Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost – September 2, 2012 by Right Reverend Monsignor Patrick Perez, O.S.J.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Those of us who were of age in 1988, and what I mean when I say of age, I don’t mean legal age, I just mean you remember things that happened in 1988. If you were born in 1988, that kind of doesn’t count. You don’t really remember what went on. But those of us who were of age in 1988, will undoubtedly recall a hit song from that year. The work of Rastafari philosopher and song write Bobby McFerrin. The song enshrined the depth of Rastafari wisdom and ambition, and it was called, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Now, I won’t say the whole thing, but you remember it was, There’s a little song I wrote, You might like to sing it note for note, Don’t worry, Be Happy — the depth of Rastafari wisdom.
Many, unfortunately, consider this simplistic drivel, though, to be a summary of Our Lord’s words from today’s gospel. As if you need to be told, nothing could be farther from the truth. You know, we hear Our Lord pointing out the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and it seems that He’s saying, don’t worry, be happy. God the Father takes care of all of these. Don’t you think He’s going to take care of you? But that’s not all there is to it. But what is Our Lord talking about when He’s talking about God and mammon and lilies of the field and so forth? Well, I’m going to pick it apart a bit.
The first part is about you cannot serve both God and mammon. Now, what is mammon? There’s a little dispute between scripture scholars. Some were thinking that mammon was actually the name of a demon. That opinion is not popular among scripture scholars anymore. It really is the general consensus that mammon stands for excessive earthly riches and pleasures and this kind of thing, and we are going to take it as such. So, when we are talking about mammon, we’re talking about worldliness and the pursuit of riches, especially.
You cannot serve both God and mammon. Many think that this means you can’t own material goods and have any chance of going to heaven as well. But, Our Lord does not say that. He doesn’t say that you can’t have money or goods and go to heaven. He uses the key word serve. You cannot serve both God and mammon. So, what about this word “serve”? Well, think about it. You know, in the time when my grandparents were small, which wasn’t all that long ago in terms of history, probably even when some of you were kids, if you are old enough. The notion of having servants in homes in this country even was not that unusual. Not everybody had them. But it was fairly widespread that people had servants who lived in the house, not just the very rich, but also the middle class generally as well. So, they had live-in cooks or maids, butlers. Not a lot of them, but the idea was not unknown. And the person would live in the home and then in exchange for room and board and salary and whatnot they would take care of the family’s needs, the kitchen, or whatever it was.
Well, this was something that was all encompassing. It was a full-time occupation. So, we can see “serve” in this sense. You cannot serve both God and mammon in that light, as a servant who lives in a home and takes care of a family might view it. You cannot dedicate yourself entirely to the pursuit of or the taking care of both God and His kingdom and the excessive riches of the world. You can’t do both. We can’t serve both God and mammon because the pursuit of God and His kingdom is diametrically opposed to the pursuit of riches. Each is a full-time job, and I don’t mean 40 hours a week. I mean each is an all-consuming profession, and, therefore, you can only do one or the other. You can’t serve in that sense two things that are opposed, because of the nature of things.
So, then, what is meant by serving God? Well, what did Our Lord say? He said when asked what the greatest commandment was, He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Serving God is pursuing all these things. And what I mean is, pursuing the love of God. You know, the love of God has to be pursued. You don’t just go from not loving God to loving Him by saying, Oh, I’m supposed to love God. Okay. Now I’m loving Him. Before I wasn’t loving Him, but now I am loving Him. It takes more than that. It takes God working in your soul, first of all, because He has to change your heart and mind and soul into a heart and mind and soul that is pleasing to Him and that loves Him and that wants to please Him and do His will. So, if you are going to serve God, then you seek to do whatever it takes to love Him with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
Serving God is pursuing all these things, doing the will of God and doing all He asks of us for the love of Him, including bearing our many crosses that we have. Now, if one is dedicated to the pursuit of riches and, you know, you can picture people like that. There are people, maybe people you know, that all they want to do is get money. But certainly this is true of the CEO’s of some of the more ruthless organizations, you know, the petroleum companies or something like that, like CEO of ARCO or whatever. Or McDonald’s, for that matter. They are not really interested in people or God, for that matter. They are interested in what they call the bottom line. And what’s the bottom line? It’s how much money we can make. They don’t care if it is at the expense of someone’s health or their life or whatever. The people working for them are merely tools, and they use them to increase the profit of the company. I mean, look at some of these jobs that are out there. It’s kind of scandalous. Like, you know, you see those poor people working at Wal-Mart, especially the greeters, who might be older people. They can’t afford to have the job, and they can’t afford not to have it. It’s a kind of a slavery. But Wal-Mart, by giving them pittance, they get somebody to greet you at the door and give the semblance that it’s at least the second happiest place on earth. At THE happiest place on earth, I’m sure their employees aren’t treated any better. I saw a sticker on the back of one of the cars that says, “ Disneyland, the happiest place on earth unless you work there“. So, (Father laughing) it’s the same with all these companies. They want the bottom line, they don’t care, in particular, about individual people.
Now, if one is dedicated to the pursuit of riches, then you have to abandon all of the above about loving God with your whole heart and your whole soul and mind, especially the part about love your neighbor as yourself. How could you pursue riches ruthlessly and love your neighbor as yourself. Pursuing riches ruthlessly means you stomp on your neighbor, as it were, and use them to increase your profit, and we certainly know that that happens. The pursuit of earthly riches involves, in fact, things prohibited by God, such as usury, theft, deceit, preying on human misery and the like. Clearly, then, one cannot serve both God and mammon.
Now, Our Lord goes on, He talks about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Is He saying, Don’t worry, be happy? Well, no, of course He’s not. Our Lord speaks and draws attention to certain things and sometimes by the use of hyperbole, as it were. He is emphasizing, look at the flowers and the birds and everything. They don’t know anything, and, yet, God takes care of them. God feeds the birds, they don’t gather anything into barns. They really don’t know how to plant crops. But God takes care of them. Look at these beautiful flowers in the field. You are worried about what you are going to wear. They can’t even think, and look how God clothes them. Not even Solomon was dressed up as good as they are. They are just flowers. And, so, what He is doing is calling our attention to these things to excite in us confidence in the providence of God. If God takes care of the birds and arrays the flowers of the field so beautifully, how much more will He care for a man, whom He has made to His image and likeness, and through baptism has adopted as His child, if only he acts as such. Meaning if he acts as a child of God. He keeps His commandments and always keeps a filial confidence in Him, a confidence in God that a son would have for a good father.
Is Christ saying that we should meditate on God all day and do nothing else and, then, He’ll just shower us with food and raiment and housing and things like that. You know, Oh, I’m going to trust in God. Well, why don’t you go out and get a job? Oh, know, I’m going to trust in God. Okay. That’s not what He’s saying. Well, look at right here in the Bible, it says that those things don’t work and God takes care of them and clothes them, so why do I have to get a job, you see. Or, why do I have to do anything? Why do I have to clean my room? Right? So, okay, kids, sit there waiting for God to clean your room and we’ll see what happens. It’s not going to happen, of course. It’s just nonsense. In fact, some think that it would be a failure to trust in God’s providence to actually do any kind of work, which is not what the gospel says at all.
When Our Lord draws our attention to providence, remember He is especially drawing our attention to His providence in times of when we can’t do anything about something. You know, we’re having not very good economic times now. If that awful person in the White House gets re-elected, we’ll probably be — I’d like to say you’ll all be back in chains, you know, like they said on the news recently. Literally, we won’t have any money left, they’ll be nationalizing the companies and taking our homes from us. But things are bad enough as they are. And, if, through no fault of your own, you can’t get a good job or any job at all, and you have to make do, you then rely on God’s providence, but you still have to do your part. God will not reward people who aren’t even trying.
Christ condemns only superfluous cares, which cause man to forget God and to neglect the salvation of his soul. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry or care at all about some things. It just means you should not have superfluous or excessive cares that distract you from seeking eternal life.
Don’t worry, be happy, says the pagan in the service of mammon. Don’t worry, be happy, don’t do anything. However, we who choose to serve God recall the words of one of the greatest men who ever lived, St. Augustine of Hippo. Now, we’ve been inculcated to think when we think of great men — if you turn on the TV, well, show us a great man. Oh, Martin Luther King, Jr., or one of these kinds of figures. Well, they were interesting. I am sure they had some place to fulfill in history, but they weren’t technically speaking, great men from God’s point of view, especially not Martin Luther King who had a woman in every city kind of thing. That’s scandalous. Great men are like St. Augustine of Hippo. Bishop of Hippo, fought heresies, became a great saint, wrote books that we use to this day that are some of the greatest in theological works. He was a great man. As opposed to Don’t worry, be happy, that the pagans say, we choose to follow the words of St. Augustine. “Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you”.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.