HOMILY WEEK 29 01 – Year II
Faithful Grace and Grateful Ministry –
Optional Memorial of St. Paul of the Cross
(Eph 2:1-10; Ps 100; Lk 12:13-21)
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
The Word Among Us serves as an initial resource for this reflection. It states that Jesus has just spoken at length to a large crowd about the riches awaiting those who believe in him. He has just finished telling them not to worry about what their future would look like, because God would care for them. But then, someone interrupts – “Tell my brother to share my father’s inheritance with me,” he demands. It’s a wonder Jesus didn’t groan in frustration! Aside from being rude, the interruption demonstrates the kind of attachments that keep people impoverished.
Jesus taught it is not lack of material possessions that makes us poor. Rather, it’s preoccupation with what and how much we have – and how to get more of it, that impoverishes us. Why? Because it moves our attention away from the riches God has for us. It shifts our thoughts and efforts from serving our Creator and focuses us on created things instead. Jesus doesn’t say material possessions are bad or to be despised. He is clear, however, that “one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).
What are the things that “matter to God” (Lk 12:21)? First, that we would know his love for us personally. He created us out of love, and he loves us always. Second, that we matter to him – so much so we can trust him always to take care of us. Third, that Jesus died and rose so we could experience God’s transforming grace in our lives. And finally, that confident in his love for us we would dedicate ourselves to loving and serving the people around us, especially those in need.
These are the riches we can steep ourselves in no matter how rich or poor we are materially. Every time we pray, we can tell God how much we love God. Better still, we can hear him tell us how much he loves us. Every passage of scripture can become another sign of that love and show us how to deepen our experience of that love. Reading the lives of the saints or spiritual books, attending daily mass – through all these ways, we can store up for ourselves all the things that matter.
In the first reading today to the Ephesians, St. Paul tries to outdo himself in driving home to them (and to us) how all is gift and grace from God. We were lost in sin and slaves to our own passions. It is by God’s grace and mercy, and faith in Jesus, we are not only saved but also “raised up with Christ” – given a share in the eternal life of the Trinity here and now. That is called “realized eschatology” in theological terms – heaven begins now in the lives of those who believe.
Our response to that free gift is important, and it must remain a response, not an effort to take back the reins and somehow think we can in any way earn God’s love so freely given. Paul insists on this truth: “… this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. This is not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” He goes on to underline “we are what God made us, creating us in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
So, our ministry and good works are never to be an attempt to make ourselves holy; rather, they are to be the result, the fruit of God loving us so much. The best way to respond to God’s awesome love for us, God’s forgiveness and healing, is to be a force for good, sharing God’s love for the world, with the world.
The psalm seconds this message – it is the Lord who has made us, we belong to God and are to respond with lives full of praise, gratitude and joy. An addendum to the gospel message from Jesus is to live simple lives, or as it is put in social justice circles, to live simply so others can simply live.
St. Paul of the Cross, whom we honour today, is an example for us. Born in northern Italy in 1694, he experienced conversion at 15 and began a lifetime devotion to contemplative prayer and austerity. After having had several visions, he determined that his vocation was to found an order dedicated to the Passion of our Lord. Officials declared the visions authentic and Paul withdrew to write a rule. He was joined by his brother, who remained with him for the rest of his life. Paul was known as a “walking saint”: when he walked, crowds pressed in on him, hoping to get a piece of his habit as a relic, or to ask for a cure or a favor. By 1747, the Passionists had three houses and were preaching missions throughout Italy. At his death in 1775, Paul was establishing a congregation of Passionist nuns.
The Eucharist that sustained St Paul of the Cross, makes present in Word and Sacrament God’s unconditional love and grace for us. May our celebration deepen our faith in that love and empower us to respond with grateful praise and joyful selfless ministry to others.