EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
The Catholic Church does not advocate prudery. She advocates for chastity, which is a completely different thing. Dr. John Haas is a renowned Catholic ethicist and speaker who now serves as president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Once during the Q&A session after a talk he gave, a college student asked him, "Why do you Catholics have such a problem with sex?"
Dr. Haas replied, "I don't have a problem with sex; I have nine children!" Catholics don't have a problem with sex. In fact, we think it is holy. It is a wonderful gift from God. Which is why any abuse of this gift is such a sin. We don't have a problem with sex. We have a problem with adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexual acts, contraception, and so forth.
In a similar way, Catholics are not teetotalers. We don't have a problem with drinking alcohol. In fact, our Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, when the host ran out of the good stuff. The wine produced by that miracle was so wonderful that all the guests commented on how the host saved the best for last. We don't have a problem with alcohol. We have a problem with drunkenness.
Nor do we have a problem with eating food. We do, however, have a problem with gluttony.
And while there is nothing wrong with owning money and possessions, we condemn greed as a sin.
This may sound like "all things in moderation" (which is generally sound advice), but that's not the point. The point is to put nothing before God. All of these sins, the sexual sins, greed and gluttony, etc., are wrong not because they treat evil as good, but because they wrongly place a good above the good. It is easy for us to take a good of this world and exalt it above the one who created the world.
Is sex the first and last thought of your day? Do you obsess over finding the right job to land you that lucrative paycheck? Do you live for the weekend so you can get wasted with your friends (or maybe you don't wait for the weekend)? Or perhaps it's nothing that sinister; maybe it's just spending too much time on social media, or gaming, watching 24 hour news networks, or working out in the gym. Even rather innocent pursuits can become problematic if we prioritize them above God.
Today's scripture readings are all about putting God first. The first reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of our human work and profit will eventually pass away. In the second reading from Colossians St. Paul tells us to "think of what is above, not of what is on earth."
In the gospel reading from Luke Jesus tells the story of the rich man whose chief problem is that he has so much grain his buildings cannot store it all. He is considering tearing down all of his barns so that he can build bigger ones. That would solve his problem. Little does he know that this will be his last night on earth.
Isn't that a characteristic "first world problem?" We are drowning in stuff. Our homes are overwhelmed with it all (and by extension, our lives). How many television shows are geared today towards people who need help organizing their possessions, paring down their possessions, or just letting go of that hoarding instinct? We build bigger houses each generation; but they are not filled with larger families, only more stuff. We have to rent storage buildings to keep the overflow stuff. We are like the rich man with too much grain.
All this needless stuff keeps us from having a meaningful relationship with Christ. Maybe for you it is not material possessions; maybe for you it is an obsession with good looks, or popularity, or a political cause, or sexual pleasure, or some other distraction. Whatever it is for you, I urge you today to let it go. Stop letting it have mastery over your life.
In the words of St. Paul from our second reading: "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed for knowledge, in the image of its creator."
Put nothing in your life before God. Let nothing have ownership of you but God. Love nothing above God. Only then will you be able to enjoy the richness and bounty of God's gifts to us in a healthy and holy way. Only then will you find true happiness.
May the Lord bless you and keep you!