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08/05/18 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Last week Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves, and all the people who witnessed the amazing miracle wanted to make Jesus king.

Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period in their history didn't have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. And the massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed him across the Sea of Galilee after he sneaked away in the middle of the night. They finally catch up to him, gather around him, and acclaim him once again. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow him to the death if only he will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.

But Jesus didn't come to earth in order to spark a political revolution.

He had a much bigger agenda, and so do his followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says: "Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life." True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfillment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.

Many of our Lord's most famous sayings taught the same lesson: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:4), for example, and "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33), and what does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).

Our life on earth is preparation from something greater; our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, "We have no lasting city" (Hebrews 13:14).

Scrooge learned this lesson in the nick of time. We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens's masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. And as the richest man in the city, he achieved his goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one's neighbor, and that's where true, everlasting happiness comes from. As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile.

Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.

St. Thomas Becket is one of them. He lived in England in the 1200s. He was best friends with King Henry II; they both were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, debauched together, and plotted together. Then King Henry got the idea of appointing Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that having his best friend occupy the highest Church position in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it. But when Thomas Becket was ordained, God's grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, stopped his loose living, and dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King wasn't pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral.

Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr's eternal crown - and you can rest assured that he has no regrets.

This is one reason why mature Christians are able to keep their balance in the midst of life's trials. Because we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in his promise that he has gone before us into heaven in order to prepare a place for us - and life's trials don't change that. Because we believe in Jesus Christ, we put our trust in his exhortation from John's Gospel: "In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous: I have conquered the world." Because we believe in Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose again from the dead, we know that our hope for heaven is not a pipe-dream, but a solid rock amid this life's storms. The painful troubles of this life are troubles that come to pilgrims along their journey - none of them will last forever.

If we were dedicating our lives to earning "food that perishes," to achieving earthly accomplishments only, then the sufferings of this life would be our worst enemies, because they affect everything that is earthly. But we are dedicating, or trying to dedicate, our lives to food that endures, to growth in "righteousness and holiness," as St Paul puts it in today's Second Reading. And the sufferings of this life cannot devour righteousness and holiness. In fact, if we look at the example of the saints, we see that sufferings and hardships can actually increase our righteousness and holiness, if we humbly unite them to Christ's cross.

In a few moments, Jesus will offer us once again the bread of life in the Eucharist, the food that endures, because it strengthens not only our body, but our soul.

When he does, let's thank him from the bottom of our hearts that he has loved us enough to show us the path to everlasting life.

 

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