Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and thieves break in and steal. But lay up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in, nor steal.
That’s part of our Lord’s Sermon on the… Mount. Which helps us understand the parable we hear in our gospel reading at Sunday Mass, traditionally known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.
When St. Basil preached on this parable, he pointed out that earthly prosperity can serve as a trial of faith, just like difficulties and tribulations can. We usually think of a ‘trial’ as a deprivation or an occasion of suffering, like: “Her husband just got a cancer diagnosis. What a trial for her!” But easygoing prosperity poses a spiritual challenge of its own. Godless worldliness can overtake the comfortable. The prosperous can succumb to: total secularization.
Growing rich is no sin, in and of itself. The man in the parable did no outright injustices to his fellow man. Good weather and fruitful soil gave him a superabundant harvest. But the rich man in the parable showed himself a fool by thinking neither of God nor of others. He thought only of his personal comfort. St. Basil put it like this:
Think, o man, think of the Giver! From Whom have you received your wealth? You are the servant of the good God, a steward for your fellow servants.
A servant of God and a steward for your fellow servants.
Now, I think many of us were shaken this past week by the cold-blooded murder of a priest, near Rouen, France. Father Hamel’s murder shakes us especially because it occurred at the holy altar, as he ministered in the person of Christ, at Mass. French president Hollande called the murder a “profanation.” The profanation of something sacred.
We need to focus hard on what the sacred thing is, that this murder profaned. The sacred thing is: Religion, our relationship with God, the meaning of life, the eternal mystery of undying love, the foundation of peace among men.
In the rich fool’s life, comfort—or wealth, or something—something secular—crowded God out. God gave the man good things in abundance, but the rich fool did not humbly thank Him. And the fool did not understand his duty to share his wealth.
Why? Because he thought too much of himself? No. The rich man’s foolishness involved selling himself short. He thought of himself merely as a consumer of material goods, capable of nothing more beautiful or noble than catching a buzz and then filling his belly.
“You fool!” said the Lord. Did I make you to rut around the earth like a worm? No. I made you to be My friend. I made you to share in the great work of love that I bring about, by My almighty power.
The holy, sacred beauty of God, the triune God Who revealed His infinite love on the cross: the altars of our churches stand firmly consecrated to our on-going relationship with Him, with this transcendent Love.
Pope Francis has said that a “piecemeal” World War III has long since begun. This war costs us a lot—not just dollars, but pain and anxiety. It assaults us with blow after blow of horrifying violence. And a dark specter rises behind the barrage of killings: the idea that life itself is brutal and meaningless. The rich man in the parable went to his death a fool, because he had not prepared himself to meet God. He had no altar. He had no relationship with the Almighty.
Let me quote a few sentences of Pope Francis’ letter to us about the New Evangelization:
In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries, globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.
The process of secularization, by completely rejecting the transcendent, has produced a growing deterioration of ethics…a general sense of disorientation… a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. (paragraphs 62 and 64)
We talked about this back on Fourth of July weekend: the beautiful idea that can stabilize and unite us human beings in an enduring peace is the very treasure of our holy altars: The idea of true human dignity. The great God invites us to be His friends. We are not expendable. We are not worms. We are children of the Most High.
Our adversaries make war against: the sacred truth of human dignity. They make war against human culture’s greatest accomplishment: the doctrine of human dignity, taught by Christ. The great mystery of our beautiful, eternal destiny. With which we commune at the altar. May God have mercy on them, for making war on the heart and soul of human peace.
How do we fight back? By kneeling down and praying. Praying with Christian faith and Christian love, at Christ’s holy altar, for deliverance from this unholy war.