Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Luke’s gospel centers on Jesus’ journey. “Journey” describes the dynamic or action-oriented Character of the spiritual life. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and teaching all along the way. In keeping with the theme of a journey, this and the next three Sunday gospels teach us that, in all things, consider the End. Our End is the Beatific Vision. This will help free us from the bondage of self that afflicts the rich man in our gospel. In other words, our faith is a force for freedom.
The first reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us to consider the End for which we were made: to be useful to God and neighbor (a.k.a., love). If we do this we live in the truth, rather than in the vanity of one’s own self-satisfaction.
St. Paul echoes that to the Colossians when he urges them to “think of what is above [where Christ is…] not of what is on earth.” Consider the End.
The End becomes our dominant intention in living; it is the object of our faith. Our gospel tells us that intention should be to “be rich in what matters to God.” Next Sunday we’ll be reminded that we should prepare for the End by having an “inexhaustible treasure in heaven” because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” And the following Sunday we will be reminded that interpersonal “divisions” will result from following Christ, but we will not be discouraged by them if we consider the End.
An important function of the End, then, is that it tells us whether the obstacles we encounter on the journey are worth surmounting. This is important for Religious Orders because they were founded for mission, not for survival. (“Survival” focuses on the obstacles.) The sense of mission focuses on the three tasks of a journey:
The first task of the journey (and of life!) is to decide what to believe or “where am I going?” Rather than wandering aimlessly, hoping something interesting will happen, we have a dominant intention that guides us. We have a purpose. We have faith in the End.
The second task is to decide on behavior: “What must I do to get there?” First, leave one’s place of origin, i.e., self. Then, be useful (i.e., show love) to God and neighbor. This depends on our willingness to change self to suit the End.
The third task is to decide what to care about: “Why do I want to go there?” This is most important; someone is waiting for us at the End. Their memory moves us along the way. If the End is important-in-itself, we will find obstacles worth surmounting.
To carry out these tasks, to answer these questions they raise, we must consider the End. Another word for “consider” is “remember.” St. Bernard, in many of his De Diversis sermons, warned of the dangers of letting other things than God, our true End, occupy our memory. What we remember becomes present to us. Other things occupy our memory by letting disparaging thoughts about them grow incrementally until they manifest themselves in behavior contrary to the Law of Christ: the law of self-sacrificing love. This is why the ancient monastic’s prescribed a monitoring of our thoughts. We tend not to notice that we are slowly sliding downhill. At the top of the hill is our End, reached by striving for authentic values that are pervasive, enduring, and deep. At the bottom is mere present satisfaction. In which will we put our faith?
At every Mass, immediately after the consecration, we are reminded of our End and why we want to go there. Remembering what was done for us makes us rich in the things that matter to God:
“Save us, Savior of the world, for by Your cross and resurrection, You have set us free”; “We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your resurrection until You come again.” St. John (17:3) tells us, “This is eternal life: that we know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.” Memory becomes presence. This is the mystery of faith.