AUGUST 1,2004, 18TH SUNDAY
 HOMILY- ECCLES. 1.2; 2:21-23; COL3:1-5, 9-11: LK: 12:13-21

SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT BACK TO TRUE LIFE WITH CHRIST, YOU MUST LOOK FOR THE THINGS THAT ARE IN HEAVEN. All three of today’s readings might seem addressed to a community of nuns or monks. For each of these passages teach the same lesson of detachment from the things that bind us to this world. But each of the authors had in mind an audience of persons who are quite ordinary members of society, living with their families and obliged to support them. The fact is that all true believers must, whatever be their station in life, break their attachments to this world and set their hearts on the things of God.

The first reading is from a Jewish thinker who tells his readers that he is very much a man of the world, acquainted with high society, interested in the workings of nature and of governments as well as in a variety of human relations. He was a man of wealth and so disposed of leisure that he employed in investigating the world in its variety and reflecting upon the experiences that life offers to the privileged. He became a teacher of wisdom, developed an effective style of writing and exerted himself to share with others his views on life. Here is how he sums up his life and the conclusion at which he had arrived.

I, Quoheleth, was king over Israel in Jerusalem and I applied my mind to search and investigate in wisdom all things that are done under the sun…. I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind. St. Bernard recommended to his community that they read and reflect on this author’s book in order to be formed to the detachment ecessary for progress in the contemplative way.

The Gospel we have just heard displays Our Lord reinforcing this lesson that Quoheleth proclaimed. He does so in a manner that he preferred, by means of stories that illustrate concretely his teaching. He speaks of a man who is carried away by the temptations that accompany success and riches and decides to enjoy his good fortune and expand his holdings. Such a man, he tells us, will hear God call him a fool. He is far removed from the wisdom  taught by Quoheleth.

St. Paul, in the second reading, makes the same point but in a very different manner. He stresses the positive purpose of detachment, namely, freedom of heart that allows use to direct our energy and efforts to those things that never perish. SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT BACK TO TRUE LIFE WITH CHRIST, YOU MUST LOOK FOR THE THINGS THAT ARE IN HEAVEN. Again it was to all the members of the Church to whom Paul addresses these words, all of whom at that time were living in the society that was in large measure caught up in activities and interests that absorbed a person’s interest and desires.

Paul was well aware of the difficulties of following this program of detachment from the ambitions and pleasures that so tempt us all. He knows that only a radical conversion will enable any one to follow this program for salvation and holiness. And so he goes on to describe the spiritual condition and the gifts that are at the disposal of each baptized member of the Church. “You have stripped off your old self and put on a new self that will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator.”

These words are spoken in the rite of putting on the monastic habit and so they evoke a particular response in the heart of all of us in the Order. As monks and nuns we seek to put into practice the lessons inculcated by the Jewish philosopher and raised to a new level of urgency by our Lord’s preaching. Above all, we are committed to the program that St. Paul announces as he reminds the early Christian community of Colossae of the spiritual meaning of their call as Christians. SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT BACK TO TRUE LIFE WITH CHRIST, YOU MUST LOOK FOR THE THINGS THAT ARE IN HEAVEN.

As we reflect on the inspired words of today’s readings and proceed to offer this Eucharist to the Lord of glory, may we all resolve to prove faithful to our monastic commitment by truly setting our heart on giving praise and glory to God by lives of loving service and of holiness.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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