19th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004

First Reading - Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm - 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Second Reading - Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19,
or 11:1-2, 8-12
Gospel - Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40

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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your belongings and give alms.  Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

"Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?"  And the Lord replied, "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.  Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property.  But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.  That servant who knew his master's will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master's will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.  Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

When I was in seminary, a friend of mine was completing her Masters degree in public policy at a nearby university and once hired by a large consulting firm, was sent to Cairo, for her first assignment.  She was both very excited and also apprehensive about this major move overseas.  When the day came for her to fly over to Cairo, she knew that she had to make her flight on time because there was a reception being thrown in her honor once she arrived, so as to welcome her to her new home.  After two delays at Reagan national, she finally made it to JFK in New York to catch her flight.  She ran to the Air Egypt gate, only to discover that she had just missed her plane by a minute or two.  She was livid.  Not only was she going to be late getting-in - she was going to miss the reception given in her honor.  She ended up leaving four hours later, after getting a connection on another airline.  When she arrived in Cairo, the entire airport was swamped with police and members of the media.  When she asked her cab driver the reason for the commotion, he informed her that a plane expected to land in Cairo earlier that day had crashed in the Atlantic and there were no survivors - it was the very plane she missed in New York.

Others are not so blessed.  Who of those who died on September 11, 2001 knew that when they woke up that morning, it was the beginning of their last day here on earth?  How many of them were really ready to go?  How many of them lived with a transcendent spirit whose gaze heavenward belied a humble confidence that they would be saved if they were to die unexpectedly?  These are questions that our readings ask us to consider on this 19th Sunday of the year.  The final question is:  "If you were to die today, would you be ready to go?"

Our blessed Lord preaches vigilance in matters of readiness to make an accounting of our lives.  He assures us that if we knew when death would come for us, we would be ready.  However, none of us know for sure, when we will take our final breath on this earth.  Since the Ascension, many persons have been curious about when the second coming will occur.  There have been cults, seminars, book series and even movies made regarding this question.  As Catholics, we know the answer as to when Christ will come: the answer is that we don't know the answer.  We just have to be ready.  And I am certain that if we all knew that the world was going to end at noon today, the line for Confession would be out the door.  But, do we live with a sense of urgency about this all the time?  On the one hand, we need to avoid the scrupulosity of thinking that our lives on earth could end at any moment, but at the same time, we need to be ready for it, just in case.

For some, mention of this topic may appear to be a little morbid.  We don't like to talk about death and dying because no matter how prepared we think we can be, we're all still scared of entering the unknown - the world of the life to come.  And yet Christ exhorts us to not be afraid any longer because the Father wants to give us the kingdom.  Isn't it true that we all want to go to heaven but none of us is in a real rush to get there?  Isn't it true that we all want to go to heaven but we are at time reluctant to do what it takes to ready ourselves to make that final destination?  We can fall into the trap of setting our own terms as to what Christ would want us to do without really thoughtfully and prayerfully considering what HE demands that we do to gain eternal life.  In particular, Christ beckons us to detach from material things and to cling to Him for where our treasure truly is, there also our hearts will be. 

Where are our hearts?  It you asked a random sampling of ten Catholics in the United States as to what their top three goals in life would be, how many of them would place as their first priority,  "To get to heaven."  Many more, I suspect, would answer,  "Financial security" or "to stay healthy" as their top choice.  That's not to say that these goals are bad goals - they're quite good, actually.  However, should they really be our top goal in life?  Don't other goals pale in comparison when held up to the brilliance and majesty of heavenly glory?

How often in our day do we see so many people assume that everyone who dies goes to heaven, as if it's a sure thing.  Christ clearly states that this will not be so.  In fact, he identifies the four types of outcomes that await each person, depending upon how faithful they were to God during their lives: First, we have the servant who was vigilant and ready.  The master of the house would actually wait on these servants, as if the servants had become the master of the house, which would be unheard of in ancient times and almost unbelievable to Christ's audience.  Second, there is the servant who lives in sin and seeks his own way, instead of God's way will have a place with the unfaithful - the place of the damned.  Third, there is the servant who knows God's law but does not make preparations or act in accord with God's plan will receive a severe punishment - the place we call purgatory.  Finally, there is the servant who was ignorant of God's law and acts in a way deserving of a severe punishment shall be beaten only lightly - suggesting a lesser form of purgatory.

The idea here is that those who know what they ought to do but reject God's plan condemn themselves to hell.  Those who are not prepared to meet God or those who don't die in a state of mortal sin will make restitution for their sins in purgatory.  And those who are sinners out of non-culpable ignorance will also go to purgatory, but will suffer it in a lesser form.  So, when you know what's God's law, the idea is that in order to go to heaven, you have to obey God's law.  So many persons think that so long as they're nice people, they'll go to heaven, regardless of whether or not they obeyed God's law.  Again, WE set the terms for what it takes to get to heaven, in this case - being nice.  Christ makes no mention of "niceness" as a requisite for entering the Kingdom of heaven.  In fact, He expects much more - "Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," Jesus tells us.

The Gospel closes with a very simple and profound line:  "Much is expected to whom much is given and much more is expected to whom much more is given."  Each of us here, by the mere fact that we are here today, are responding in faith to an invitation to be holy.  Yet, many a Catholic in this town this morning, will not go to Mass.  I have met so many fall-away Catholics here.  Have any of us ever invited such a person to Mass?  I ran into such a person about a month ago and I invited him to church.  He told me that in the 30 years he had lived here, I was the first person who had ever invited him to Mass.  My friends, the Lord will ask each of us to make an accounting of our lives at the end - how we lived in this life and how many persons we helped influence to become holy or to merely return to an active practice of the faith.  My friend, Tammy, who almost died in an airplane accident, probably believes that she lives on borrowed time and I know that she wants to be ready to die, when the good Lord calls.  This morning, we ask ourselves,  "Am I ready and if I'm not, what am I doing about it?"

Praise be Jesus Christ.  Now and forever!

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