Message: If we do not rely on the Lord, if we forget how he rescued us, if we block out the poor, we can easily become lost. We can wind up in exile - eternal separation, eternal loss, the fires of hell.
This is the third homily on the Geography of Faith. In the past two homilies we have heard about how God frees us from the slavery of Egypt and leads us to the Promised Land. We learned that the Promised Land is not place a rest - like a long Caribbean cruise - but a place of warfare, spiritual warfare and frequent repentance, making a new beginning. We also learned that for most people, the Promised Land is marriage. Marriage - as well as priesthood, religious life, the consecrated lay state - takes hard work and vigilance.
In today's Old Testament reading we hear what can happen if we grow slack. We read about a frightening possibility: the threat of exile. Amos denounces the leading people; they had become comfortable and self-indulgent, indifferent to those on the margins: the poor, the lost, the afflicted. "Woe to the complacent," says Amos, "they shall be the first to go into exile."
This is one of the most sobering texts in the Bible. Think about it: The Israelites had entered the Promised Land at great risk. It took courage to cross the Jordan River, lay siege to Jericho and the other cities. After the Conquest, they faced continued attacks, but (with the leadership of first, the Judges, then King David) they overcame - and prospered. Instead of gratitude to God, however, they became enclosed in themselves, wrapped up in their own problems - and their pleasures.
It is possible to lose one's way, to lose one's vocation. For that reason, God sends the prophets. They remind the people of what they suffered in Egypt: the oppression, the humiliation, the slavery - and how God freed them, gave them a new life. And, because they knew oppression and misery, they should show compassion to people who are beaten down.
Have you noticed how Pope Francis is constantly reminding us about the poor? It's not just that he wants a better life for them. He does of course, but he does not want us to become another group of philanthropists.* We have a deeper reason for caring for the poor. We do so because we remember what God has done for us. If we neglect the poor, we become lost.
That's the problem Amos addresses. The people have forgotten what God did for them. Instead of gratitude they have become complacent. With the poor at their doorstep they stretch out in beds of ivory. Archaeologists have found furniture inlaid with ivory dating back to this period. They were more concerned how their furniture looked than they were with the poor at their doorstep.** Because of this, says Amos, they faced the threat of Exile - of losing everything.
We know that the Exile happened. It is an historical event. In 721 B.C. the Assyrians overwhelmed Israel and led away the ten northern tribes. They were easy picking because they had grown slack.
Perhaps you have heard of the lost tribes. Some people think they became British or the Irish - or even the Native Americans. The fact is, we do not know. What we know is that they were lost. Their exile is a warning to us. We can become lost.
You and I can be lost - forever. Jesus makes that clear in the Gospel. He tells about a man so wrapped up in his fine clothes and fine food that he didn't even see the poor man. The rich man had no gratitude; he did not remember the source of his wealth. He thought he had done it on his own. Enclosed in himself, he was already lost; he was living in a self-made hell - isolated from God and from his fellow human beings. Jesus says that he faces an eternal exile - the fires of hell.
Jesus, like Amos, announces the threat of exile. You and I could lose the Promised Land. I have to apply the warning first to myself. But I also have a pastoral responsibility to you. The words of Amos and of Jesus are hard words, but I cannot hide them from you.
The Geography of Faith means that you and I are like Israel: A small nation surrounded by great powers - Egypt to south and Assyria to the north. Like Israel we have real enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. Next week I will talk about how we can resist the hostile powers. What we have seen today is that if we do not rely on the Lord, if we forget how he rescued us, if we block out the poor, we can become lost. We can wind up in exile - eternal separation, eternal loss, the fires of hell.
No one has to go to hell. Jesus tells us that we have Moses and the prophets. Listen to them. We have heard the warnings of the prophet Amos, "Woe to the complacent!" I would like to conclude with the invitation of another prophet: Hosea. He lived around the same time as Amos. Through Hosea, God asks us to remember our first love, "I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart." (2:16)
In the desert God had courted his people, like a young man courting his lady. That courtship in the desert, you might remember, involved three things: cult, code and creed. Cult is pure worship. Sometimes lovers say: I adore you. Of course, complete adoration, pure worship belongs only to God. That's why the people needed a code (the Commandments) and a creed: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone."
Prophets like Hosea remind us of our first love. Listen to them. Hosea's prophecy has become a popular song. Don't worry I won't sing it, but these are good words to avoid exile and to stay in the Promised Land. Here's what we must do: "Come back to me, with all your heart. Don't let fear keep us apart. Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life." Amen.
*In his opening homily as pope, he said:
"We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO (non-governmental organization) and not a Church which is the bride of Christ..."
"He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon...We must always walk in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, always trying to live in an irreprehensible way."
**There is a balance in this. The apartments where Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict lived are relatively modest - less space and less convenience that middle-class homes in the United States. And of course Pope Francis has chosen an even humbler setting. At the same time, for the sake of the people and to glorify God, he has beautiful vestments and a beautiful place (St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Audience Hall, etc.) to receive people and worship God.
From Archives (Homilies for Twenty-Sixth Sunday, Year C):
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.
Bishop Bob Barron's Homilies
Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Resources for Geography of Faith
Geography of Faith Retreat by Bishop Liam Cary
Parish Picture Album
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)
Geography of Faith - Overview (MP3 audio file of 50 minute presentation given on September 25, 2013 to parish Generations of Faith)
Geography of Faith, Part Two (MP3 audio file of homily given on September 22, 2013)
Geography of Faith, Part One (MP3 audio file of homily given on September 15, 2013)
Outline of Geography of Faith
Geografia de Fe
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru