Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 31, 2016: 18th Sunday Ordinary Time C

July 31, 2016: 18th Sunday Ordinary Time C 

This past week and a half, I was in Seoul, South Korea to baptize and give last sacraments to my 95-year old uncle. He’s been through many challenges in his life, including the Korean War, poverty, and cancer. Now he is in a nursing care facility for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. His long-term memory is good; he recognized me and knew that I had traveled from the United States. He complained that my aunt isn’t visiting him often. Unfortunately, his short-term memory is fading and he doesn’t recall that she visits him every morning. He seemed immensely joyful and grateful. He repeatedly said to his wife, “I’m going to miss you. I’m sad that I have to leave you, but I’m grateful to you for being my faithful wife. I’m so grateful.” In fact, he told every person who visited him how grateful he was for their kindness for visiting him. For most of us, we would find nothing joyful about living in this nursing facility.  He shares a room with nine patients and he’s not allowed to have any personal items. Even his pajamas are provided by the facility. In a sense, he is poor regarding earthly possessions but rich in friendships and love.  

On the flight back from Korea, I was reflecting on what I possess and what my uncle possesses right now. Do I live a life poor regarding earthly possessions but rich in friendship and love? In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about our attachment to desiring wealth and security. A man implores Jesus to make his brother divide the inheritance, hoping perhaps this respectable teacher would force his brother to give him his fare share. Jesus uses the occasion as a teachable moment to warn his disciples against covetousness, against desiring wealth, against our desire to obtain more and more and more.

Jesus says to the disciples, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” He is trying to teach us about the real meaning of life. He knows that we are inclined to preoccupy ourselves in acquiring possessions to the extent that we identify the happiness or sadness of our lives with how many things or how much money we possess. One of the dangers of wealth is to succumb to the illusion that we don’t need God, that we are self sufficient, that we can take care of ourselves without deference to the one who gave us life and numbered our days on earth. ‘Owning’ or ‘possessing’ material items is not the issue, but when the items become no longer a means to love God but an end in itself, then the ‘possessing’ is idolatry.

While in Korea, I left my iPhone in a taxi. When I returned home, I activated an old iPhone I had kept after I had upgraded to a newer version last year. As I started using the older phone, I was thinking to myself, “It’s a bit slow, but it still works fine. Why did I get a new one last year?” There is simple answer to my question: it’s unchecked consumerism. Many of us replace items before the usefulness has ended; we do so because we can. In many ways the desire to upgrade and buy new items is reflected in how our culture is blind to what’s really happening in the world. Our eyes are closed to a hurting world--a world that does not value all life; a world that will destroy the most vulnerable lives; a world where children go hungry; a world where lifelong commitments are replaceable; a world where someone different from us is inferior; a world where we are self-centered.

How do we go about opening our eyes and committing to help change this troubled world? We do this by loving Our Lord, recalling in prayer his life, death, and resurrection. We are challenged to turn to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart and follow His way to rebuild and transform hearts left barren, dry, and cracked by self-centeredness. Some criticize that prayer alone is idealistic, impractical, and will not effect change. No matter what challenge we face in life, we must begin with prayer to allow us to look at the situation in light of the gospel values. From prayer we receive the grace to conform our hearts to be Christ-like. Once our hearts are filled with love, our eyes will see the hurting world, and we will work to cultivate a world of peace.

Let us not get distracted with any material things or possessions. May we focus on God's greatest gift to us, the gift of His Son, and live out our lives committed to fulfilling Jesus’ mission of love and mercy.

-Fr. Paul Yi