus] He gave the power of becoming sons of God; to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
But what exactly does this mean? Is it something that everyone can do? Is it possible for the average individual to achieve the kind of holiness that our Lord demands? Or must we simply shrug our shoulders and sigh that sainthood is just for a small chosen few?
The answer to that is quite clear: God extends His graces to all those who are willing to cooperate with them. Sainthood is not the sole prerogative of the occasional ascetic like Francis of Assisi or the occasional mystic like Gertrude the Great. Those lives can be lived by only a very few—we would all starve to death if everyone in Christendom gave up all their possessions and traded them in for the bowls of beggars, or spent all of their time in contemplative prayer. It is clearly obvious that when our Lord speaks of perfection achieved by giving up home and family and property and wealth, He is not addressing the entirety of mankind or even the entirety of the saints, for the world which He created would cease to work if every one followed that supererogatory path.
The vast majority of us must find our own sanctity in ways that are not so completely detached from the duties and obligations of life in the world and in the family and in the Church. Our sanctity must, of necessity, be found in following the Spirit of God in the world—rather than the spirit of the flesh in that same world. Saint Paul’s own life is a good example of what that might mean. He was a man of prayer in its highest degrees, but he was also a man of action—one who traveled extensively to spread the Faith; one who wrote more extensively than any other author of the New Testament; one who suffered the wrath of both men and nature—he was also a man of practicality; earning his own living as a tent maker and seeing to his own needs; giving reasonable advice to his new Christians, not asking more of them than they were capable of bearing.
To not be guided by the “spirit of the flesh” does not mean a complete renunciation of material things—it cannot for we are material creatures. It means being guided by the Spirit of God in the right use of the things we possess. It means keeping the Commandments: honoring God as He deserves; respecting the rights of our families and our neighbors, in their lives, their property, and their family relationships. All of those things are a minimum, of course, and even the pagans are bound to them—they are, so to speak, “the manufacturer’s instructions” as to how we are to make use of our material existence.
One ought, as well, recognize the need for Christians to keep the precepts of the Church: Sunday Mass, Friday abstinence, Lenten fasting, Confession and Communion, the support of the parish church and clergy, the following of the Church’s regulations on matrimony.
We are also aware of a number of good works that we ought to perform, which are really not optional, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy:
To (1) admonish the sinner, (2) instruct the ignorant, (3) counsel the doubtful, (4) comfort the sorrowful, (5) bear wrongs patiently, (6) forgive all injuries, and (7) to pray for the living and the dead.
To (1) feed the hungry, (2) give drink to the thirsty, (3) clothe the naked, (4) visit the imprisoned, (5) shelter the homeless, (6) visit the sick, and (7) to bury the dead.
You will note that none of these things require the renunciation of material things—and, indeed, many of them would be impossible without some amount of material possessions. (One cannot support one’s family, or the Church, or feed the hungry without, at least, some material wealth.) But all of these are things that we do under the guidance of the Spirit of God, rather than in a spirit of worldly selfishness. They are the things which enable us to become sons and daughters of God.
Finally, let us recognize our Lord’s advice in today’s Gospel. Obviously he is not advising us to steal from our employers as did the un just steward. But He is advising us to follow the steward’s example by making use of the opportunities we have to lay up grace in heaven. We are allotted some unknown number of days here on earth; a finite amount of time during which we can do things pleasing to God or not. The most obvious opportunity for using our time wisely is in prayer. Or what about spiritual reading, or in reading to learn more about our Faith? And what about attending Mass during the week once in a while? Day in and day out, our Lord waits patiently in the tabernacle on our altar for our visit—each day He renews His Sacrifice for us on the Cross at Holy Mass—can’t all of us be here at lease some of the time?
We all profess to be very busy, but in many cases that is because we spend our time on less useful things. The time spent in the mindless pastimes of the radio, the TV, and the movies could be so much more valuable if we spent at least some of it in prayer, or religious reading, or in attending Holy Mass. What our Lord is suggesting in the Gospel is that there will come a day when we lose our place here on earth, and must rely on God to take us into heaven. And when that day comes, it will be good for us, indeed, if we can remind God of the time which we spent in holy pursuits rather than in playing games, or watching football, situation comedies, and “reality” shows.
We enjoy abundant opportunities to convert our time on earth into things that will bring us to the happiness of heaven rather than to sorrows of hell. “Whoever is led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
 Epistle: Romans viii: 12-17.