September 25, 2016 – Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Homily delivered at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN:
When we were growing up, a bunch of us used to get together to play whatever sport was in season. We played in a vacant lot next door to my friend Greg’s house.
The lot was almost perfect. It was level ground and big enough to fit a good size football field or baseball diamond. It was lined on one side with trees, so we had a place to park our bikes and get a few minutes of shade as needed.
There was only one small problem. There were power lines that ran overhead, hanging slightly lower than they should have been.
This was not often an issue. However, once in a while a long pass in a football game or a well-hit ball in a baseball game would hit one of the wires and drop to the ground.
After much debate, the decision was made that if the ball hit one of the wires, it was an automatic “do-over.” We just wiped the slate clean – that play or that pitch never happened. A second chance.
In fifth grade I had Sister Scholastica for Math class. She was a good teacher, but most of us were scared of her. She was strict, and a little on the mean side.
There was one thing we did like about Sister Scholastica. If most of the class didn’t do well on a test, she gave the entire class a do-over. She actually called it a “dummy do-over” which didn’t help with her reputation for being mean.
On those occasions, she passed back our papers and told us how disappointed she was with us. She reviewed all the Math problems, explained them and pointed out where we went wrong. Then she put a wastebasket in front of the room and dramatically announced the need for a “dummy do-over.” One by one, we went to the front of the room, tore our test in half, and threw it in the trash.
The next day, we took the test again. We got a do-over; our first attempt never happened. A second chance.
Who doesn’t appreciate getting a do-over?
That being said, today’s readings remind us that we are given one life to live on this earth. Unlike childhood ballgames and Math classes, there are no do-overs!
All three readings speak to the dangers of complacency. They create a sense of urgency. We have one opportunity to do the work God asks of us, one opportunity to show our gratitude to Him. When I speak of doing God’s work and showing our gratitude, I present them as one and the same.
What is His work? We hear the answer loud and clear throughout the New Testament: Love God. Love others. Serve God by serving others.
When we do this work, we are at the same time showing our gratitude for the life we’ve been given.
At a recent funeral I attended, I heard the following words that capture this sentiment well: “Every breath you take is a gift from God. Everything you do should be an expression of gratitude.”
In today’s readings, we are called to action. Do it now! Don’t put it off! You never know when your time on this earth will come to an end.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul tells us we must live a life pleasing to God, to show our gratitude: “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.”
Pursue and compete are not passive words. They are words that call us to action. When we wake up each day, we must focus on living a life of love and service. We make a deliberate decision to be a man or woman of God.
We pursue such a life. Pursue implies that we cannot stand still. Such a life will not come to us. Rather, we must “get after it.” There is a sense of urgency, a call to action.
“Compete well for the faith.” Compete implies that there is an opponent. Our opponent is the very world we live in. We may wake up intending to pursue “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” just as St. Paul suggests.
However, we walk out into a world that preaches an entirely different message – a world that lacks faith, even rejects God; a world promoting love of self; a world not of patience and gentleness, but of intolerance and violence.
So if our plan is to be a man or woman of God, and to pursue a life that glorifies Him, we will have a fight on our hands. This is a countercultural pursuit, so we will need to compete if we are to be successful. If we put off the fight to another day, if we are complacent, we lose.
As the prophet Amos said, “Woe to the complacent!” Amos offered a clear warning, a call to action.
We see the result of complacency in Luke’s gospel. We heard the story of the rich man, who was unprepared when his time on this earth came to an end. The gospel tells us: “The rich man also died and was buried,” and found himself in “the netherworld, where he was in torment…”
The man had all of the material wealth he could ever need while on earth. That is what he pursued and competed for each day. As he sat in his “purple garments and fine linens and dined sumptuously,” I’m sure he was quite satisfied with his achievements.
He likely gave himself credit for his material success. Rather than thank God for all the gifts he had been given, the rich man grew complacent. He failed to express his gratitude, despite having the opportunity to do so each day.
Lazarus was a poor, sick, homeless man living right on his doorstep. The rich man’s “pursuit” was only a few steps away. Yet he never offered Lazarus a meal, not even leftover scraps. He never offered him clothing or shelter. He stepped over Lazarus each day as he ventured from his palatial home, proud that he had made such a great life for himself and embarrassed for this pathetic man.
On second thought, maybe I am being too rough on the rich man. Maybe he intended to help Lazarus. Perhaps he was thinking, “When I get a chance, I’ll invite Lazarus into my home, perhaps even give him some of my old clothing I don’t need anymore. Someday I’ll bring him a meal. Maybe tomorrow I’ll chase the dogs away, clean his sores, and spend some time with him.”
Well, when he gets a chance never happened. Someday never came. Tomorrow never came. His life on earth ended. His opportunity to show his gratitude died with him.
You have been called to action. The way you live your life each day matters. We only have this one life; there are no do-overs.