Friday, November 5, 2010

Let zeal for your house consume me! (Reflections on Luke 16:1-8)

“The master commended the dishonest steward…For the children of this world are better at dealing with their own kind than the children of light”.

Why did the master commend the dishonest steward? It could not have been to present him to us as a model to emulate.

Joel is one of my best friends. I’ve always enjoyed talking to him—sometimes our conversations last for hours. Joel’s an extremely bright guy, has a Ph.D. in philology, speaks several languages fluently, is a professor at university and, like myself, finished his degree at a very young age. The thing is, Joel’s a rabid atheist who, interestingly enough, has read a lot of Augustine, Aquinas, and even Pope John Paul II. He likes reading about Catholicism but does so only so that he can find something to critique—and he’s pretty good at it. Still, I’ve always admired his interest. His words to me are always: “I like knowing my adversary”.

“The children of this world are better at dealing with their own kind than the children of light”.

Whenever I get the chance to talk to Joel, the thought that always comes to mind is: Would that Catholics and believers were half as interested and zealous as this man in knowing about their faith! If we who say we believe were only half as passionate and committed as those who do not believe—we could win the world for Christ!

You see, it isn’t enough to be pious and devout. Our piety and devotion must have substance. We must move not only hearts, but minds. And we can’t be preaching to the choir alone. The world is meant to be won for Christ; and piety and devotion alone will not do it. The world will be won by the witness of our lives and the charity of our hearts, but also by our passion for what we believe, born out of a careful understanding of our faith.

We belong to a Church that has an exceedingly rich intellectual tradition that’s 2000-years old. In it is contained much of what we need to guide us in our mission of winning the world for Christ. But do we know this tradition? Do we understand it? Have we absorbed it? Are we even interested?

Ask yourselves these questions. How long have I been in seminary? A few months? A year? Two, three, four years? Then ask yourselves: How many of the Gospels have I read completely? How much of the Old and New Testament have I read? How will I be a true witness to Jesus if all I know about him are the fanciful notions I have in my mind that are the result of my imagination?

I say I want to be a good priest—a representative of Christ and a faithful son of the Church. How much of the Church do I really know? Have I read the Catechism whole and entire and understood it? Last year I got into a conversation with a student who was adamant that all theology be in harmony with the Magisterium. “Of course”, I said, “it has to be”. And then I asked, “How many papal encyclicals have you read in their entirety? Which documents of Vatican II have you read completely?” The reply saddened me: “None”.

Have we tried looking into the writings of the Fathers of the Church? We like talking about God, and sin, and holiness. Have we ever picked up Augustine’s “Confessions” or the first part at least of Thomas’ “Summa” and committed ourselves to the painstaking effort of understanding them? Or are we satisfied with quoting Latin one-liners from them?

We say we like spending time in prayer with Jesus. Have we ever picked up the works of the great spiritual masters of our faith: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola maybe? Have we attempted to see what a contemporary spiritual giant like Thomas Merton says about meditation?

I say I’m pro-life? Have I read Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae”, or Pope John Paul II’s “Evangelium Vitae?” Or do I think quoting pro-life slogans now and then is enough?

At one of his masses for our community, Archbishop Wenski emphasized that the work of justice and care for the poor is an integral part of the message of the Gospel. Did I like what he said? How many social encyclicals of the popes, especially Pope John Paul II have we read?

We talk a lot about loving our vocation and appreciating our life in seminary. Have we tried reading John Paul II’s “Pastores Dabo Vobis”, or the “Program for Priestly Formation” of the American bishops? Do we know personally what they say about the “pillars of seminary formation”, or are we satisfied with hearing about them at conferences?

Pope Benedict has written three beautiful encyclicals. We express our love and devotion to the Holy Father at every opportunity we get, but have we taken the time to see what he’s teaching us in these letters?

I hope you don’t get the impression that I’m preaching on academics or even the value of studying. It’s got little to do with that. Rather, it’s about realizing that if we are to be effective ministers of Jesus and faithful representatives of the Church, we must know Jesus; we must know the Church.

To “put on the mind of Christ” requires that we know Christ; to “think with the Church” demands that we know the Church—and these are not simple pious or devout propositions. They require passion, zeal, commitment, dedication, and painstaking effort. Knees bent in prayer must be coupled with minds immersed in passionate and diligent study. “Ora et labora”, says Saint Benedict. “Pray and work!”

“Offer to God only that which is worth offering”—these are words of Saint John Vianney, whose life was never about academics or study, but about passionate and total dedication to the life we have chosen and the gift of vocation we have been given.

“The master commended the dishonest steward…For the children of this world are better at dealing with their own kind than the children of light”.

If our zeal and passion were but half as strong as the dishonest steward, we would not only win the world for Christ, we would secure our own faith, and our own vocation as well.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)