25th Sunday in Ordinary Tim
25th Sunday / Ordinary / C
Sept. 17-18, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
A couple of years ago, I had a series of conversations with an ISU student. He is a really good guy from a small town in Iowa. After we spoke, he decided to leave Iowa State to pursue his passion in a specialized trade. A few months ago, I received an email from him, telling me that he is studying 80 hours a week, and he notes how almost everyone working in his area are working 80 hours a week. He told me he is not sure he made a good decision, and has no idea what to do now. A few emails have gone back and forth between us, and five days ago I received one from him that says this:
"I just thought of something else to ask you. I'm still trying to decide what to do as far as a next step, and I've been looking into what is going to make me the happiest. At the same time, I'm asking myself if I will have any regrets if I go home and do not pursue (my trade.) My question is this: What are some of the common regrets you hear from the elderly and the dying? I've been trying to figure out what will cause me to have the happiest and most fruitful life, and it seems like a good idea to learn about it from people who have already experienced it."
Part of my response is this: "Wow. Great question, and one I am not asked very often. I have been thinking about this for a few days, and am not sure I have an easy answer. But here are my thoughts.
When I am with people in hospice who are dying, the only thing they talk about is relationships . . . with family, with friends, and sometimes with God. Their biggest regrets are with relationships that have gone bad for whatever reason. This tells me that the deepest meaning and joy to life is found in loving and being loved. No matter if that is in Iowa or California, it is all about love.
Of course, it is ideal if you can find a way to merge your passion for (your trade) with having happy, healthy, holy relationships. Perhaps you can still find a way to make that work. But at the end of the day, it is relationships that matter the most, not what we accomplish, and certainly not how much money we make."
I am so impressed with this young man. He has the maturity to ask a question that many of us never deliberately ask: What do I want to give my life to?
In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a clear choice. "No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money."
The background for this comes from the first reading from Amos. The prophet Amos lived about 700 years before Christ. It was a time of great material and financial prosperity, but the people were spiritually bankrupt. Those in power focused on one thing, and only one thing=maximizing profits. So they fixed the scales and cheated the poor. It was a system that exploited the weak, so the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Amos says God condemns this. This is a mortal sin.
So I wonder what the prophet Amos would say about our economy today? It is complex, and not easy to know what to do. We can't change everything, but we can do something. So I had two thoughts this week.
I think of those from our sister parish in Honduras who pick coffee for a living. I have visited them and talked with them around their tables. They tell me they are trapped, because the only option they have to sell their coffee is to an international corporation, who exploit them so they live difficult lives.
So some from our parish got together and are beginning direct trade coffee with them. We will have more to sell in a few weeks. This gives them a just compensation and a chance at a dignified life. I know some parishioners who are deliberate about only buying fair trade clothes online, or from the worldly goods event we do every year. This is commendable. We can't change everything, but we can do something.
The other thought is more about the larger system. Pope Francis in his encyclical On Care for our Common Home, teaches that we have a moral responsibility to care for God's creation. There was one section that really struck me. He says that while new technology is needed in this effort, he also points out how much of our technology and research today benefits the few, not the many. It makes the powerful of this world more powerful, and leave the majority of the world in the dust.
This week I read the Iowa State alumni magazine, and learned that ISU has been named one of 54 universities noted as an "Innovation and Economic Prosperity University." This is great, but the question is this: innovation and economic prosperity for whom? Who benefits from our research? Who benefits from the technology we create across the street? Who benefits from our development efforts? I also read this week in the newspaper that ISU is soon to announce a fund raising campaign for one billion dollars. Again, this is great, but who is it who will benefit from this? The status quo? Or the Kingdom of God?
There are no easy answers. But we miss something as Catholics if we are not asking these questions. The prophet Amos says God condemns a system that is stacked in favor of the powerful. And Jesus himself says we cannot serve both God and money.
I am impressed by the young man who emails me, because he is asking the right questions, two in particular: Who or what do I want to give my life to? And what can the dying teach me about living?