God on your to-do list: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Note: The following is an edited version of a homily I delivered at the Sacramento State Newman Center. My parish homily was a bit different due to a capital campaign we are currently conducting. The readings can be found here.


Have you made time for God in your schedule lately? Yes, of course, we all know when we need to be at Sunday Mass, but do you carve time out for Him in your daily schedule? Is your relationship with God a priority in your life?

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Ah, the good ‘ol days of seminary…

Recently in a newspaper article entitled, “The Trivial Tasks that Haunt Our To-Do Lists”, author Emma Brockes writes about how all of these little tasks pile up on our to-do lists and can slow us down and even grind us to a halt to the point that we don’t get them done. In Emma’s case, it was a broken vacuum cleaner that sat in her home for a few weeks. Recently, I was pushed to look at my own “to-do” list after making a comment to our seminarian that I had 25 tasks left to do in the week and yet later in the day, I postponed (in other words, procrastinated) on several of them. We all have long to-do lists and packed schedules and sometimes I wonder if we couldn’t thin them out a bit in order to place God on our calendar, in order to make time for Him because, honestly, He is a lot more important than some of the items that we absent-mindedly place on our to-do lists.

The Sunday readings during November have an eternal focus and here I am talking about mundane things like to-do lists and calendars but if we do not carve out time for God now, here in the present moment, how can we hope to have the time to spend with Him in eternity? One day the Lord will come: sooner than we think, “the sun of justice with [His] healing rays”[1] will come to renew the world, even though He will start as a small child in a far off manger. “The Lord comes to rule the Earth with justice” and if we are not ready for Him, if we don’t make time for Him now, how can we hope to recognize Him when He does come?

This daily preparation, this daily striving to build a relationship with God, a relationship that He so desperately wants with us, is the key to recognizing the presence of God in our lives. By placing God first in our lives, we will recognize His presence, the prompting of His Holy Spirit in even the smallest moments. In our world today, there are all kinds of strange teachings that surround us. Many even come in the name of Jesus, saying, “I am he”[2] but they are false prophets. There are people and even organizations that set themselves up as saviors for us all, but we must never be fooled. Politicians, celebrities, gurus, and all sorts of people will set themselves up as “the next best thing.” Instead of following them, we need to follow Jesus Christ and take to heart the exhortation of Saint Paul, working quietly, earning our keep, and building a relationship with God.[3]

How do we build that relationship? Again, we go back to the need to carve out time for God in our daily lives, to build a true and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. Is it easy? No, certainly not: people will hate us because of the name of Christ, but not a hair on our heads will be harmed if we only stand fast for the truth, justice, and mercy of our Lord. The only way to recognize where we must go, to discover God in our lives, is to build a relationship with Him in the first place, and the only way to do THAT my friends is to make time for Him each and every day.

“The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down,” when all of this that we have here will be taken away and we will be left with nothing but a face to face encounter with God.[4] When that time comes, what will we say? Will we have to explain how we had more important things to do than to spend time with Him? Or will we take peace and consolation in the fact that in our life’s highs and lows, we turned to Him, we made time for Him, and we sought Him out?

Many of us here are in the midst of midterms or even starting to look toward finals. For my own part, I have an unfinished thesis hanging over me that beckons to be completed. We have so much to worry about and so much to do, but in the big scheme of things, isn’t God more important? Yes, we have many things in our lives that demand our time, talent, and treasure, but God should take pride of place among it all. I am not saying that we should shirk our responsibilities, but imagine if we came face to face with God and said, “Oh Lord, I don’t have time this week – next week I will stop and spend some time with you.” My friends, the time and place is now. Here in this moment, we are about to be face to face with God in the Eucharist. In our daily lives, surely, we all have time, talent, or treasure, myself included, that we can dedicate to Him. Let’s make our Blessed Lord more important than that big exam, that soccer game, or our next purchase at the Amazon and place Him first in our lives. If we put him first, everything else will fall into place.

“But Father!” I can hear you saying, “I have too much to do or too much to worry about!” Our Lord answers that by saying, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” We worry too much about needless things, forgetting that our Lord tells us, “I myself shall give you wisdom in speaking.” Elsewhere in Scripture, He says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”[5]

Let us set aside our worries and trust in God’s providence. Yes, we all have many important things to worry about in our lives, but now, as we come face to face with God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us worry about the only thing that matters: eternal life with God. Let’s re-examine our to-do lists and calendars and make time for Him, even making Him the first priority in our lives because we will find that, in the end, eternity is a lot more important than that broken vacuum cleaner.


References:

[1] First reading

[2] Gospel reading

[3] Cf. second reading

[4] Gospel reading

[5] Matt. 6:31-32

On the Journey: Spring Cleaning and Attachment to Sin

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 4-5

“But our ambition to obtain all these things must not lead us astray from You, O Lord, nor must we depart from what Your law allows.” Confessions II.5

Pears

By Keith Weller – USDA, Image Number K5299-1., Public Domain

Moving has a way of forcing a person to evaluate his or her priorities. As I packed my belongings at the seminary in preparation for my language immersion trip to Mexico and my Pastoral Internship during the next academic year, I realized that I had a lot of stuff to weed out. Some of it were things that I no longer used, or old clothes, or items that I didn’t really need in the first place. Packing gave me a chance to focus on what should be my priority, namely, my formation and preparation for the priesthood, and so I was able to divest myself of quite a few belongings. Many items I kept too, such as those relating to what I consider “central” hobbies or interests in my life: theology, astronomy, or writing (and, of course, Star Trek and Star Wars). All in all, it was a very freeing experience, being able to take stock of everything and discern whether or not it was truly necessary in my life.

All of that said, I must say this: attachment to material things is no small obstacle to overcome!

In this week’s selection, Saint Augustine shows us the danger of attachment to material things. He relates what I consider to be one of the most jarring stories in Book II of the Confessions: when he and several friends stole an enormous amount of pears from a local orchard. This tale may not seem like much, but when one takes into account Augustine’s motivations, the reader can see just how dangerous material covetousness can be. He uses this moment to show how we can be attached to the material world for its own sake, and even more diabolically, how we can even be attached to sin for the mere feeling that it provides. Augustine even admits that he “had no wish to enjoy the things I [he] coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and the sin” (II.4).

We must remember, however, that material objects in and of themselves are not sinful. One does not sin by owning the best computer or the fanciest boat. Sin enters the picture when these items are loved for their own sake, rather than for the end of true joy in glorifying God and building up oneself and others in a positive way. After all, as Augustine notes, “The life we live on Earth has its own attractions as well, because it has a certain beauty of its own in harmony with the world’s beauty” (II.5). The beauty of God and creation as seen through material things cannot be denied! But what happens when we move into excess? Is the fanciest boat or best computer really that necessary?

The danger comes when we attach too much importance to material items, and again, Augustine leads the way in this thinking: “They are of the lower order of good, and if we are too much tempted by them we abandon those higher and better things, Your truth, Your law, and You Yourself, O Lord our God” (II.5). In other words, when we attach an importance to an item, a feeling, or even a person, that is outside of this proper order of things, then we lose our focus and we fall back in on ourselves, leading eventually to sin; we follow Augustine’s footsteps directly into the pear orchard.

camel_needle_gifThe pear orchard, however, is not an endless trap! We must work to reexamine our lives, and place everything where it belongs. We do not sin by possessing material items, but I do believe that it adds a greater burden on our lives, for after all, Jesus Christ tells us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19.24). So let’s take a moment to examine our lives, our attachments, and discern where we can use a bit of spring cleaning.

Just don’t take away my books. Anything but the books!

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I place inordinate attachment to anything in my life, outside of its proper order, whether that be a person, an object, or even an idea or emotion?
  2. How can I better re-order the priorities in my life so that my material possessions can help me become a better person, in terms of how I treat myself, how I interact with others, and how I relate to and worship God?

Up next time: Confessions II.6-10

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.