Tag Archives: riches

Where your treasure is

There are many delightful legends about Saint Anthony of Padua but there is one that should cause us to step back and examine our lives.

One day Saint Anthony was asked to preside at the funeral of a rich man who lent money at extremely high interest. We need to remember that lending at interest was called usury and considered a serious sin until the fifteenth century.

Saint Anthony didn’t want to preside at the funeral because he considered this man to be a public sinner who defrauded the poor. He noted the statement of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there you will find your heart.”

Family members, going through the coffers of the rich man, found his heart there. Examining his body, they found there was no heart.

heart

These questions for all of us are: Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?

I would hope my heart is like the heart of Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest, martyred in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, who will be beatified this September. He gave himself completely to the persecuted indigenous poor of his parish, even returning after he had left briefly because of death threats.

After his death his body was transported to Oklahama to be buried there, But the people of Santiago Atitlán asked that his heart be left in the church. When I visited the church in the early 1990s, I was moved to see the shrine around the heart of Padre ‘Aplas, as they called him. His heart was with the poor and there it still is.

 

Spare me from Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose is known as the bishop who charmed Saint Augustine by his preaching to such an extent that Augustine was baptized by Ambrose.

Augustine was a hard nut to crack. His mother tired herself out with years of prayers for him. But God used Ambrose to move Augustine to conversion.

Later Augustine was brought to a deeper conversion when he heard the voice of a child saying. “Tolle, lege” – “Take up and read.” Augustine picked up the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans and read verses of chapter 13

…not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh, to gratify the desires.

Ambrose himself had also, according to some stories, heard the voice of child that changed his life. As a public official in Milan he was trying to assuage rival factions who had been fighting over who would be the new bishop. The quarrel, between Arians and Catholics, had torn apart the city, to the point of rioting and bloodshed. As they gathered to choose the new bishop. Ambrose spoke to the crowd, arguing for calm. And then a voice, perhaps of a child, cried out, “Ambrose for bishop.” Ambrose made all sorts of excuses, including the fact that he was not even baptized. He fled, but he was found and persuaded to be baptized, confirmed, and ordained in the course of a week.

The voice of a child changed their lives.

But maybe we should let ourselves be changed by the voice of Ambrose who spoke strongly against the dangers of wealth and for the poor. In the midst of a consumer culture, his words are prophetic and difficult. Here are a few quote which might challenge us.

“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

“God our Lord willed that this land be the common possession of all and give its fruit to all. But greed distributed the right of possessions. Therefore, if you claim as your private property part of what was granted in common to all human beings and to all animals, it is only fair that you share some of this with the poor, so that you will not deny nourishment to those who are also partakers of your right.”

“It is not, therefore, that you [the rich] desire to possess something useful for yourself so much as it is that you want to exclude others. Your concern is more to despoil the poor than to increase your own wealth. You consider it to your detriment if a poor person has anything that is thought worthy of a rich person‘s possession. You believe that whatever belongs to anyone else is your loss. Why does harm done to nature give you pleasure? The world was created for all, but you few rich try to keep it for yourselves. For not merely landed property but the heavens themselves, the air, the sea are claimed for the use of a few wealthy persons. This air, which you include in your widespread possessions—how many people can it provide for!”

Spare us, Lord, from these hard sayings. We might have to change our lives – as did Ambrose and Augustine.

 

Tough words of rejected prophets

When St. John Bosco told his mother, a poor widow, that he planned to become a priest, she told him, “If you have the misfortune to get rich, I shall not set foot in your house again.”

When Thomas Merton, in 1949, wrote to the class of Sister Marialein Lorenz,

“I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.”

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth of the mercy of God even for a foreign widow from Sidon and a foreign general from Syria (Luke 4: 21-30), his hearers wanted to throw him off a cliff.

The foreigners, the widows, the poor hold a special place in God’s love. We who are rich need to be more carful and caring, opening our hearts (and our pocketbooks) to the poor, being with them, sharing their joys and sorrows.

Isn’t this what real love, God’s love, is all about.

———–

Today is the feast of Don Bosco who died in 1888 and the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton in 1915.

A sermon for Wall Street – and for me

I dare any preacher to read today’s passage of James 5:1-6 to a gathering of bankers, large landowners, rich donors, or Wall Street traders.

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over the miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches are rotting… Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts…. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have felt happy while others were murdered. You have easily condemned and murdered the just one…

I doubt few preachers would get away with this – unless they spiritualize the message.

But as I see the large numbers of people on the back of cattle trucks coming back from picking coffee, I realize this is a message that needs to be heard today, especially in place like Honduras.

As I see the building projects here in Santa Rosa or visit Central America’s largest mall in Tegucigalpa ,and pass by the houses made of sticks and mud, with dirt floors, I realize that James was not only talking about first century economics.

The gap between rich and poor is a scandal, especially when the rich call themselves followers of Christ.

I know there are rich who do share their gifts with those in need, but studies show that the poor are generally more generous that the rich who often give to benefit charities that assist their own interests.

But it is easy to cast aspersions on the rich. Not only have I benefited from the generosity of several people with money, but I have much more money than people here. What I get each month from my Social Security check is a third more than the salary of some professionals I know.

I recalled all this when I read today’s Gospel, Mark 9: 41-50. Jesus castigates those who harm the little ones and then remarks that, if your hand, your foot, or your eye causes you to sin, you should dismember yourself, lest you be thrown into Gehenna, “where the worms do not die and the fire never goes out.”

I immediately thought of the night a few months ago when I found that book worms had eaten into several of my books and destroyed several of them beyond repair.

Book devoured by bookworms

Book devoured by bookworms

Panic!

“Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” Jesus said.

Am I really free of the covetousness that James denounced in the rich?

As I often do, I also read today’s Gospel in Spanish and looked at the Greek. In some versions of this Gospel the phrase “where the worms never die and the fire never goes out” is found not just in verse 48, but also in verses 44 and 46 which are left out of many English translations. Not just once, but three times we are warned of the devouring worms and the unquenchable fire.

book worms at work

book worms at work

So I too need to let myself by challenged by Jesus, especially by the words of James. It may make me squirm – and hopefully be converted.

Bigger barns or empty bellies

A few years ago I had a tape of Clarence Jordan speaking on the parable in today’s Gospel.. I cannot remember all the details but I do remember his saying something like this. Instead of filling empty bellies, he decided to build bigger barns.

That has left a strong impression on me, especially since he identified the rich man as an uncle, named Sam.

A few months ago I commented on this Gospel passage from Luke 12: 13-21, including part of Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of this story. I ended my blog entry with the words, “Love shares.”

This morning, the reflection by Fr. Paulson Valiyannoor, SMF, in Daily Gospel 2013, is a rewrite of the Gospel in that vein.

The man does not have enough room to store his harvest. But instead of building bigger barns, he calls in his neighbors to share the harvest:

“…there are many people around me who do not have enough and have suffered long and hard. So let me share my good fortune with them. so that we all can eat, eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves.”

As Fr. Paulson concludes his reflection:

If the man had done as imagined above, he would have had a happy death and everlasting joy in heaven. The only way to store up riches in heaven is by sharing the riches with the poor on earth.

And so, let us begin to share.