October 10,2021: Homily- 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“. . . and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

As you know, the magazine business has struggled in recent years, with many weeklies going monthly, many print editions going to digital only, and many publications going out of business entirely.  Newspapers are suffering a similar fate.  It wasn’t that long ago that bookstores were filled with magazines – hundreds and hundreds of them (with dozens of new ones coming out all the time).  I loved spending time flipping through the endless assortment of titles, trying to figure out which I might want to purchase, especially when I visited Barns & Nobles. But one particular sub-category puzzled me.  I couldn’t understand what the point of them were.  And there were SO many of them.  I’m talking about “computer hacker” magazines.

As you may know, as computers became a bigger part of our everyday life, many people found amusement in trying to figure out how to break into the computers of others.  Initially, it was just for the challenge, like a giant puzzle to be solved.  But quickly it became apparent that there was money to be made, and/or criminal activity to engage in, or harm to be done that would give someone else a competitive advantage.  And the cyber-wars began.

Of course, that war still rages, and is hotter than ever.  As it has been part of our air waves of late.  Sometimes it’s fought between big companies.  These days it’s being fought between countries.  But most often it’s fought against you and me.  So many people seem to be trying to scam us, or get access to our personal and/or financial information.  It’s not just annoying, it’s downright scary.  And where many of us find this to be most true is through our e-mail.

Some scams in our In-Box are pretty obvious – ones coming from bizarre addresses or flagged as “spam”.  But some are pretty clever – at least in getting us to open the email.  But almost always there is another step they want us to take.  They want us to click on something else.  Sometimes it’s a link that will take us someplace we don’t want to go.  Hopefully we know not to do that.   But then there are other times when we are faced with that little envelope-looking thing at the bottom – the “attachment”.  It always looks so inviting, like a present waiting to be opened.  But we know what we have to do.  We know what the experts are telling us.  We know the best (and only) sensible choice . . . .

Stay away from it.  Ignore it.  DO NOT be tempted to OPEN it.  It will only get us into trouble, only end badly for us, only get us to regret our decision later.  In other words, attachments can be really bad when they come to us from an untrustworthy source.

“. . . and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

We just heard one of those stories that we are very familiar with, the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life.  This is one of those stories that is pretty unsettling for many of us.  The reason is simple – most of us see a lot of ourselves in the rich man (even if we aren’t necessarily “rich”).  We can identify with his concerns, wondering whether or not we will live with God for all eternity.  And we can identify with how he sums up his life.  He’s basically a good guy (like us).  He, for the most part, follows the commandments (like us).  He’s not going around hurting people or defrauding them.  Isn’t that enough?

“. . . and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

We hate that he walks away sad – because we fear that we might have to do the same sometime some day, we fear that we have somehow disappointed God, or fell short of what God expects.  Yet, at its core, this story is a hopeful one, because Jesus is trying to keep us from heading down a path that we shouldn’t head down.  Not a path that will incur his anger, but a path that will make us “sad”, a path that will keep us from embracing the most joyful life possible.  A path that has the tendency of keeping us from being the best version of ourselves.  In other words, Jesus doesn’t tell him (and the disciples) this for his (Jesus’) own benefit.  He tells them this for their own benefit, because he loves them more than they even love themselves.

Attachments.  We’ve all got them.  And we cling to them like we’re dangling off a cliff.  And yet, it’s the exact opposite.  Hanging on tightly to them is not a safe place to be.  Being free of them is the path we need to be on, the path God is inviting us to, the path that leads us to a life of great meaning and peace and joy.

What are your unhealthy attachments?  Maybe it’s a person.  Maybe it’s a job.  Maybe it’s power.  Maybe it’s material wealth.  Maybe it’s an addiction.  Maybe it’s a harmful attitude, or a deep-seated prejudice, or a sense of entitlement.  Attachments come to us in all forms.  And they can be super-tempting, just like the ones that come in our email.

But the safest thing to do, the smartest thing to do, the most faithful thing to do is to leave them alone, waste no time clinging to them.   And whatever you do, do not open them.  They will only bring sorrow and disappointment and a profound lack of the joy we are all so desperately seeking.

There’s only one exception.  And that’s that which comes from God – that is, if it’s something good and holy and life-giving – then go ahead, click away, open it up and hang on tight.

 Short Story

There was once a wise woman traveling in the mountains who found a precious stone in a stream. She placed it in her haversack thinking it would be useful sometime.  The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and she opened her bag to share her food with him. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked if she might give it to him. She did so without hesitation and they finished their meal. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.  However soon he discovered that he was unable to sleep, frightened of robbers and of his own life.  Feeling miserable, he came back to the woman a few days later, to return the stone to the woman who had willingly given it out to him. ‘I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I’m giving it back in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. I want you to give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone without any hesitation.”

Father Boat

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