Bishop Douglas J. Lucia celebrated Masses at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse Sept. 21 and 22. The text of the homily he preached on that occasion is printed below.
My brothers and sisters, I have a question for us to ponder on this Lord’s Day: “Is God enough?” You and I might be tempted to answer pretty readily, “Well, of course,” or a simple “Yes.” To which I would follow up with the question, “What then is our — my — focus in life?” God… mammon… whom do I serve?
Are you squirming a bit yet? I know I am! Yet, at the heart of our Gospel reading is not condemnation. It’s about recognizing a shortfall — that one has gotten out of focus — and seeking to correct it.
The scene of today’s Gospel is one where a misappropriation of funds has been discovered and the steward is about to be dismissed.
In Jesus’ world, a steward functioned as the agent of the master or lord of an estate with the power to hire, fire, enter into contracts, etc. The steward kept the books and received some payment for his services by charging interest. The loan note indicated the amount to be paid back, not the amount borrowed. In essence, the amount to be paid back included interest and that extra money was for the steward.
Therefore, in the parable, when the steward discounts the note, he is effectively giving up his own share of the money owed, 25 percent in one case, 50 percent in the other. The rich man will still receive what is his due in full. So the parable is not about encouraging dishonesty, but just the opposite: the right use of money and resources. The steward knew he had to make a living wage in the days ahead and so he devoted the time he had left to making sure that happened.
This leads me back then, sisters and brothers, to the question, “What is my focus?” Last Sunday, in our reading of Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, our focus was the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost sons and how God was always on the lookout for them. This Lord’s Day and next Sunday as well, in Chapter 16, we are being invited to consider whether you and I are on the lookout for God — or have our own wants and desires blinded us to God, and as we shall see next week, to neighbor? What is our focus?
This question has taken on a new meaning for me as a bishop. In fact, last week when the world’s new bishops met with Pope Francis, he spoke of the need for the bishop to be close to God and, in turn, to bring God to the people and the people to God. This occurs through focusing on God in prayer and in our neighbor.
A particular sentence of His Holiness’ talk that has given me much food for thought states:
“We have to proclaim with our life a different measure of life than that of the world: the measure of a love without measure, which doesn’t look to its own profit and its own advantage, but at the boundless horizon of God’s mercy.” Pope Francis would go on to tell us bishops that the thermometer of our closeness to God is closeness to the poor and the least.
This is also the call of Amos in our first reading. The prophet Amos was called from the southern kingdom of Judah to prophesy, to give witness against the northern kingdom of Israel. And what was Israel’s most prominent offense? The callous mistreatment of the poor by the rich. In today’s reading, Amos lists off the crimes of the wealthy Israelites who cheat the poor and then proclaims in the name of the Lord God, “Never will I forget a thing they have done.”
Yes, what is my focus…our focus…these days? The Church today [Sept. 21] in its calendar of saints calls to mind St. Matthew, the Apostle. He is a prime example of one who was invited by Jesus to get his priorities straight. He leaves his tax post and his own revenue and, in turn, he encounters the richness of life in heeding the Good News of Jesus Christ and helps lead others to God in his own home through the sharing of his own gifts. It is in that moment that not only he, but his neighbors as well, encounter God’s abundant mercy and healing presence.
As one called to follow in Matthew’s footsteps as an apostle, I am challenged both personally and institutionally, to make sure that such openness is found in this local Church. I must ask myself personally and as a citizen, “Who is the true master in our nation, in our society — the God we claim to trust in or the wealth, the mammon, that would have us build walls; zero out migrants and refugees in our population; displace families, separating children and parents and spouses; allow for public rancor and mean-spiritedness, even towards the dead, and just plain incivility in the public square?” Brothers and sisters, have these things caused us to lose our true focus as citizens of a greater and everlasting kingdom, the Kingdom of God? Like St. Matthew, Jesus tells us that we can’t just sit by and watch the mass of humanity in its need pass us by. One Scripture commentator notes: “[W]ith God as the true master, wealth can take up its proper post, as a gift to be shared with others, especially those most in need.”
I began this homily, sisters and brothers, by saying that today’s Gospel is not about condemnation; it is about correction and that is what St. Paul invites us to pray for in our second reading. He invites the Church to raise our holy hands, without anger or argument, in prayer, supplication, petition, and thanksgiving for everyone, especially for all in authority, that we might lead lives of dignity and devotion. Let that be our prayer as we come now to the table of the Lord while contemplating the question, “Whom do you and I serve? What is our focus? Is God enough?” Amen.