Sunday September 23, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Amos 8:4-7) Reading II (1 Timothy 2:1-8)
Gospel (St. Luke 16:1-13)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear a rather startling line from Our Lord, He says: "Make for yourselves friends with dishonest wealth." Now, that does not sound like Jesus at all. First of all, why would we want to be making friends with dishonest wealth anyway? But then, He follows it up by saying: "…so that when it fails, you will have a place in the eternal dwellings."
Unfortunately, most people in our society have rather whole-heartedly embraced the first half of that line; but the second half they have missed. What happens is that we get caught up in the search for wealth. In fact, it has become quite an obsession for the vast majority of American people and, I should say, for most people around the world, now: the desire for wealth, for materialism, for all the things that this world affords. We can look at it and ask, "How often has it failed, and have we learned a lesson?" The unfortunate part is that most of us have not learned the lesson.
Why would the Lord tell us to make friends for ourselves with dishonest wealth? It is so we can see that it is empty; so we can see that it is not going to get us anywhere. But, unfortunately, so many people have bought the lie that we are going to find happiness through materialism, through pleasures, through ease, through comfort, that it has become a drive within us that just does not seem to quit.
How many times have people violated us? Stolen from us? We make friends with somebody, thinking that we are going to get something out of it. Of course, the person with whom we make friends thinks that they are going to get something out of us and, all of a sudden, they violate us. We, of course, get angry because we have been violated: someone stole from us, or we did not get what we thought we were going to out of this relationship. Rather than learning that we never will, we just go on to the next one. Eventually, we get good enough at it that we beat the other person to the punch: We violate them; we steal from them. We are interested in just making sure that what we want is met. We realize that we are going to have to give in order to get; so we string along and we play a game. We are willing to lose a little in order to gain a lot.
If that is the way it works on a material level, why would we not, then, employ that on a spiritual level? Think of how much time and effort people spend taking care of their money: looking every day at what is happening with the stock market, checking all of their portfolio, looking at their bank account, being so careful with their numbers and all the different things that money is involved with.
Then, look at what they do with their soul: They squander that. It does not seem to matter what the spiritual wealth is because they cannot get their hands on it; they cannot get a grip on it; they cannot see it with numbers. This is why the Lord says, "If you prove yourself untrustworthy with what belongs to someone else, who is going to give you what is yours?" In other words, if we cannot even understand the reality of materialism, how are we ever going to be able to grasp the truth of the spiritual reality? If we show ourselves to be purely selfish with regard to that which we can grasp, then how are we going to be selfless when it comes to that which we cannot?
When we look at the first reading from the prophet Amos, we hear God condemning the people of Israel because they had looked at the Sabbath, the new moons, all the feasts, and they said, "When is it going to be over?" In other words: "I know that I cannot work on the Sabbath, but I am not going to pay attention to the Sabbath. All I want to know is when is it going to be over so I can start selling more stuff, so that I can display my wheat. I am going to cheat a little bit. We will reduce the ephah and the shekel, and we are going to put the refuse of the wheat in there so there will be more weight and people will pay us more for less." Well, if that doesn't sound like America! Except we have gone one step beyond: "Sunday does not matter anymore. We will keep the store open on Sunday because we will sell more stuff." Worse than that, maybe we are not store owners - so we say, "We will go shopping on Sunday! It is a day of rest, after all. We will have fun and we will go shopping. We will spend our money on Sunday." It is exactly what is forbidden by the Third Commandment, but it does not seem to matter to people anymore because the First Commandment does not seem to matter anymore.
There is but one God. And we are to worship Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. But that has gone by the wayside. We have fallen into this idea where we will say, "Yes, we believe in God. But…there are all these other little gods, too, that we accept." That must be rejected.
We should be able to learn a lesson from last week's unfortunate incident in New York that wealth can be gone within seconds. But instead of learning a lesson, what has happened is that most people took the opportunity to make sure they looked out for themselves. People in the stock market wanted to make sure that they were protected and they were guarded from losing any more money after this happened. So we see that human life is a dispensable thing, but money seems rather indispensable to most people.
Where is it going to get you? The last line in today's Gospel is a very poignant line for all of us: "You cannot serve both God and mammon." You have to make a choice. "You are going to love one and despise the other or you are going to be devoted to one and hate the other." Which is it going to be? Where do we put our effort? Where do we put our time? Where do we put our energy? Is it one hour a week looking for God, and then the vast majority of our week serving money, making sure that "Number One" is cared for, making sure that we have what we want in our bank account and in our homes? What do we need it for? Remember, it is not going to get us a higher place in Heaven. It does stand a very large possibility of gaining us a lower place in Hell, if that is what we are interested in. But it is not going to get us a higher place in Heaven - you can be guaranteed of that.
There are certain necessities that all of us have. We do need to work and we do need to obtain a paycheck. I am not suggesting that any of that is wrong. What I am suggesting that is wrong is the love of the money, the hoarding, the desire for more, looking out to see how much we are going to get. Have you ever stopped to notice the phenomenon that happens? When we have very little, we can live on very little; but the more money we make, the more money we spend; the more we have, the more we get. Think back (a number of years ago, if you are older; a few years ago, if you are younger) to when you did not have a whole lot of money. Maybe you had a very small, little place. You did not have a whole lot in it. You had to work hard for what you had, but there was a sense of peace and joy - there was happiness. Now, you are making a lot more. You have a bigger house, a fancier car, more stuff in your house. Where is the happiness? Where is the joy? Where is the peace? It is gone. You can look around your house and say, "Wow! I have been successful! Look at all the junk I have accumulated!" Then, look at the inside and say, "What happened to the peace?" We have more stuff on the outside and we have less on the inside. We have made good friends with dishonest wealth, but we have not noticed what happens when it fails.
We need to learn a lesson and we need to learn it quickly. Very quickly. Because it is going to fail, and fail, and fail. The Lord is asking of each one of us to forget about all the wealth and materialism and to start looking at what is really important because this country is about to suffer. And suffer it will. Christian people, Catholic people, are going to suffer with it. Some because they have not recognized that God is sovereign. But those who are trying to live their faith and be good Catholics are going to suffer with everyone else because God needs souls who are generous and who will offer themselves for others. We need to be willing to unite ourselves with Christ, Who came into this world in poverty, Who lived in this world in poverty, and Who left this world in poverty - even though He was rich. We need to learn a lesson from our divine Master and Lord. We need to unite ourselves with Him.
Saint Paul said in the second reading that He desires the salvation of all. There is only one way that we are going to achieve salvation and that is when we recognize that the material wealth will fail and we put our trust in God; when we choose to serve God and not mammon. Most Americans have not learned that lesson. But it is going to be learned very soon in this country. The question is what is our response going to be? For most Americans, unfortunately, it is not going to be praying with hands held aloft, without argument and without anger. Most of us, if we started seeing our material security being chipped away at, the first thing that is going to happen is we are going to get angry. That is going to lead us to all kinds of dissension, internal and external. Then we begin to see where our trust really lies: not in God, but in the bank account; not in Heaven, but in earth; not in the spiritual, but in the material.
God is asking us to look beyond what is passing to what is eternal. Build up treasure in Heaven because you are going to be there forever, provided that we go the right way. This world and all of its glory is passing away. What difference is it going to make how much you had? What difference is it going to make, when you stand before God, how much your bank account was worth, what kind of portfolio you had? It is not going to matter one iota unless you were so attached to it that you are going to lose Heaven because of it; then it will matter to you forever and ever and ever. God will provide what we need; He will not, necessarily, provide what we want. Trust in God, not in money. Put the wants aside and look at what is necessary. Make a choice. Really make a choice.
We make the choice frequently, and most of us choose dishonest wealth. Look at the reality. Weigh it out. What is more important to you: more stuff in this life, or being able to enter eternal life? Preparing a dwelling with more things in it, or preparing an eternal dwelling? The choice is ours, and we make the choice in this life - not in the next. A wake-up call is coming soon. Are we going to hear it? Are we going to pay attention? Are we going to cooperate? The choice is ours. Make for yourself friends with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails you will be able to see what is truly valuable. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Reject the mammon of this world and serve God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.