Message: Recognize God's gifts to you and that his goodness to others will ultimately lift you up.
For my birthday this month I received two wonderful presents. The gifts relate to important groups of parishioners. First, youth: On September 2 the World Youth Day Team presented me their charter. This team, which I sponsored, has the responsibility to develop the itinerary and budget (flights, lodging, etc.) for our 2016 pilgrimage to Krakow. The second gift relates to young families: our new family room for parents with small children. Those gifts represent my desire that our parish welcome, embrace and respond to needs of young families and youth.
Those gifts tie in with the theme of the homily series: Finding your place in God's world. Today we arrive at the final homily in the series. We have learned that finding one's place enables a person to overcome envy. Envy poisons our relationship with each other and with God.
In today's parable the landowner, who represents God, asks "Are you envious because I am generous?" If I am honest I will admit, "yes, I am envious." When I see someone get something I want, I do feel a twinge of envy. One of my fellow pastors receives a fifty thousand dollar bequest. I congratulate him, but I am thinking, what about me? And while I am at it, why did Pope Benedict pick Fr. Joe Tyson as bishop of Yakima - and not me? (smile)
Well, you get the point. All of us could make our own list. We do envy those who get things we want. The question is not, Am I envious? I know the answer. The question is, How do I overcome envy? I'd like to give three practical steps. I take them from Pastor Rick Warren who wrote The Purpose Driven Life. The original book had forty days, but later he added a forty-first day on "The Envy Trap." After describing the deadly effects of envy, he proposes steps to eradicating that vice.
The first step to eradicating envy is: Stop comparing yourself to others. That's hard. From our earliest days we compare ourselves with others: appearance, grades, athletic ability... When they chose teams, I was always the last kid picked.* I envied the guys with muscles and coordination. But as I became an adult I realized there were sports activities I could enjoy and keep most of my life. Now, I mainly walk with Samwise, but I also have a small exercise room that I use three times a week. Instead of comparing myself with other guys, I saw I had abilities that I could develop.
My story is small when I think of someone like Tony Melendez. Born without arms, Tony learned to play the guitar with his toes. He performed for St. John Paul II when the pope visited Los Angeles in 1987. Visibly moved, St. John Paul descended from his chair to embrace Melendez. The crowd broke into a sustained applause. They recognized that Tony could have filled himself with anger and envy, but he did not do that. He gave thanks for his two feet and developed the gifts God gave him.
So the first step to overcome envy is to stop comparing with others. When envy tempts you, treat it like an impure thought. Say, "I am not going down that path."
The first step is a big one, but the second is even more difficult: In place of envy, celebrate God's goodness to others. I mentioned the twinge of envy I felt when Pope Benedict appointed Joe Tyson as bishop of Yakima. In this case I found it fairly easy to celebrate rather than feel resentment. He had worked with me when he was a seminarian and I helped him get started learning Spanish. At his ordination I had the honor of vesting him, that is, placing the chasuble over him. So when he became bishop of Yakima, I did have reasons to celebrate rather than feel envy.**
The Bible says, "rejoice with those who rejoice." That can be hard. You and I thank God for gifts we receive. How often do we thank God for what God does for someone else? Eph 3:8 speaks of "the unending, boundless, fathomless, incalculable and exhaust-less riches of Christ." So don't worry. If someone else receives a blessing, God has plenty more where that one came from.
Have you ever walked a beach when the tide is coming in? It raises every raft, every buoy, every boat. Something similar happens with God's love. When the other person receives a gift, it doesn't take something from me. Just the opposite. God's love is like an incoming tide that lifts us all.*** Celebrate God's goodness to others and he will lift you with them.
So we have seen two huge steps to overcoming envy: Stop comparing with others and celebrate God's goodness to them. There's a third step, but it is even bigger. In fact, so big it will require another homily series. The new series will be a little different, but I will save that for next week.
Today God asks, "Are you envious because I am generous?" Give an honest answer - and then recognize his gifts to you and that his goodness to others will ultimately lift you up. As our Psalm says:
"Every day I will bless you...Great is the Lord and highly to be praised...The Lord is good to all." Amen.
*Once I got chosen first, but later I found out that the captains agreed beforehand to start with the two worst players. Still, I was grateful to them.
**And I am looking forward to attending his 25th ordination anniversary on September 29. St. Cyprian gives a great example of rejoicing in the achievements of others in his letter to Pope St. Cornelius:
My very dear brother, we have heard of the glorious witness given by your courageous faith. On learning of the honour you had won by your witness, we were filled with such joy that we felt ourselves sharers and companions in your praiseworthy achievements. After all, we have the same Church, the same mind, the same unbroken harmony. Why then should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happiness of its brothers wherever they are?
***The beach also provides an image of envy - a bucket of crabs: when one tries to climb out, the others reach up and pull him back down.
Finding Your Place Week 1:
Finding Your Place Week 2:
Finding Your Place Week 3:
Finding Your Place Week 4:
Finding Your Place Week 5:
Week 6: Exaltation of the Cross
Week 7: Summing Up - Are You Envious Because I am Generous?:
From Archives (for Twenty-fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru