Monday, October 23, 2017

Another Form of Greed

Most of us, when we think of greed, we think of the accumulation of money, and we are quick to absolve ourselves of that particular vice. None of us wants to think of ourselves as either rich or greedy. The man who piles up wealth for himself in today’s gospel is far removed from us. 

But greed can take many forms and use many doors to weasel its way into our lives. Somehow, it seems, over the last few years greed has managed to subvert patriotism. Patriotism is a natural and virtuous thing and any of us who have had the opportunity to travel much can’t help but return home thankful for the many blessings we have received. But patriotism like any other good thing can become distorted by sin. 

Greed is an inordinate longing for the unnecessary. When we fall prey to greed, in its simplest form, we place what we want ahead of what others need. Greed is the antithesis of the instruction we receive from St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “regard others as more important than yourselves.”(2:3) When greed creeps in, legitimate patriotism is transformed into what President Bush recently described as “nativism”,us above all.

We tell ourselves that it isn’t greed by convincing ourselves that we are entitled to a certain life, for many this is the romanticized America of the 1950’s. 

As Christians we must be very careful. We must fearlessly examine our consciences for any and all signs of the presence of greed in our hearts. Greed loves to his behind love: love of family, love of country. The good news is that with the grace of God we can root it out. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The only acceptable slavery

Today the Church begins her reading of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. And the first words alone are worth reflection for all of of.  He introduces himself as Paul, slave of Jesus Christ - not follower, friend or brother; but slave. 

If we examine the Greek word for slave, we discover that it comes from the verb to bind. It is the paradox of the Gospel.  True freedom only comes from surrendering ourselves to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be bound by Him, to be bound to Him.

Of course this means that the opposite is also true. If we search for freedom as the world defines it (the ability to do what we want), the we end of in other kinds of slavery, most commonly slavery to our feelings. We begin to loose the freedom that is characteristic of humans, and begin to act more like animals. We react to stimuli. One of the best examples is the entry of the verb " to troll."  To troll someone on the internet refers to intentionally posting something offensive or provocative with the goal of eliciting a response.  People who are free in the true sense can't be trolled.  People who are free are not slaves to their phones. 

St. Paul who declares himself a slave in his opening today, is the same person who elsewhere proclaims that he has learned to be content in any circumstance. St Paul is bound so tightly to Jesus that he is not tossed around by life, by circumstance, by his emotions. He is free to think, to choose, to act. His true humanity shines forth because he is a slave.

The difficulty is that this surrender is not something done once. The surrender to Jesus Christ must be constantly renenewed by each of us. Because of original sin, the urge to pull away is strong in all of us, the urge toward so-called independence. This is where prayer comes in. It is in the quiet time alone with that we can renew our surrender, check the bindings, allow the Holy Spirit to pull them tight. Even just a few moments here and there throughout the day can help us remain tightly bound. 

Perhaps today is a good time for each of us to examine our lives for signs of slavery. Are we slaves to our work, our feelings, our technology; or are we, like Paul, slaves of Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Another kind of conversion

At the end of today’s gospel reference is made to those who did not change their mind. In fact, the text suggest a more nuanced change. The word used in Matthew’s gospel is not about a general change of mind (meta-noia) , but change of what you care about (meta-melo). This, of course, calls us to ask ourselves: what are the things I truly care about? And, how is the list of things I care about different for the lists of people who are not Christian or religious.?  

St. Paul gives us some important guidance in the matter in the second reading..

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Which of us is really willing to consider others more important than ourselves? When we are having the debates of our day about taxes, immigration, the economy or eveen civil war statues; how many Christians are willing to put others’ interests ahead of their own?  All too often, we are indistinguishable from society in general. We get sucked into asking the same self question. How does this benefit me and mine?

Because or original sin, we all have that tendency to turn inward, to look to the self. The Gospel challenges us to turn outward to look to God, to look toward the needs and concerns of others. Today we are reminded that it is not enough to say, “I consider that person my equal.” To be Christian, I am required to take the extra step, and consider that person more important than me.