I think of myself as the average Catholic. I piously fulfil my weekly Sunday mass obligation but faith life does not go much beyond that. God, and my faith is definitely somewhere ‘there’ but it isn’t much at the forefront of my thoughts. Faith isn’t the compass that points the direction towards which my life should take. When I hear the Gospel I pick out key words without attempting to go deeper into what it actually mean, and what it can mean to my life.
For a person like me, hearing today’s gospel without listening, confirms the impression that to be a good Catholic is tough. I hear that ‘I can’t be rich’ rather than carefully listening that it says ‘I shouldn’t be greedy’. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions”.
We all have responsibilities in life. Responsibilities start to grow when we leave school to feed and clothe ourselves and to find shelter. They grow as we travel the timeline of our life; starting a family, children going to school, looking after our older parents and attending to health issues that comes along. These are life’s issues and in reality, money and possessions are currencies we use to navigate these demands. And so, to be prudent, we start to build a small “barn” to hold our “possessions”. There is nothing wrong with that.
Unless. When we carefully listen to today’s gospel the message is actually quite clear. It is about “guarding against greed (avarice) of any kind”. What is less clear is, “When do we cross the line between responsibilities and greed?
Greed leads us down a blind alley. When we build a barn and more barns, they blind us from the final destination of this life’s journey which is to gain eternal life in heaven. When we are at heaven’s door, we know that we can only travel on without our earthly possessions. But none of us will know when that will be. “Fool! This night your life will be demanded of you and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
To adapt a famous quote, it is more important how we travel the timeline of our life than to arrive at the final destination.
For me, the average Catholic, messages like these will only hit home when I encounter a crisis in life; when I will realise that I will need to depend on others for help and go knocking on someone’s barn door and hope they will open for me. In reality, we cannot travel through life on our own, we are inter-dependent on each other. We must share our barns. In the “someone”, in this “inter-dependence”, in the “sharing of our barns”, we will uncover the true meaning of our life. This is that our life on earth is the great journey home to heaven and how we take each step determines if we will make it home.
‘Possessions’ can be a loose measure of the gifts and talents we are blessed with as individuals. ‘Greed’ is when we only use them for ourselves. Gifts and talents help us manufacture possessions and wealth and they also help to give us knowledge, status, influence and many other advantages to ride on as we travel our timeline. These are what we store in our barns.
As we accumulate and build barns in the name of ‘responsibility’ we will reach a cross junction on our journey. Our faith will be stirred, our conscience awakened, we are prompted in our inner self “to put on the new self which is being renewed in the image of its creator”. As humans, we will always have greed but because we are built in his likeness, we will also have an equal amount of compassion, if not more. Here, Christ is giving us the option to convert earthly possessions to spiritual riches.
In truth, what matters to God is how we exchange our earthly possessions for heavenly treasures; of how we use our blessings to be a blessing to others. We are called to build barns of love, compassion and mercy and to open these barn doors to share and make a difference to the people in our life who may be poor in possessions but more importantly poor in spiritual wealth. “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”.
What matters is not what I own, but what I have shared and given. I am called to help uncover the richness of God’s presence in the lives of others through the life I live. In this, I should be rich.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time