Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 4A
During this past year, I had the great privilege of serving as chaplain for a couple different mission trips, one in Mexico, and one in Belize. The general reaction of those who go on these trips is pretty consistent. We usually come back home saying that the people we served are some of the most joyful people we have ever seen, even though they seemed to have very little in the way of material possessions. But they have their faith, they have their family and relatives, and they all seem much more attentive to the people that they meet. They also tend to have a much more enjoyable pace of life, able to really enter into each moment of the day, without being in a frenzied rush to move on to the next thing. I’ve heard similar reactions from those who have spent time with the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters of Mother Teresa’s order, working among the poorest of the poor, and if you’ve been inside their convents, you see that they also live poverty themselves, often without water heaters, air conditioning, or many other things that so many of us tend to view as necessities.
We often forget that according to the standards of most countries in the world, almost all of us here would be considered fairly wealthy. But are all the things that we have really worth the trouble? Our readings today proclaim: Blessed are the poor and the lowly, the weak and despised of the world, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus goes even further, saying: Woe to you who are rich, because you have already received your consolation.
A constant temptation for us, and for many who lived before or at the time of Jesus, is something we might call the prosperity gospel. There are even many passages in the Old Testament that seem to reflect the idea, that those who serve God, who do the right thing, good people, nice people, these should be rewarded, even in this life, with blessings of success and prosperity, good health and wealth, and the divine protection of all that we hold dear. Perhaps the reason that so many of us struggle in our faith when we actually face various trials and difficulties, or the tragedies of life, is because, at some level, we’ve bought into this prosperity gospel.
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not promise success in this life for those who follow Him. Instead, Jesus promises His faithful followers a cross, and persecutions. I remember something a priest had said about the Holy Family as Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He said that they worked hard to be poor. Now the way that I understood that statement is kind of odd, and I’m not sure how the priest intended it exactly. The simple meaning would be that the Holy Family had to work very hard just to get by, that they earned so little from carpentry, that they struggled even to be poor. But what I thought he meant was that it was actually easier for the Holy Family to be wealthy and successful, but that they worked hard to simplify their life, to give away any amount of excess, to give away anything that they didn’t really need. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though they were rich, worked hard to become poor.
What are the blessings of poverty that we continue to resist by holding on to what we don’t really need? How might God be calling you and me to simplify our lives, so that we can bear more compelling witness as followers of Christ in the world, as followers of the poor Man from Nazareth? As Catholics and as Christians, we are called to live differently. Those who grow too comfortable in this world run the risk of losing sight and losing our desire for the life of heaven. Have I become too comfortable? How might God be calling us to share in the poverty of Christ so that we can also share in the authentic blessing of almighty God and the promise of the heavenly kingdom? Have we ever worked hard, like the Holy Family, to be among the poor ones of God?