18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
18th Sunday / Ordinary / C
July 30-31, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
Today after the 10:30 am Mass we dedicate our new columbarium, a word I have come to learn the last few years. It makes me think back to my days at St. John's University in Minnesota. The seminary was next to the cemetery. I know they sound alike, and that is not where the similarities end! I would often go for walks in the cemetery in the evening to pray, and it helped me clarify my life's discernment. I was able to stop wanting so much security and take some risks, because walking over all these indispensible people and monks, I felt in my guy how short life is.
We get that same sense from today's readings. They move us to take a step back, and to see our lives from the point of view of eternity, which we do not do very often. The first reading from Ecclesiastes has the famous words, "Vanity of vanity, all things are vanity." The word vanity in Hebrew is better translated as breath or vapor. Life is like a poof, quickly passing away. In the second reading from Colossians, we are encouraged to think of what is above, not what is of earth. And then these thoughts culminate in the Gospel, where Jesus speaks of the foolish person who piles up wealth but forgets about being rich in what matters to God.
The moral issue here is greed, a sin that is often committed and rarely confessed. Note that Jesus' focus is not on what greed does to others, but on what it does to us. Our possessions possess us, and we forget what the good life is all about.
This week I finished reading a book called The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly. It has some really solid insights, not just for young people dating but even for old people like me. There was one sentence that really struck me. I had never heard it put this way before. He says, "The most important areas of life are the least urgent." That is so true. The most important aspects of life are the least urgent. Our days are consumed by running from one thing to another trying to get lots of things done. And often we just don't make time for what is most important, the things that really matter from the point of view of eternity: intimacy with those we love, prayer, and enjoying the simple things of life.
So praying by our columbarium, or taking a walk in a cemetery can give us a better perspective on life. In the end, all we really have is what we give away: our time, our love, and yes, even our money.
St. Thomas Aquinas has been known for many years as a parish full of really generous people, and this inspires me. I also think of my last parish, where people on limited incomes made great sacrifices to send their kids to Catholic schools. I would wonder why they did this. They were in a very real sense giving up vacations, nice homes and cars, and luxuries of life. What I do know is that their sacrifices taught their children more about the importance of faith than anything I ever taught them in the classroom.
How we spend our money reveals what is in our hearts. Even more so, how we spend our money determines if our hearts close in on themselves, or if our hearts expand in a generous and joyful way. The happiest people I know are those who figure out some way to give their lives away, those are are rich in what matters to God.
In 1925, a person named Bruce Barton published a parable that is fairly well known today, and makes the point of today's Gospel well. It is called the parable of the two seas, and it goes like this:
There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh, and fish are in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots to sip of its healing waters. Along its shores, children play, as children played when He was there. He loved it. He could look across its silver surface when He spoke His parables. And on a rolling plain not far away, He fed five thousand people.
The River Jordan makes this sea with sparkling waters from the hills. So it laughs in the sunshine. And people build their houses near to it, and birds their nests; and every kind of life is happier because it is there.
The River Jordan flows to the south into another sea. Here is no splash of fish, no fluttering leaf, no songs of birds, no children's laughter. Travelers choose another route, unless on urgent business. The air hangs heavy above its water, and neither man nor beast nor fowl will drink.
What makes this mighty difference between these neighbor seas? Not the river Jordan. It empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which they lie or the country about.
This is the difference. The Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop that flows into it another drop flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure.
The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its income jealously. It will be tempted into any generous impulse. Every drop it gets, it keeps.
The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. This other sea gives nothing. It is named the Dead Sea. There are two kinds of people. There are two seas in Palestine.