25th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004

First Reading - Amos 8:4-7
Psalm - 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
Second Reading - 1 Timothy 2:1-8
Gospel - Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13

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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Jesus said to his disciples,  "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property.  He summoned him and said, 'What is that I hear about you?  Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.'  The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.  I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.'  He called in him master's debtors one by one.  To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?'  He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.'  He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note.  Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.'  Then to another the steward said, 'And you, how much do you owe?'  He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.'  The steward said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.'  And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

"For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the the children of light.  I tell you, make friends fore yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.  If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?  No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon."

In today's Gospel parable, Christ presumes that we see the immorality of the steward.  The point is that God expects us to expend as much effort and ingenuity in our spiritual lives as the worldly place in merely temporal affairs.  The steward, facing a desperate situation is very shrewd.  He plans ahead.  We do too: retirement, vacation, monthly budgets and even getting to the airport two hours ahead of schedule to catch a flight.  But how many of us have a plan of life?  Allow me to describe a simple plan of life:

1.  Joe wakes up and begins the day with a morning offering.  As he prepares for the day ahead, he spends time thinking about and anticipating his day - things to look forward to; situations that will be challenging; opportunities for spiritual growth, etc.

2.  On the way to work he prays a decade of the rosary or two, instead of listening to the radio.  Sure, he gets his morning headlines, but he tries to remain recollected in the car so that he arrives at work in a calm and focused state.

3.  Joe writes-up a list of intentions that he wants to offer his day of work for.  It could be any intention.  At each hour, he glances at the list and he also glances at a prayer card or crucifix he keeps on his desk to renew his resolve to make his work a sacrifice of praise and petition to God.

4.  On the way home, Joe finishes his rosary and upon arriving at home takes 10 full minutes to do some mental prayer.  Later in the evening, he will take another 10 minutes to do some spiritual reading or study of the faith.

5.  At the end of the day, Joe makes a brief examination of conscience and then makes resolutions for the following day that he will renew when he wakes up the following morning.

Note that the plan of life is not overly pietistic or contrived - it can be lived in the world in a quiet, unassuming way and can be such a powerful tool to help keep us on a defined and focused spiritual path.  Consider a prayer partner.

Our Lord also reminds us that worldly riches are small when compared to spiritual riches.  So we ask, "Do I really believe that because if I do, then why am I at times so lacking when it comes to dedicating time and effort to my prayer life and my study of the Faith?  There are opportunities at this parish.  For example, RCIA just began again on Monday nights at 7 P.M.  Will I make time to attend that kind of program in order to refresh and deepen my knowledge of the faith to perhaps better instruct my children at home?  Again, is our Lord's saying here just a nice message or am I really intent in making it a reality in my life?

Of course, we know that salvation is ultimately a gift from God and that there's nothing we can do to strictly "earn" heaven.  And yet, we know that we can't be lazy in our relationship with Him - we have to keep working at it and we strive to live in accord with Church teaching to show God that we do love Him and that we take our salvation seriously.  Some think that they can earn heaven.  Some sixth graders in a religious education class I was teaching as seminarian asked me if there was a formula for getting into heaven.  For example, if they said 50 Hail Mary's a day and then banked them over the course of a month - if they committed a mortal sin, could they borrow against their credit?  Here's how merit works:

At about the age of four or five, children want to start helping parents with chores or other tasks - they want to feel useful.  For example, if you're painting a fence, you need to give that child a small paint brush and a little paint and let them work on their little part of the project.  When a child of this age makes a mess on the kitchen floor, they are given a bucket and sponge to clean up the mess.  After awhile, they tell you that they're done and have completed the task.  Once the child leaves, you get down on your hands and knees and finish the job.  That's how God treats us when it comes to working out our salvation.  We're the child and he's the Father.  He provides us with the means (the sacraments, the Church, grace) to clean up the mess of our lives (caused by sin).  It's not as if he makes up for what we lack - the Father is an active part of the project of salvation from the beginning.  At the end of the day, it takes the Father to save us or to complete the cleanup.  So, we do it and God does it too - we work out our salvation and so does He.

Finally, we are presented with a choice to serve either God or mammon.  In the ancient understanding, to "serve" meant to be completely devoted to something or someone.  Three points should be made when considering this idea of choosing between God and mammon.

1.  We know that we have to live in the world and engage the world but we also know that even if we are in the world, we can't be OF the world.  We can't allow the concerns of the world to choke off and stifle our relationship with God, for any reason, nor can loving God be something we only do in our spare time or when we can fit Him in.

2.  We know that we have to find a way to serve God using the things and circumstances of this world - it is in serving God that our work and our prayer and our lives find meaning and context.  We ought not to be working in the world as an end unto itself.  Rather, we should be working in the world for the greater glory of God; the remission of sins and salvation of our soul. 

3.  One of the most concrete ways that we can make this choice for God and not for mammon concerns the formation of our conscience - to be formed by God through the Church and not infected with the thinking of the world and merely human wisdom.  Consider the statement, "Follow your conscience."  That's a true statement - one ought never violate their conscience but that's only half the story.  Before you follow your conscience, you must first form your conscience and we form our conscience by subjecting it in humility to objective truth - that which the Church teaches.

  Conscience is not an independent entity and it does not operate in a vacuum - it must be formed to the objective norm of truth - Church teaching.  So, a well-formed conscience is key here.

  Conscience is not the same as one's ideas or opinions.  Rather, it is a judgment of reason whereby a person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform or will perform or is performing.

So, conscience does not create right or wrong.  It examines an act and judges whether or not that act conforms with good or evil, objectively known.

  The conscience can and does make mistakes.  That's called an erroneous conscience.  The conscience can also be unsure - called a doubtful conscience.  Our job is to form our conscience into a right conscience - formed according to Church teaching.  If you struggle with something we believe, you don't merely come up with your own opinion and then declare Church teaching wrong if it doesn't agree with your thinking.  it's the other way around - if your thinking does not match what we believe, then you tweak and form your conscience until it does. 

We're all given the opportunity to plan for how we will spend eternity, fully aware that salvation is a gift that we cooperate with.  God does it but we do it too.  We're given the gift of a conscience to be formed in accord with Church teaching and thus choose between right and wrong - not create right and wrong in our minds.  Let us pray that we always choose to serve God above all persons and things, in small things and in great.

Praised be Jesus Christ.  Now and forever!

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