Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23
Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Col 3:1-5, 9-11
In my family, there are two organized religions: Roman Catholicism, and the Pennsylvania State Lottery. (Some interfaith family members also attend the Church of Powerball.) I recall the first time the jackpot went over one hundred million dollars. It was in the late 80s, and although I was living in Washington at the time, my brother, Matt, was giving me regular updates on the effects of this huge prize. There were long lines to buy tickets; people taking trains from New York, Baltimore, and Washington, others flying in from California and Europe and even Japan; and a level of general excitement that continued to rise every time there was a drawing without a winner. He assured me that he had purchased a fair number of tickets himself, and asked me if I would pray for one of them to win. I dodged the question by asking him what he would do if he won, and he revealed to me a very detailed plan of action. He had obviously given the matter a great deal of thought.
The first thing was to get a lawyer, someone who would be responsible for dealing with the press and taking care of all the legalities.
The second order of business was to move out of town, someplace far away from greedy relatives and scheming neighbors. Of course, for this to work, he could tell no one where he was going, including his brothers and sister. (Since then, he’s gotten married. I’m not sure if his wife will be told where he winds up. For that matter, I’m not sure she gets to go with him.)
The third thing was to have a chat with his boss, a frank discussion in which he would give his two-week notice, and then offer a more candid appraisal of his boss’s shortcomings than had been possible in the past. This would conclude with some speculation on his boss’s doubtful parentage, along with a strong prediction as to his final destination once this mortal life is over.
Finally, he had specific ideas about the places he wanted to travel, the things he wanted to buy, and the investments he intended to make.
Obviously, money would change my brother’s life.
Now, if you are honest, you will admit that while I was telling that story, you thought about what you would do with that money. Something flashed through your mind – perhaps a few images of all the things you could buy, all the gifts you could give. If a hundred million dollars suddenly dropped in your lap, your life would be different in ways easy to imagine.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us of a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. Why did his land produce such bounty? Certainly, because the owner planned ahead, and because he worked hard, and because he sacrificed and struggled over many years – all things a successful farm demands. But the bounty came from God. The land was fruitful because God made it fruitful. It was a gift from the Lord, who gave life and strength and intelligence to the rich man, and whose constant mercy kept him, his workers, his family, and every tree, vine, and field on his farm in existence. Everything the farmer accomplished was possible only through the goodness of God.
We all know this from our own experience. Each night before dinner we say grace, thanking God for His gift of food. Farmers grew the food, truckers brought it to the supermarket, the store sold it to us, and yet we know that it is true – indeed, it is even more true – that the food has come to us from God, the giver of all good gifts, creator of all things, seen and unseen. And so we say grace.
But what does the farmer in the parable do? He does not give thanks for the present, but wonders about the future: “How can I make sure I will have many good things stored up for many years?” He does not call these good things gifts, but speaks of my harvest and my barns and my grain and other goods. And since he does not think of this bounty as a gift, he does not raise his mind to consider the Giver. He does not ask the most crucial question, “How can I repay the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” He does not seek out the poor and share his gifts, he does not throw a huge feast and invite all his neighbors. He has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill. He knows when to sow and when to reap, how to rotate crops, how to deal with insects, and how to manage workers. Yet, he has closed his heart to true wisdom, the insight that his first order of business is gratitude. Before calculating yields and estimating storage, he should be on his knees. Before thinking about years to come, he should give thought to this very moment, and hear these words in his heart: “This comes from God on high. I must thank Him.”
The Lord has smiled upon his labors and blessed his fields, but it makes no difference to the rich man. Of course, had his fields failed and his animals died, no doubt he would have turned his face heavenward and asked, “Why?” But when his fields flourish and his fortunes thrive, he does not bow his head in humble thanks.
He complains to God when things go wrong, but does not praise Him when life is good.
Our challenge is not the same. It is greater. We are confronted this very day with a harvest whose greatness the rich man could not imagine: the harvest of food for eternal life. Here we receive Christ. Will he change us? Now we are given the gift above all gifts, a treasure which kings and priests longed to taste, and which prophets foresaw only dimly. Are we different? Do we live differently, speak differently, hope differently, because of his bounty?
We are given Christ, who died for our sins. Are we more merciful to those who have sinned against us?
We are given Christ, who took the form of a slave for our salvation. Are we more mindful of those shackled by sickness and poverty?
We are given Christ, the bread of angels, greater than the manna which fed our ancestors in the desert. Do we hasten to feed the hungry? Do we guide the lost back to confession and Mass.
Money would change us. A lottery windfall would change us in ways that people could see and touch. They could look at our clothes, see where we live and what we drive and where we go for vacation, and they would know we were rich.
Money would change us. Does the Eucharist? Do people look at what we say and what we do, and know that we have received the bread that came down from heaven? Are we different at work, different at home, different at the gym and on the golf course and in the coffee shop? Is it clear that we are people who strive to forsake foolishness and pursue wisdom; men and women who struggle to resist lust, greed, and lying; followers of Christ who shun the vulgarity of our culture, resist the desire for revenge, protect the weak and the fallen, nurture beauty and cultivate virtue?
Here are three questions to consider:
First, do I say grace in restaurants? That food comes as much from God as the food I eat at home. Even though it feels awkward and embarrassing, is giving gratitude to God really important to me, wherever I am, whoever is watching?
Second, is caring for the hungry something I think about only at Thanksgiving and Christmas? A hundred million dollars would be on my mind all the time: how to protect it, how to spend it, how to increase it. Is the gift of the Eucharist so vivid that finding ways to care for God’s poor is a constant concern for me?
Third, do I thank God by living out my faith when my reputation is truly on the line? Because when you get right down to it, people may think it’s odd if I say grace in public, but it’s not going to cost me any friends. And although I don’t do it anywhere near as much as I should, caring for the poor is not something that anyone will object to in principle. But what about all those sins society does not simply accept, but sanctions and celebrates?
Does the Eucharist give me strength to say to a friend, “I know you are in pain, but divorce is not the answer”?
To say to a son or daughter, “I know it seems okay, but living with someone outside of marriage is wrong”?
To say to a table of friends, “It’s wonderful to get together, but gossip is a bad way to spend this time”?
Ask yourself: Even though some will call me judgmental, self-righteous, and holier-than- thou, does the gift of Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist show me the true path to life, and give me the strength to live that way?
Today, Christ asks us: how do I change your lives? How does my body and blood make a difference? Will you go forth from here changed? Will this day be different?