Living each day like it’s our last (19 Sunday OT, C)

 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year C, August 6, 2022

Luke 12:32-38

With His emphasis on judgement and violent punishment, the language of Jesus in the Gospel today (Luke 12:32-38) is startling. He sounds like a "fire and brimstone" preacher declaring a message that seems far removed from the Gospel of love and mercy with which we are accustomed. When we look closer, however, Jesus' proclamation about judgement is in fact Gospel. It is good news.

Last Judgement, Michelangelo

Listen here:

Full homily:

We're all probably familiar with the cliche of “a fire and brimstone preacher”. We see this kind of preacher in movies. A “fire and brimstone preacher” brings to mind someone standing in the pulpit, wildly waving his hands, shouting loudly, and perhaps red in the face. Such a preacher uses vivid descriptions of God's judgment and eternal damnation to move the congregation to change their ways. Don't worry, I am not about to become a fire and brimstone preacher! I imagine that many of us think that fire and brimstone preaching is something that belongs in the past. We would not want to see it again. It relies too much on motivating people by fear rather than love. It is difficult to see this as Gospel, as good news.


With this in mind, the Gospel of today is startling because Jesus is behaving like a fire and brimstone preacher! He speaks about a final judgement when the master will return after being away for a long time. Those servants who are ready for the master’s return will receive a reward, while the others who are not ready will receive a severe punishment. The language is harsh. Jesus says things like, “that slave who knew what is master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating”. If this is not fire and brimstone preaching, I don't know what is! What can we make of all this? Why is Jesus speaking in such a severe way? This does not sound like good news. What does this have to do with the Gospel of love and mercy with which we are so accustomed to Jesus preaching?


When we look closer however, we realize that the Jesus’ emphasis on judgement is in fact good news for those who have tried to follow Him. When we try our best to follow the way of life Jesus lays out for us, judgement is not something to be feared, but rather something to look forward to. Early Christians prayed for the rapid return of Jesus. A common prayer was, maranatha, which means “Come Lord” in Aramaic. Early followers of Christ longed for him to return as judge. Jesus tells us that for those “whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” That a master would serve and care for a servant in this way is truly remarkable. We would hardly expect a CEO of a multinational corporation to go down to the assembly line in one of the company’s many factories, find a worker who is doing his or her job well, and take that worker out to enjoy the most lavish of meals which the CEO has prepared from scratch. This, however, is how Jesus will care for those who have followed him faithfully. They will enjoy eternal life with God. This communion with with the Holy Trinity is goodness and complete happiness. For those who have been faithful, is a wonderful thing!


The judgment which Jesus speaks about is also good news for those who have been downtrodden, oppressed, and treated poorly. Throughout the Bible, we find many passages grappling with the following paradox. Why is it that bad things happen to good people and bad people seem to get away with their behavior, and even prosper? These questions are raised in various books, such as Ecclesiastes. These questions naturally arose in the minds of biblical authors. The people of Israel lived a tumultuous history. They were persecuted and oppressed by one empire after another: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and finally, during the time of Jesus, Rome. In the time before Jesus as well as during his life the people of Israel suffered terribly. They were robbed of their autonomy and oftentimes forbidden from practicing their religion. They longed for a time when God would exercise justice upon those who had harmed them. We can feel the same way. When we look out throughout human history, even in recent years, we see people committing great evil and violence against the innocent. Brutal regimes violently persecute minority groups within their boundaries. Wealthy corporations exploit the poor and vulnerable for profit. Such wrong doers appear at times to thrive. This reality seems to fly in the face of our conceptions of a just, loving God who cares for the downtrodden. For this reason, the message that evildoers – such as the servants who ruthlessly beat other servants – will be punished can seem like a relief. Wickedness will not continue indefinitely. Wrongs will be made right. The judgement that Jesus speaks of is good news because, in the end, goodness and justice will prevail.


While it may not seem like it at first glance, the Gospel today is a positive message because it encourages us to live our best life, to make our existence matter. The main lesson of the Gospel is this: always be ready to meet Jesus. Christ teaches us to live each day as though it were our last. Although this may seem grim at first glance, this attitude helps us make the most out of life and all the blessings God has bestowed on us. Some years ago (2007) a movie was released called “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. In this, both characters played by the leads were diagnosed with terminal cancer. Since one of the characters happens to be a millionaire, the pair decide to embark on an incredibly journey in which they do all the things they wish they could have done in their lives – their bucket list – in the few months they have left – before they “kick the bucket”. They go skydiving and visit incredible places. Now, the movie is flawed in many ways. However, the message the film attempts to convey is important. Ultimately, the pair learn they should always have lived their life as though time was limited. Knowing that they had a fixed number of days to live helped them make the most of their life. This attitude should characterize our lives as followers of Jesus. We should always be ready to meet Christ. We ought to live our life in the best way possible, the way Jesus has called us to. This will probably mean that things like skydiving won’t be the highest on our bucket list. Rather we will be concerned with following the Gospel here and now. We will be sure to reconcile with those we have grown apart from. We will be generous with those around us, sharing our time, talents, and treasures. We will stay close to Jesus. Living our life constantly ready to meet Jesus means that we live our best possible life.


We rightfully are turned off by “fire and brimstone” preaching. Only Jesus can get the message right. Only He correctly presents the theme of judgement as good news. Still, the idea of living each day as though it may be our last can be frightening and intimidating. At least it is for me. If Jesus were to come back today, there are so many things in my life that I would want to change. In order to ensure we do not become overwhelmed, it is helpful to remember the adage often repeated by Desmond Tutu: “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” As we sit here today, we could ask ourselves, “what is one thing Jesus might be asking me to change in my life starting now?” Let us try in this coming week to work on this one thing, always trusting that Jesus is a judge yes, but, most importantly, Jesus is a merciful judge. Jesus understands us. He loves us, and is patient with us.

Replacing greed with generosity (18 Sunday Ordinary time, year C)

Replacing greed with generosity

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year C, Sunday July 31, 2022

Readings: Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23; Lk 12:13-21

The Rich Fool, Rembrant

The Gospel today shows us that generosity rather than greed brings peace in the midst of the insecurities and uncertainties of life.

Listen here:

There was once woman who was married to a greedy husband. During his life, he was only interested in collecting more and more money for himself. He avoided sharing what he had with everyone, his own wife included. Towards the end of his life, the husband made his wife promise to bury him with his money. He even told her friends to make sure that she buried him with his money. The man passed away and, on the day of the funeral, just before the coffin was about to be closed, the wife called out, “wait!” She then approached the coffin with a box, put the box in the coffin, and then gave the instruction for the coffin to be closed. Afterwards, one of the wife’s friends approached her and asked, “what did you put in the coffin? You didn’t really bury your greedy husband with his money, did you?” To this, the wife answered, “of course I did! I am a woman who keeps her promises. After my husband passed away, I sold all he had, and transferred all this money, along with the money he had in all his different back accounts into my bank account. I then wrote my husband a cheque for the full amount that belonged to him. I put the cheque in a box and put the boxed into his coffin so he would be buried with his money.”


In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us about the danger of greed. In response to an individual who demands that Jesus make sure an inheritance is divided properly, Jesus responds with a parable about a rich man who builds barns to save his excess crops in, thinking that this will provide him with security for years to come. This man is told by God that he will die that very day and these goods he had saved for himself will belong to others. In telling the parable, Jesus has a clear aim in mind. He wants us to guard ourselves from “all kinds of greed” (Lk 12:15). In the Greek original of this Gospel, the word for greed is pleoxenia. According to Plutarch, the philosopher who lived just after the time of Jesus (46 – 119 AD), pleoxenia describes a desire to constantly obtain more and more. This kind of greed was likened to someone who is thirsty and drinks salt water. The salt water does not quench your thirst, it just makes you more and more thirsty. We can be greedy for all kinds of things. We can be greedy with money or other possessions. We can be greedy with our time, never wanting to spare some time for those in need. We can also be greedy with our talents, never wanting to lend a hand to those we can help. Of course, we need to be prudent and ensure we have enough to live on and be realistic with our time and how much we can help others. Greed is another matter, however. Greed is the desire to obtain more and more while never being satisfied. The more we get, the more we want.


The first step in overcoming greed is realizing that the constant desire to obtain more and more, can never give us true peace and security. In the parable, the greedy rich man hoarded his crops because he felt that this would provide him with a sense of security. After he stored the crops in his expanded barns he said to himself: “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” According to Jesus, at the root of the man’s greed was a desire for security in an uncertain world. Crops may fail; disasters may strike. Feeling that life is insecure or precarious is natural. The unpredictable nature of our existence is one of the main themes of the book of Qoheleth, from which the first reading today was taken. Qoheleth is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible. When we read it, we can be shocked by the pessimistic tone. I like the book because it is honest and realistic. Qoheleth points out the precarious nature of life. At times, we all feel that our existence is frail and insecure. This is how the man in the parable felt. Jesus is not criticizing him for feeling this way. He is pointing out that the solution the rich man sought – greed, storing food for himself – is not a real solution. The man still died at an unpredictable time. The goods he hoarded went to another. You cannot cash cheques after you die.


Jesus shows us that generosity rather than greed will provide the security we all seek. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus contrasts storing up treasures for ourselves with being “rich toward God”, the true way to find the peace amidst the fragility of life. Being “rich” in the eyes of God means acting in a way that is consistent with who God is. Jesus’ parable shows us that ultimately God is in control of our life. We are not. God gives us life as a gift. God is the generous giver of all that is good. We are rich before God when we generous just as God is generous. When we are generous with our time, talents, and treasure, we acknowledge that we have received these all from a God who will always care for us. When we live this way, we experience peace. Gaudium et Spes, one of the most important documents coming from the Second Vatican Council puts it this way. Human beings only truly find themselves when they make a sincere gift of themselves (paraphrase of GS #24). 


Echoing the message we heard in the Gospel, Pope Francis is fond of saying, “there are no pockets in a burial shroud.” In the face of the insecurities of life, generosity and not greed is the solution. The Gospel today calls us to ask ourselves a few questions. When it comes to my time, talents, and treasures, am I being greedy? How can I be more generous with those around me: my family, friends, coworkers, or parish community? As we consider these questions, let us keep in mind the saying made famous by the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: “All you can take with you is that which you have given away.” 

Prayer and Pope Francis’ ”Penitential Pilgrimage”

The Gospel of today (Lk 11:1-13) teaches us to pray with confidence and perseverance. This week we have the opportunity to put this teaching into practice during Pope Francis' "Penitential pilgrimage". With him, we pray that this pilgrimage "will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation already undertaken".

Gn 18:20-32

Lk 11:1-13


One night, two young brothers were staying over at their grandmother’s house. It was just a week or so away from the younger brother’s birthday. As their grandmother was tucking the brothers in before bed, she reminded them to say their prayers. She then left the room to go next door, leaving the door ajar. The older brother said his prayers first, giving thanks to God for his family. Then the younger brother prayed. After he had thanked God as his older brother had, he suddenly raised his voice shouting, “And God, for my birthday next week, can you please get me a PlayStation 5!” The older brother then turned to the younger brother and said, “you don’t have to shout. God isn’t deaf.” To this, the younger brother responded, “I know, but grandma is”. 


Like that younger brother, we too can struggle with prayer and how it works. The first reading and the Gospel point us in the right direction.


To start, we should acknowledge that prayer is difficult for all of us. I think we can all be embarrassed by our prayer life sometimes. We often assume that everyone else has an amazing prayer life. All others have to do, we might think, is close their eyes and they are immediately filled with the presence of God. This is not the case! We all struggle with prayer, myself included. When I pray, I seldom have incredible insights or experience strong positive emotions. I can easily lose concentration and become distracted. I received a good reality check about the difficulty of prayer when I read an interview with the now deceased Cardinal Hume. Towards the end of his life this devout man was asked about his prayer life.  He responded:

Oh, I just keep plugging away. At its best it’s like being in a dark room with someone you love. You can’t see them, but you know they’re there.

In today’s Gospel, we find the disciples also struggling with pray. They ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. That the disciples and great Christians such as Cardinal Hume also struggled with knowing how to pray gives me hope. We all find prayer difficult.


A common struggle we all have in prayer has to do with that fact that the things we ask for often do not come to pass. This is a major tension in our prayer life. On the one hand, Jesus encourages us to trust that God is a loving Father who will always give us – his children – good things. This message comes across in the Gospel. After teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells them to persevere in prayer, trusting that God the Father will give them what they need. On the other hand, we have all experienced that we sometimes do not receive what we ask for in prayer. This can be a very painful experience. We can feel that God is not listening, that our prayer is useless. How can we make sense of this tension in our prayer life? The prayer that Jesus taught us gives us a hint. In Luke’s Gospel – which we heard today – Jesus teaches us to prayer that “his [God’s] kingdom come”. In Matthew’s version of the prayer, he adds to this that we should ask God that “his will be done”. Although Jesus encourages us to ask God for what we need, he also wants us to know that we should desire that God’s will be done in our life. God always wants what is best for us. We ask for many things in prayer, but sometimes we struggle to know what is best for ourselves. Looking back, I recognize that there are some things that I asked God for in prayer that weren’t really what was best for me. I can see now that what actually happened to me at that moment, though not what I wanted at first, was actually what was best for me.  Prayer always does something. The first thing prayer does is change our heart. When we pray God slowly changes our hearts so that we begin to desire what God desires for us. Even when our prayers seem to have no result, we should continue praying, trusting that God is changing us as well as our circumstances.


This week, we, together with Pope Francis and Catholics throughout Canada, have much to pray for. From July 24 – 29 Pope Francis will be visiting Canada on what he has called a “penitential pilgrimage”. The idea of pilgrimage expresses well the nature of prayer that we hear about in the readings today. A pilgrim is someone who perseveres in prayer, being authentic and even daring with God in prayer as Abraham was in the first reading. At his Angelus address on July 17, Pope Francis explained the nature of his visit:

Dear brothers and sisters of Canada, as you know, I will come among you especially in the name of Jesus to meet and embrace the indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that, in the past, have severely harmed native communities in various ways. For this reason, I recently received some groups in the Vatican, representatives of indigenous peoples, to whom I expressed my sorrow and solidarity for the harm they have suffered. And now I am about to embark on a penitential pilgrimage, which I hope, with God's grace, will contribute to the journey of healing and reconciliation already undertaken.


This week we are encouraged by Pope Francis to pray fervently that the journey towards truth and reconciliation continues. Although there remains much to do, having Pope Francis come to Canada is an extremely significant milestone along this journey. While efforts continue nationally and internationally, this journey is something we continue locally. I have been so encouraged to hear of all the important initiatives that have been undertaken at St. Peter’s Parish, under the direction of the Indigenous reconciliation committee, including the video series which has provided the opportunity to listen and learn from indigenous people. These initiatives will continue in the future so that we can go further on this path Pope Francis’ visit encourages us to follow. In the coming days, let pray for the penitential pilgrimage of Pope Francis, as he has asked. As we are encouraged in the readings today, let us pray with persistence and confident, trusting that God cares for us and answers our prayers.