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Homily for Sunday, August 5th

Fr. Peter Lobo, O.P. 

   bleu line

The Christian Dominican Challenge

"Challenges in English;" "Challenges in French." "Clarifications;" "Amendments;" "Please vote;" "Voting is closed." These must be familiar terms by now, perhaps too familiar. Some of us may be looking forward to the end of the Chapter so that we do not have to hear these words again: "challenges," "clarifications," "amendments."

But this morning, a different challenge is put before us in Paul's letter to the Colossians. This is a challenge that is Christian and Pauline, and it admits of no amendments. Paul was faced with a Christian community at Colossae that was not his showpiece, not his pride and joy, because it was caught up in Gnostic speculations and other problems. And so, he puts before them, and us, a very clear challenge that answers the basic question: "Where ought the sights of a Christian be fixed if he or she belongs to Christ and has been raised up with Christ in baptism? He gives a simple and straightforward answer, a direct challenge:

Seek the things that are above where Christ is.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
Put to death the parts of you that are earthly.

This is a corollary that follows from the fact that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. Certainly, where your treasure is there will your heart be also. And, if you really believe something, if you are convinced about it, you will live by your convictions; you will be committed to your convictions. In a word, Paul is putting before us the challenge of holiness: our lives must be hidden with Christ in God; not steeped in what is earthly - immorality, passion, evil desire, etc. We need realism in responding to the challenge of being one with Christ; our feet on the ground spirituality, but simultaneously with our head held high.

But what does this mean in actual practice? How are we to live in Christ and for Christ so that we can seek the things above and have our lives hidden with Christ in God? How are we to travel our pilgrim journey to holiness? How can we also become guides and helps to others along this pilgrim way? Jesus is our guide and our lighthouse. He shows us the way: "I am the way." "He who follows me will have the light of life." "Follow me." "Listen to my voice."

One clue that will help us answer our quest is what Jesus gives us in today's Gospel:

Guard against all greed.
One's life does not consist in possessions.
Do not store up earthly treasure but be rich in what matters to God.

This is indeed the true New Testament spirituality of poverty, detachment and mendicancy. Without it, our sights will be set on the things of earth, not on what is above, and we will not have put to death earthly desires for possessions. Dispossess oneself, be detached.

To do these things are not all that easy. But Vincent McNabb gives us two wise principles of life which will help us to do this: "Cut down your wants and cut down your needs." "Do as much as you can with as little as you can." Then you will be able to store up treasure in heaven and will share your goods with the poor.

We need material and financial resources, but let us not be like the foolish rich man of today's Gospel. His riches were snatched away from him in a flash. Our poverty provides us with time and space for God, and it gives us an apostolic mobility that makes us available for the Gospel, something riches will only rob from us.

The spiritual wisdom of Jesus goes far beyond the practical wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes where the preacher warns us that possessions are vanity and great misfortune and that, whether we like it or not, we will have to leave our material riches behind for someone else. We cannot take anything (wealth, material possessions) along with us in the last analysis. Unnecessary possessions bring anxiety, and even sorrow and grief at their loss. Poverty and detachment bring freedom and availability. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Dominic saw this early on in his ministry when he and Bishop Diego were in the South of France. He learnt from the Apostles and from the Cathar heretics to cherish the freedom for God and for the Gospel that came from poverty and detachment. He gave us mendicancy as the secret weapon that gives authenticity to and assures the success of our preaching mission. We need to retrieve that secret weapon.

Let me share an Indian story with you:

There was a Guru who had a small hermitage on the banks of a river. One of his very fervent disciples who joined him and underwent a long apprenticeship finally became very proficient in the life of the spirit. He became a holy, diligent, poor, ascetic, enthusiastic disciple. One day the Guru came to him and told him that he had to go on a long pilgrimage and that he would like him to look after his hermitage during his absence. The disciple gladly agreed. In the beginning, people flocked to the disciple because he was very much like his Guru, poor and holy, and was able to give them great spiritual advice. However, one day after the disciple had bathed in the river, he hung up his loincloth to dry on the roof of the hermitage. That night, a mouse nibbled at his loincloth and tore it. The disciple had to get another one and the same thing happened again. To get rid of the mouse, he decided to get a cat. But to feed the cat, he needed milk and so he decided to buy a cow. To keep the cow fed, he needed grass, and so he bought a field. To till the field he needed help and so he married a wife. The wife gave him children and to look after his children he needed servants and a bigger house. Finally, he ended up with a mansion like the ones you see in Newport, so that he could house his family and his servants. Many years later, the Master returned. He was dumbfounded by what he saw. He could not believe his eyes. When he finally met the disciple, who now looked very different, he asked him, "What is all this about? What has happened?" The disciple replied, "Master, this is what you have done to me by putting me in charge of the hermitage."

I wonder if Dominic would recognize us as his disciples were he to come back to visit us today. Would Dominic, our Master, have the same experience as the Guru? So, let us retrieve Dominic's spirit and his poverty and mendicancy, and then we will be able to follow Jesus more closely and live the challenge to holiness.

"Christian and Dominican challenge." "No amendments." "Let us vote." "Voting is closed." "126 affirmative, 0 negative, 0 abstentions." puce


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