4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
4th Sunday / Ordinary / A
January 28-29, 2017
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
Some of you may know the story of St. Lawrence. The year was 258, and the Roman emperor Valerian arrested all the clergy in Rome during a persecution of the church. The Pope, Sixtus II, was executed. Three days later, they arrested Lawrence who was a deacon and the treasurer of the church. The Pope had ordered him to give all the wealth of the church to the poor, widows and orphans. to people who could not defend themselves, and those people are still in our midst.
The emperor ordered Lawrence to "produce the treasures of the church." Lawrence asked for three days to collect them. Three days later, he brought to the emperor widows and orphans, people with disabilities and the sick, and told him, "Here are the treasures of the church." The emperor was not amused, and ordered Lawrence to be burned to death. There is a pious legend that says that just before he died, Lawrence said, "Turn me over, I think I am done on this side." I am not sure that is true, but the rest of the story is.
Today's readings speak to us of who God sees as the treasures of the church. Zephaniah in the first reading says God has a special place in his heart for the humble and the lowly. Paul in the second reading tells us that God chooses the weak of this world to shame the strong. And in the Gospel, Jesus says the blessed include the poor in spirit and those who mourn, the meek and merciful, those who seek justice and peacemakers. These are the treasures of the church. These are the kind of folk who show us the greatest holiness and the most heroic love.
At the foundation of the beatitudes is the first one, to be poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to know we are not self-sufficient, to know in our guts are daily need for God and for others. Contrast this with our culture, where we are constantly told to be in control, to look good, and to not be weak or needy. Those who buy into this way of thinking live life without any reference to God, and this is what we often see in this community and on our campus. This is the opposite of being poor in spirit.
The Franciscan author Fr. Richard Rohr has a wonderful image of how most of us become poor in spirit. We are like actors who build a stage around us small enough so that we can always succeed, look good and be in control. But throughout our lives, God in a very sneaky way enlarges the stage, so that we do not always succeed, don't always look good, and are not in control. The Lord enlarges our stage out of love. This seems to be the only way many of us learn to trust him, like really trust him.
Perhaps most of us really don't want to be poor in spirit, because we would rather be in control and call the shots. Then life happens, and we are forced into a non-theoretical need for God. So the poor in spirit includes the poor, the materially poor. But it also touches on the experiences of the depressed and the ill, the addict and the dying, those whose marriages are falling apart and those who struggle to forgive someone who has hurt them deeply. Eventually life teaches us that we are not self-sufficient. God constantly enlarges the stage out of love, so we realize how much we need him.
Then we are ready to be blessed. When we break through the illusion of self-sufficiency, we have the thrill (and it is a thrill) of letting God be in control of our lives, and to let him take care of things.
This is happy way to live. And it significantly reduces the stress and anxieties of our lives. When we surrender and stop playing God, we are ready to be blessed by a big and beautiful truth. The Lord is close to the humble and lowly. He is answer to all the problems we face.
Today's readings speak of who God sees as the real treasures of the church, those who cannot defend themselves. Among them, we find the greatest holiness and most heroic love. May our Eucharist give each of us the grace to surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency, and learn to trust the Lord when he enlarges the stages of our lives.