Sunday Sermon for September 29, 2019, the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
In the first reading today God speaks a message of woe to the “complacent in Zion.” They were enjoying all the good things society had to offer, but as often happens when life becomes fairly easy and affluent, the practice of the Faith diminishes. The Lord does not seem upset that the people have the goods the world has to offer; rather, He is upset that the people are not made ill by the collapse of the God-fearing society of Israel, referred to by the name of Joseph. Recall that Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, yet he maintained his fidelity to the Lord and did not allow the allurements of his office and the affluence of the society to pull him away from his faith.
Joseph is the exception. In most cases, when people become self-sufficient, as the word suggests, they no longer have to rely on God. They may give the Lord lip service and even go through the motions of living the Faith, but their focus is typically not on God or on the things of God. This is why our Lord told us we cannot serve God and Mammon.
The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” is quite apropos in our time. Many people live fairly affluent lives and enjoy the “benefits” that come with money, prestige, or position. Some who have an abundance of money use their resources to help many charitable causes. Others are like the rich man in the Gospel, who ignore the needs of the people around them, failing to see Christ in those who are homeless or lack basic necessities. Our Lord is very clear about the fate of these people if they die with that disposition.
However, when we look at the point God addresses in the first reading, we see a multitude of people today, from every social class, race, and country, who are addicted to the technology, materialism, and pleasure our world is offering. Most of these people are not only unconcerned about the destruction of the Church, they are rejoicing in it. Even more, people who want to think themselves orthodox Catholics, frequently part from the Church with regard to various points of morality. They like the doctrines of the Church and the beauty and mystery of the Liturgy, but they too rejoice when it comes to tearing down the moral life of Christian people.
Part of this is due to the relativism of our time, but most of it is due to selfishness and the arrogance of thinking we know better than God. These people would be sad to see the Church destroyed because they like the beauty and awe, but they would not be sad if the moral voice of the Church was silenced. They like it when the Church makes statements with which they agree but dismiss anything that goes against the subjective ideas they hold as true for themselves.
The lack of catechesis over the past three generations has certainly added fuel to this fire, as have the scandals of recent times. The media wastes no opportunity to paint the Church in a negative light, so many people feel justified in walking away. However, they are not merely walking away from the Church, they are walking away from Jesus. We have an unprecedented rise in witchcraft, paganism, and Satanism. For the first time in the history of the United States, those who claim no religion, the “nones,” now outnumber the people who claim affiliation with any denomination. For decades Catholics were the largest group and fallen away Catholics were the second largest body; this has now been superseded.
In the face of this growing apostasy we must apply St. Paul’s words from the second reading to ourselves. He tells Timothy (whose name means the honor or fear of God) to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Even more to the point, St. Paul exhorts Timothy, and all those who honor and fear the Lord, to compete well for the faith and to lay hold of the eternal life to which we are called. Finally, St. Paul charges us before God and Jesus Christ to keep the commandment (love God and neighbor) without stain or reproach.
Did you take note that St. Paul says we need to compete for the Faith? A competition implies a head-to-head battle against one or more contestants; only one can win. Many competing voices are trying to tempt us away from the Lord. Therefore, hold fast to the Faith and compete well. In a world that has become complacent and turned its back on God, Jesus desires souls who will live for Him and compete well for the King of kings and Lord of lords!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.