Fr. Bill Carroll – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

It is so good to be back home and to see all of you.  We had a great vacation.  As many of you’ve seen, our daughter Rachel got engaged to a young man that we really like.  We have known Alex and his family for a long, long time.  Part of our time was spent with Rachel and Alex in Oklahoma.

And then, we spent the rest of our trip in St. Louis, where, several years ago, I made a thirty-day silent retreat.  I was able to introduce Tracey to Fr. Jim, the Jesuit who directed that retreat.  Jim just turned ninety.  And he was able to show us around the retreat center, including the chapel where I often prayed and the guest room where I spent most of my time.

One prayer that I prayed several times a day on that retreat reminds me of today’s Gospel, where Jesus teaches us the difference between “storing up treasures for ourselves” and “being rich toward God.” It is a paraphrase by David Fleming of a prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola.  The prayer is called the “First Principle and Foundation.” And the paraphrase goes like this:  

The goal of our life (it says) is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.  All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.  

As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal…Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to deepening God’s life in me.

Our trip to St. Louis was truly a vacation.  It’s the first one Tracey and I have had by ourselves since Danny was born.  But it also had several elements of pilgrimage to it.  The goal of every pilgrimage is spiritual renewal.  We travel with a purpose.  And that purpose is found in a deeper life with God.  Together with time we spent with our daughter and our future son-in-law, the highlight of the trip for me was that time with Fr. Jim in a holy place where I was renewed in my call from God.  

And that reminds me of our opening hymn today:

God of grace and God of glory, on thy people poor thy power;

Crown thine ancient Church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.

For the facing of this hour.

These are powerful words, and they ought to remind us of the awesome promises of God for us.  For God has given us his very own Spirit.  And God has given us every gift and grace we need to face the challenges of life.  Jesus Christ has triumphed over death, once and for all, and he has set us free to love each other—without exceptions or excuses.

We share in his victory by Holy Baptism  For there, we die with Jesus, and there we rise again in him.  That brings us to the third chapter of Colossians, our lesson for today:  “If you have been raised with Christ,” Paul urges us, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  Seek the things which are above, lest we “miss the goal” of the Kingdom.  Paul goes on to encourage us to “put to death” our “evil desires” and “greed,” which is “idolatry.”  He is urging us, among other things, to get rid of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  We do that, so that we may root ourselves more deeply in Jesus and be renewed in the image of our Creator. 

 Jesus is the image of God.  If you want to know what God is like, all you have to do is look at his Son, our Lord.  For, as a great saint has written, Jesus is “the human being fully alive.”  He is the image of God.  He is what we will look like, when all the damage of sin is removed.  He is what we will look like, when we become generous and loving and forgiving—just like God is.   Jesus is what we will look like, when the Spirit guides our steps, so that we are truly free.

As Jesus renews us in the power of the Spirit, we become more and more like him.  God’s life “deepens” in us, so that we become more generous, more loving, and more free.  Whatever challenges and disappointments we face, we can face them together with Jesus.  For his love flows into us without limit—equipping us to follow him.

This week I have had some deep conversations with many of you.  Among other things, you have shared with me about death and dying, about addiction and recovery, and about the quest for the meaning of life.  How we all long to be set free from the power of death—and to walk more closely with Jesus.

Our lesson from Colossians reminds us that following Jesus involves turning away from sin and death, to embrace him as our Savior—and to experience the life of love he gives us free of charge.  In particular, each of our readings this morning confronts our greed.  

All of us are tempted to hold on too tightly, whether it is to physical things (like the man Jesus tells us about in the Gospel) or to various forms of status, power, and control.  In fact, the desire for control is at the root of many, many types of unhappiness and idolatry. Our desire for control can even lead to violent divisions.  In our hymn, God calls us away from our “pride” and “warring madness,” as well as our “wanton, selfish gladness,” so that we might learn to live as God’s children and put God first in our lives.

Everything Jesus says—all he suffers and does for our salvation—all of it points us away from “greed” and toward the way of love.  For God is love.  And God is always opening our hearts to other people’s problems and perspectives.  God is always moving us out from the center of the universe, so that we might love our neighbors as ourselves—so that we might love God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is the heart of Christ’s teaching.

And it is love, which Jesus showed us on the Cross, that helps us face our losses and the diminishments we experience in our lives.  Love helps us find serenity in the middle of the storm.  Love keeps us true to ourselves, by showing us our neighbors.  And it is love—fearless, Christ-shaped love—which gives our lives true purpose.  We find our lives by losing them—and serving others in God’s Name.

And so, we sing:

Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore;

Let the gift of thy salvation be our glory evermore;

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore.

serving thee whom we adore.