Shake off Complacency and Love God through our Neighbors

26th Sunday Ordinary Time
Amos 6: 1, 4-7; Psalm 146,
1 Timothy 6: 11-16, Luke 16: 19-31

Luke seems to be on this social justice kick.  Last week, in the parable with the dishonest steward, we have Jesus saying to his disciples that they cannot serve both God and Mammon; mammon being the love of money.  This week, social justice; especially regarding the injustices placed on the poor by the rich, seems to be the dominant theme. 

In our first reading the prophet Amos is preaching to the Israelites during a time a of wealth and prosperity.  Amos is upset because those who have wealth are complacent; they lie upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches.  In other words, its not that they have wealth, but that they don’t use it to help their neighbor in need.  Instead they waste it and spend their wealth on frivolous things.  Similarly, in our Gospel, the rich man is exactly like the people the prophet Amos is angry with in Old Testament.  We know that the rich man is very wealthy because he has fine clothes that are purple (a color that is a sign of royalty and wealth).  Further, Luke tells us that the man dined extravagantly each day, while Lazarus would have been happy with scraps of food that fell from the table. Luke is showing us that Jesus feels the same way as Amos regarding the injustices between the rich and the poor:  that the rich, who are complacent in their own wealth, have forgotten and turned a blind eye to the needs of those around them.  Thus, this the type of injustice moves both the prophet Amos and Jesus to say: woe to the complacent of Zion, because they have been hard of heart and ignored the needs of the poor.

Whenever Jesus is speaking to the pharisees he always seems very harsh.  But this is because they should know better.  The pharisees know the demands of covenant love.  They know that they are called to love God and Neighbor.  But the pharisees have forgotten that one fundamental way of loving God is through the love we show our Neighbor.  Instead Jesus calls them out for who they really are: “money-lovers” who have become complacent in their love of God and neighbor.

So how do we prevent this kind of complacency from entering in our lives?  Something that is very difficult for me is to see the suffering that other people experience.  For example, the other day I went to downtown Chicago with a buddy from the seminary to walk around and explore the city.  During this time we came across many of the poor who are homeless and suffering.  Now I wish I could tell you some great story about how I helped the poor, but instead I had hard time even looking them in the eye!  Halfway through our time downtown I realized this.  I decided to at least look these, my sisters and brothers who are suffering on the streets, in the eyes and say hello.  Rather than ignoring they exist like the Rich man did to Lazarus, I tried to affirm these people I met with a simple hello and a smile.  Rather than being complacent, and purposefully unaware of the needs of the poor in Chicago, Christ changed my heart so that I could give a small gesture of love to those who are suffering in Chicago.

The good news for all of us is that Christ is working in all of our hearts.  Christ is asking each of us to love God more through our love for one another.  St. Paul encourages us beautifully today, he says, But you, people of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. In other words, we compete well for the faith, we fight against complacency in our hearts, by allowing our faith in Jesus, our love of God, to give us patience and gentleness in our dealings with others.  Listen to this great message from Saint Paul:

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones – Romans 12: 9-13a

Today, each of us are challenged to respond to God’s call to love each other with the mutual affection of brothers and sisters. The readings call us on to shake off our complacency. Some of us may have been blessed with great wealth and so we seek God’s guidance on how to use that wealth to serve the needs of others.  Many of us do not have great wealth, but there is still so much that God can accomplish through each of us without the use of money.  The most simple way we can do this is by being present to one another.  We live our baptismal call, as sons and daughters of God and sisters and brothers in Christ, by contributing to the needs of those around us in simple ways.  Somedays that may be saying hello to someone who others have forgotten.  Somedays that may mean using our wealth to help lift another out of an affliction.  But it always means competing well in the faith, not being complacent, but rather loving others as Christ has loved us.  May the Eucharist we receive today give us the strength to fight off complacency in our lives, so that we can love God more by being present and loving to our sisters and brothers in need around us.



That we may be shrewd, clever witnesses

25th Sunday Ordinary Time
Amos 8: 4-7, 1 Tim 2: 1-8,
Luke 16: 1-13

As Father said, my name is Deacon Stephen Durkee. I am a seminarian from the diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have the great privilege of serving here, at St. Emily’s, for the year. I look forward to worshiping with you, learning from you, serving you, and most importantly growing together in our relationship with Christ as a community of believers.

 In Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he exhorts the people to pray for each other because this is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved.

 I love this message from Saint Paul. God desires for all of us to go to heaven. Consequently, God sent his son Jesus to bring us into full communion with him. Our evidence for this is from the Gospel last week. We heard three parables from Jesus that illustrate how God is accomplishing salvation in our lives. 1) parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, 2) the woman who searches for her lost coin, and finally 3) the story of the prodigal son. What does this teach us? It teaches us one of the most beautiful qualities about God – that is, God loves us so much the he never gives up on us. God is always seeking us. The reason we know this to be absolutely true is that God sent Christ to find us and to bring us back to him. 

 Saint Paul certainly expresses this in his letter to Timothy but he also points out how God uses all of us here, the christian community, to carry out his plan of salvation. Again, Saint Paul writes to Timothy, pray for each other because this is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved. What is amazing about Saint Paul’s request here is the assertion that our prayers are part of God’s plan for bringing salvation to our friends and family. In other words, just as Jesus was sent to bring us back into a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father, he sends us to bring people to Christ, so that all people can come to know of God’s saving love in their lives. 

 These words from Saint Paul are very important for me. The reason is that they explain, why I not only feel called to be a priest, but why I desire to be a priest. When I was younger I never wanted to be a priest. My dream in life was very specific and simple. I wanted to be married to a beautiful wife and have 12 kids. I also wanted to be a Math teacher and to coach High School Basketball. But in my sophomore year of High School I returned to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

 Friends, it was that confession in the 10th grade that changed my life. It was my first encounter with the love of the Heavenly Father and it became the driving force behind my vocation to the priesthood. The experience of God’s love and mercy, through that priest, had changed my life, had given me hope, but it did more – it gave me a vocation.

  But answering God’s call to explore priesthood as a possibility for my life wasn’t that easy. I spent the first couple of years running away by continuing to pursue my dream as a Math teacher at Central Michigan University. After my first year at Central Michigan, I was at home mowing the lawn. This took about two hours and so I actually enjoyed it very much because it became a time of prayer. About halfway through, the Lord spoke very clearly in my heart. He said, “Stephen, I want you go to seminary, you will be a happy priest”. Friends this was the last hurdle for me to jump before I could go to seminary. I needed to believe that I would be a happy priest.  

 The point I’m trying to articulate is that experiencing God’s profound love always demands a response. For me, after learning through this experience of confession that I was God’s beloved son, I began to feel called to the priesthood. Simply put, my life was so changed by that one confession – where a priest represented the love the Heavenly Father for me at an important time in my life. Now this is why I want to be a priest: to help God’s people come to know the Heavenly Father – that all of us here, will know, that we are God’s beloved daughters and sons in Christ. 

 What I hope for all of us to recognize is that God used someone else, namely this priest, to help me come to know him more deeply. But God doesn’t just use priests to make his love known to the world. He uses all of us gathered here today. This is a truth that we can glean from the Gospel. Some of us here might be wondering why Jesus praised the dishonest steward, and we would be right to do so. But Jesus isn’t praising the dishonesty of the steward, rather he is praising the shrewdness he used to accomplish his goal. Listen to the words of Christ, For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

 We are the children of light. And God wants us to “be preoccupied with the salvation of all men”. He wants us to act with the same shrewdness in the quest of the kingdom – for both ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we can ask ourselves how are we responding to our vocations? How are we a window to Christ for others? How am I using my gifts and skills to promote the Gospel? 

 Friends, as we prepare to receive the holy Eucharist today, may we be grateful that God desires for all of us to be saved. But as we receive the Eucharist, may our prayer be that we each respond to God’s love and plan in our lives by being shrewd, clever, witnesses of the Gospel – so that others may come to know of God’s love in their lives as well. Let us trust that God shows himself to others through each of us.