The Desire for Wealth

(Homily for Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: Our desire for possessions can lead to conflict, even war. Jesus shows us way out of this trap. Sr. Leonella Sgorbati followed that way.

St. James asks: where do wars among you come from? He says they come from envy - the desire for possessions, especially those things which belong to someone else. We might think that envy is mainly the sin of those who have little. A person might think, if only I had a little more money, that would solve all my problems.

That is not necessarily the case. A person can have enormous wealth and still be filled with envy. The journalist Peggy Noonan tells about an interview she had with the CEO, Chief Executive Officer, of a large corporation. It was annual report time and he told her he was looking forward to reading the reports of other companies. Why? She asked. He said he always flipped to last pages to see what other CEO’s got as part of their package: corporate jets, helicopters, etc. Peggy Noonan was silent. To defend himself the man said, We all do it. We all want to see who has what.

Something is wrong in our hearts. This desire for possessions can set us against other people. We can start to think that because I own something, I am better than the other guy. Advertisers constantly appeal to that false pride. A billboard for a car says, Confuse the Jones. They want you to buy their car not so you can get back and forth to work - but because of the effect it has on other people.

That is the trap of envy, constantly wanting something which will make us better than the next guy. All of us can recognize the trap, but it is hard to get out of it. Today Jesus shows us a way out. After telling his disciples about his coming suffering and death, they were having a conversation on the road. You would think they were talking about what Jesus meant by his passion. But they were not. When they got back to the house, Jesus asked them what they were talking about. He knew they were discussing which one was the most important.

Jesus then did something dramatic. He called in someone who people in his day considered of small importance - a little child. It was like placing a newly hatched chick in front of some strutting roosters. Then he embraced the child and said that whoever received a child like this, receives him. It hit the disciples like a bucket of cold water. Wake up. They remembered it - and even though it made them look bad - they told others about it.

Jesus was teaching them how to overcome envy, that desire to be considered the most important. Now, overcoming envy does not mean settling for mediocrity. No we are children of God and we should strive for excellence - and even for wealth, if we have the correct motive. Time magazine recently had a cover story titled, Does God want you to be wealthy? Today’s readings give the answer. If you want money in order to be more important than someone else, that money will not bring a blessing, but a curse. But, if you identify with the little ones, God will want you to have the means to help them.

This week in the bulletin I put the picture of a religious sister who identified with God’s little ones. For three decades Sister Leonella Sgorbati served the poor in East Africa. A week ago, around midnight, she was finishing her turn at the children’s hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Two gunmen hid behind an empty kiosk and as Sr. Leonella came out of the hospital, they shot her in the leg. When her bodyguard fired back, they shot and killed him. Then they shot Sr. Leonella two more times in the back. As she was dying, she kept saying, Pardono, pardono. I forgive, I forgive.

We don’t know all the motives of the killers. In Somalia, like many other countries, Moslem leaders were calling for violence against Christians. But there seemed to be something more in the case of Sr. Leonella. She was in the process of founding a training school for local nurses - and she was battling government bureaucracy. She even joked that somewhere in Somalia there was a bullet with her name engraved on it. Envy, she knew, can lead people to murder. Sr. Leonella not only pardoned her killers, but she shows a way out of envy. It is Jesus' way. It involves embracing the little child, as she did in her work in the children’s hospital. And as Jesus tells us, Whoever welcomes a little child in his name, welcomes him - and the One who sent him.

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*From her book Pope John Paul the Great.

Earlier Version

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for 25th Sunday, Year B):

2012: We Are Little People
2009: The Antidote for Envy
2006: The Desire for Wealth
2003: Text in Context
2000: He Placed a Child in Their Midst
1997: Twice as Many Things, Twice as Unhappy

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (New Murals, Annual Catholic Appeal shortfall, Sister Leonella Sgorbati)

Announcements

Mark Shea as the dust settles:

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus: As many commentators, Muslim and other, do not know because they manifestly have not read the lecture, it was not chiefly about Islam

Mufti Ali el-Amin asks co-religionists to read what the Pope said with “calm and serenity”, and avoid “impulsive and irrational reactions as well as street language.”

Rod Dreher's response to New York Time's demand that pope apologize

On a happier note: YouTube Video of Samwise & Pippin at my brother's Shellfish Farm

Also: Samwise and Pippin disputing a stick

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(September 2009)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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Parish Picture Album

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