Ordinary of the Mass
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“The world with its lust is passing
but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Those words are from Saint John's
first Epistle. And with them, he is telling us that the material life is
transient ... insignificant ... not important—but that, on the other
hand, the spiritual life endures forever, and is all that really matters;
that we should put some real effort into living the spiritual life.
Now, there are many things that
should be done to develop in the spiritual life, but before any of them can
begin in earnest we must begin to free ourselves from attachments to the
Saint John further tells us that “If
anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him ... all that is
in the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride
of life ... these are not from the Father, but from the world.”
Given Saint John's enumeration, there are then three material affections
that must be overcome in order to progress in the spiritual life:
There is, first of all, “the lust of
the flesh”; the things spoken about in today's epistle: immodesty, wrath,
murder, quarrels, wild parties, and such like.
These are pretty obvious, and most people know if they have a problem with
one or more of them.
St. John speaks of what he calls
“the pride of life,” which is simply the lack of the humility that is
demanded by the Gospels. Think back to the Gospel of the Pharisee and the
Publican, or to the parable about those who seek the first place at table
when invited to a dinner “those who exalt themselves shall be humbled.”
Finally, he speaks about what he
calls “the lust of the eyes,” or an inordinate desire to possess material
goods and property. It also refers to the jealousy that results from
wanting things that we are unable to have especially when we see that our
neighbors have them.
We hear about pride and humility,
and the fight against bodily lust, on other Sundays. Today, the Gospel is
directing us to look at the idea of wealth and the attitude we should have
toward it. Our Lord's point today is that we cannot serve two masters.
“Mammon,” in the language of the Jews, means “riches.” He is telling us
that if we are to serve Him, we cannot be a servant to riches.
Our Lord is not proposing some sort
of utopian socialism; not calling us to live as the “flower children” of the
1960s—the so-called “hippies.” The appeal to the “lilies of the field” is
at least somewhat allegorical. The language of the Jews often required
exaggeration to make a point—hyperbole, we call it. But He is telling us to
put wealth and the use of material goods into proper perspective.
Money can be used for great good:
to feed the poor and care for the sick; to defend the weak against
oppressors; to spread the word of the Gospel; to build beautiful churches
for the honor of God.
But we are not to be servants of the
dollar. Rather, the dollar is to serve our needs. There is something
obviously wrong with the person whose main interest is in accumulating money
for its own sake. This is simply a practical truth. Money has no value in
itself—more and more, it is just an entry in a ledger in the bank's
computer. And great evil is caused when the people ignore the real things
in life, concentrating on money, or on complaining that they don't have
Our Lord is telling us not to allow
ourselves to be weighed down by the non-essential things of the material
world—particularly when they keep us from rising to the level of the
spiritual things in life. As God who became man, Jesus Christ could have
been born into the family of the wealthiest king on earth—instead he chose
to be born into the house of a humble carpenter who lived in the backwoods
of Israel. We are always wise to imitate Christ.
September is the month of the Holy
Cross, a symbol of self-abnegation, of renunciation of the allurements of
the world, of refusal to be weighed down by unnecessary material
constraints. In monasteries and some religious communities, the feast of
the Holy Cross on the 14th of the coming month of September is the beginning
of a fast very much like that of Lent—an Advent fast, if you will that lasts
up until Christmas day.
Even if such a fast is not part of
our life, we ought still to incorporate some of the elements of the
penitential season in our lives throughout the year: prayer, fasting,
penance, mortification, almsgiving: all of these things have something in
common—they help us to make use of our material resources in such a way as
to rise to the spiritual life. We must make frequent and regular use of
them—all throughout the year.
Above all, let us allow today's
readings to remind us that our hearts must be directed to the things of God,
not bound by attachment to the things of earth. “Do not be anxious. Your
Father knows that you need these things. Seek first the kingdom of God and
His justice, and all these things shall be given you beside.”