Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In the passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke proclaimed this Sunday, the Lord invites us to reflect on the fragility, vulnerability and abject poverty of our humanity evidenced by our own mortality.
The rich man who has benefited from a bumper crop thinks that his future is guaranteed, he feels invulnerable. However, his human nature is still the same. It does not matter how many silos overflowing with grain he may have, death will come to him, even unexpectedly.
A work from 15th century Spanish literature, Verses on the death of his father, by Jorge Manrique, reflects on the attempts of men to overcome death, a certain event that seems to annihilate every personal project and unravel all our relationships. The search for fame, money, power appear to us as means to overcome our finitude. Experiencing the pain caused by the death of his father, the poet concludes that these are only futile, because neither money, nor power, nor fame are able to defeat death which is inevitable and makes all equal. Hope in eternal life is the only thing that can mitigate the pain caused by his father’s death.
The readings for this Sunday are a very clear warning in that direction, a call to sanity. The Lord invites us to contemplate our condition as it is. He is not moved by morbose thoughts. He desires to help us understand what is really important in our lives.
Faced with the reality of our condition as mortal beings and our indigence in the fundamental issues of our existence, many possibilities appear before us. Far from leading to a fuller life, many of them sink us in despair and misery.
One possible course of action, unfortunately very common among us, is to try to mitigate our vulnerability through the accumulation of material goods. The rich man in the Gospel is a typical example of those who mistakenly think that their future is secure because they have riches. At least he can be proud of the fact that he got them in a legitimate way. There are some who in their attempt to overcome the limits imposed on them by our humanity, in their search for an illusory security, to enrich themselves they resort to the exploitation of their brothers and sisters. A miser is a very selfish yet very insecure person, who thinks that the accumulation of goods is the antidote to frailty, the key to survival.
There are some who think that they can mitigate their vulnerability by reneging of their humanity. These think they can radically self-define themselves without any reference to objective standards of truth and humanity. They try to free themselves from any limits imposed on them by human nature by living in any way they please. That is the basis of gender ideology so widespread in our time.
Paradoxically, these efforts to free humanity from human nature end up generating more death, leading to what St. John Paul II called “culture of death” and Pope Francis calls “throwaway culture.” Extreme individualism that seeks to affirm the self without any reference to human nature ends up turning against humanity itself.
It is precisely in the embrace and acceptance of our human nature that we can reach eternal life because we find God who, as St. Paul tells the Philippians, out of love for us did not cling to his divinity but rather came down to us, assuming our human nature, entering into solidarity unto death with us, dying on a cross. Or, as St. Paul also says, God who being rich becomes poor to enrich us.
The victory of Christ over death is the victory of human nature. The only way to escape the abject poverty where we find ourselves is communion with Christ. That must be our fundamental concern in life. All of our activities ought to be ordered towards that end.
Temporal goods must be at the service of communion with Christ, which it is also found through communion with our neighbors. Otherwise, they become instruments of death, inanimate objects that can only bring an illusion of invulnerability, an appearance of power that generates indifference, pride and separates us from God.
The poor of the Gospel whom Jesus exalts in the beatitudes are those who realizing their condition look diligently for Him. As Pope Francis says, evangelical poverty is not a sociological matter but theological. It is obviously easier that someone who lives in opulence may come to believe that he is powerful and invulnerable when in fact he is just as poor as any other mortal being. Pope Benedict spoke of a form of poverty that ought to be fought: privations of all kinds that go against the dignity of the human person and are contrary to the will of God; and a poverty that is chosen: that of the poor of the Gospel who imitate Jesus in his generous self-donation to the Father and their brothers and sisters.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid