Sunday, August 4, 2013

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug. 4, 2013
Eccl 1: 2; 2: 21-23
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11
Luke 12: 13-21
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Lord, restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored” (Collect).

One of the more cynical bumper stickers I’ve seen over the years proclaims that whoever possesses the most toys when he dies, wins.

Most people will recognize that as “vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:2), the biblical way of saying “the most foolish thing you can imagine.”
Allegory of Avarice, by Jacopo Ligozzi, 1590
Both the reading from Ecclesiastes and the one from Luke raise the issue of possessions and their ultimate worth.  Most people spend years and years accumulating treasures—and we religious aren’t immune from this, tho our treasures are trivial compared with those of most people in our society.  (Comparing ourselves with people in the Third World should give us pause, however.)

About 2 weeks ago the Times had a front-page story about a wine storage facility in Manhattan that was heavily damaged by Sandy’s storm surge.[1]  Yes, there are people who invest so heavily in vintage wines that they have to rent premium storage space, as others do with the furniture that doesn’t fit in their apartment or the archives that don’t fit in their office.  With many of the labels washed off in the flood waters, these unfortunates can’t tell their $1,000 bottles from their $300 ones.  One poor chap claims to have lost $5.2 million-worth of wine.  No doubt there are insurance policies for such contingencies.

From another point of view, all that wine is “vanity of vanities!”  Perhaps we can imagine Jesus asking these wine-stockers, “You fools who’ve stored up so much for many years of merriment, to whom will all that belong—after a natural disaster or after you’re called to account for your life?” (cf. Luke 13:19-20).

Jesus advises all of us to store up treasure for eternity, to grow rich in God’s sight.  What such wealth is, our Collect this morning subtly indicates.  We pray God the Father to keep safe what he has created and then restored.  What he has created is the divine image in each human person:  an image created by God, marred by our sins, restored by Christ.  Well did St. Irenaeus exclaim, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” i.e., alive in Christ, reflecting all the glory of the divine image.

St. Paul, too, speaks of the image of God in those who’ve been renewed in Christ:  “You have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (Col 3:9-10), like changing from our dirty, sweaty work clothes into something clean and fresh.  We religious richly symbolize this change of self in our clothing ceremonies, or at least we used to, often quoting these words of Paul or a similar passage from Ephesians (4:22-24).

To the Romans Paul writes of those whom God “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29), which means being re-created in the divine image, restored to that image which God originally created in human beings.  This image, like Christ himself, is destined for glory (8:30).  This Christ-image in ourselves, and of course in all the disciples of the Lord Jesus, is our treasure, to be stored up, preserved, polished, made ever more beautiful by our ongoing transformation from sinners into saints.

Paul tells us how that Christ image is put into us and refined:  1st, the negative step, the old via purgativa of ascetical theology:  “put to death the parts of you that are earthly:  immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire…” (Col 3:5).  In one of the verses we skipped over in this reading, he lists specific vices “you must now put away:  anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language…” (3:8).  And the reading resumes with “Stop lying to one another…” (3:9).

2d comes the positive step, the via unitiva, if you will, by which we take on the image of Christ.  Elsewhere Paul tells us to begin with humility:  “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, … who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.  Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out … for the interests of others” (Phil 2:5,7, 3-4).  Then, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8), and of course, act on these virtues (cf. 4:9).

God has begun this good work in us, and we pray he will continue it, keeping safe what he has restored, until he brings it to perfection “when Christ your life appears, [and] you too will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4).

        [1] Charles V. Bagli, “More Than a Flooded Cellar. A Vintage Mystery,” NYT, July 22, 2013, pp. A1, 3.

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