26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

the-good-placeThere’s a new show on NBC called “The Good Place”.   I don’t think it’s ever going to be called great television, but it’s kind of cute. The idea is that this young woman, Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, has died and gone to the “good place”. But there’s been a mistake. In life Eleanor was kind of a jerk and doesn’t deserve to be in the “good place”,

 

Her presence in the good place is causing some kind of a disturbance in the atmosphere and Eleanor has to clean up her act before anyone finds out what’s happened and she gets sent to the “bad place”.

 

Like I said, the show is cute, but besides not being great television, it’s also not great theology. No one ever mentions God and the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used. In fact, they don’t talk a lot about the “bad place” except to play a sound bite where there’s a lot of screaming and wailing. Eleanor is told that that’s what’s happening right now in the bad place.

 

There are some good things about this show. One is Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are very good. Another thing is that it’s a show about morality, which is rare today in prime-time television. As hard as Eleanor tries, it’s impossible to curse in “the good place”. Her mentor and “soul mate” is trying to educate her on ethics and morality so she can stay. And, even though the show isn’t very good theology, it’s kind of Catholic in it’s approach to heaven and hell. Overall, it’s a better use of thirty minutes than a lot of other things on television. It’s only been on twice so we’ll have to see how it develops and if it can get and hold an audience with it’s morality message.

 

Eleanor’s story is a little bit like the story of the rich man in today’s Gospel though Luke’s story is much more disturbing. Here we have a rich man who lived high on the hog when he was alive and would have nothing to do with Lazurus, the poor man who was lying at his door. Now they’ve both died and Lazurus has been carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man is in torment in the netherworld. Luke tells us he is suffering in the flames.

 

The image is disturbing because it’s a very graphic description of what could happen to us. lazarusIt’s one of the few times in the New Testament when hell is described in such graphic detail. Yes, I said the h-word. Hell. The netherworld. The bad place. It’s something we don’t like to think about. But, here it is in black and white. It IS a possibility.

 

So what does the rich man do? He tries to use Lazurus. “Send him to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Even now he doesn’t get it. Then, when Abraham tells him that it’s not going to happen, he wants Lazurus sent to his father and brothers to warn them of what could happen to them, again taking advantage of the poor man. But Abraham tells the rich man, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to THEM.”

 

This is another disturbing thought for us. We also have Moses and the prophets. The first reading today is from Amos, one of the greatest of all the prophets, telling us “Woe to the complacent.” Are you complacent? Or do you take eternity seriously? The readings today are meant to shake us out of our complacency. How much more warning do we need? The reading ends with the very ominous passage, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

 

One thing about today’s Gospel story that I find interesting is that after 2,000 years we know the poor man’s name; Lazurus. But we don’t know the rich man’s name. He must have been important in this life, otherwise he wouldn’t have been rich. But today we have no idea who he was. His story is important to us but his identity isn’t.

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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

mother-teresa

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” 

 

This is a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta who, as you probably know is being canonized by Pope Francis today in Rome. I think it’s important that we all understand what it means to be called a Saint by the Church. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow (today) she’s any different than she was when she was alive. Some people will mistakenly say that Francis is making Teresa a Saint. That’s wrong. Only God can do that. What is happening is that the Church is officially recognizing what we all knew all along.

 

You and I can be saints just as surely as Teresa is a saint, and we don’t have to travel to India to do it. We don’t have to open a hospital or tend to the sick and dying. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s not necessary. Teresa said it herself.

 

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”  And that’s coming from someone who did a lot of good things.

Another woman, an American nun, said “We’re all called to be great saints.” That was Mother Angelica. She didn’t build hospitals. She built a TV station. But she did it with great love and I suspect she’s as much of a saint as Mother Teresa. I hope someday the Church canonizes her too.

 

As I was doing research for this homily I was surprised at how much negative stuff I found about Teresa. She had a lot of critics; even a lot of enemies. But isn’t that always the way? After all, they DID crucify Jesus Himself. When you do good things, you’re going to arouse a lot of resentment, mostly from people who don’t do anything themselves.

 

Look at today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the crowds, “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Look at what happened to Him. Luke tells us “great crowds were traveling with Jesus.” He speaks to them and lays down some pretty heavy instructions. “Take up your cross.” “Renounce all your possessions.” “Hate your parents, your wife and your children, your siblings, even your own life.”

 

In the end, when He was crucified, the great crowds were gone and He was pretty much alone. It wasn’t easy to follow Jesus. It still isn’t.

 

I’ve always had a problem with the idea of renouncing all my possessions. We’ve just gone through the Beyond Sunday campaign, and the Annual Catholic Appeal. There’s a second collection today for Catholic University. Your chapel is always in need of money. How can I respond to all these things if I don’t have any possessions? It seems confusing.

 

The answer is in today’s bulletin, in the Stewardship Thought for the week. Here’s what it says: “what we must renounce is the belief that our possessions belong to us.  Everything that we have belongs to God alone.  All of our resources are entrusted to us not only for our own use, but also so that we can help others.  Once we renounce the idea that we possess or are entitled to anything, it is much easier to share the many gifts that God has given us.  Then we truly are His Disciples.”

 

That makes perfect sense. After all these years I finally understand. I don’t have to give up my stuff, I just have to understand that it’s not really mine. God has given me things so I can use them for His glory. When we’re asked to give, either to the Church, or to the poor, or to some other good cause, we’re being asked to give back a little of what wasn’t really ours in the first place.

 

The first reading asks us, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” That’s a good question. The answer is nobody. We can’t know what God intends. We’re not smart enough. But, as the reading says, “He has given us wisdom and sent His Holy Spirit from on high.” And every once-in-a-while, we’ll get a flash of inspiration, like I did when I read the Stewardship quote.

 

The same goes with Jesus instruction to “hate” our families. He’s not telling us to hate anyone. He’s the guy who told us to love one another as we love ourselves. What He’s telling us is to not put anyone before Him. We’re not supposed to hate our own lives. He wants us to give our lives in service to others.

 

So, as we celebrate this last holiday weekend of the summer, and celebrate the canonization of a great Catholic woman, let’s remember where we started, with the quote from Saint Teresa,

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”