July 29, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading on this weekend is from the Book of Ecclesiastes, sometimes referred to as the Book of Qoheleth, a book rarely appearing in the readings at Mass. It is among the works in the Bible collectively called the wisdom literature.

As such, it says that the divinely revealed understandings of God and of God’s law—so much a part of the Hebrew tradition—are not unreasonable or farfetched. To the contrary, these understandings of Revelation correspond with the highest of human logic and wisdom.

This weekend’s reading shares a basic conviction of the authors of the wisdom literature, as well as with the prophets. This conviction is that humans create misery for themselves, even doom, by wandering from the path set down by God’s law. In other words, people dig their own graves.

The Book of Qoheleth has the added opinion that in straying from God’s law people also act unwisely and foolishly.

The origin of the name “Qoheleth” is unknown.

For its second reading on this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. As was the case in so many cities and places in the Roman Empire of the last quarter of the first century, Colossae was essentially a pagan city. Christians there were in the minority at that time.

It was to inspire these Christians in Colossae that Paul wrote this letter. The first part of this reading insists upon the fact that true believers are united with Jesus. They share communion with him. When the last judgment comes and the books of life are balanced, faithful Christians will have Jesus at their side.

As the second point, Paul tells the Christians of Colossae that there is no substitute for avoiding not just temptation, but also the occasions of sin. Christians should know that their instincts can be very powerful, and cannot always be trusted. Faithful followers of the Lord must put the inclinations of their instincts to the question of whether or not what is preferred is in fact in accord with the Lord’s teachings.

St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. It is a parable, spoken by Jesus in response to an appeal to settle an argument a man was having with his brother.

In reply, Christ calls upon the man and the disciples to see material possessions for what they are. They are not the most important thing in the world. They do not endure. They bring no lasting satisfaction. They certainly have no eternal value.

Jesus speaks harshly in this passage. He calls a person who in a frenzy searches for material gain a “fool” (Lk 12:20). This term is not expressly an echo of the theme of the wisdom literature, but it absolutely consistent with the ideals of the wisdom writings.

Reflection

A modern French aircraft carrier, the “Richelieu,” was named for one of the most effective architects of French glory and power four centuries ago, Cardinal Armand Jean de Plessis de Richelieu (1585-1642). As Bishop of Lucon, the cardinal instituted and carried through imaginative projects to restore a fervent Catholicism after the Reformation that had so battered the Church.

His brilliance led to his appointment as French prime minister. Never personally immoral, he nevertheless lost his spiritual bearings. Advancing France by cutting any corner was his only purpose in life.

When he was dying, according to one story, he said that if he had substituted his palace for a monk’s cell, he would not fear death.

Cardinal Richelieu was only one of the untold people who have looked back over their lives and regretted their foolishness, but their foolishness was magnificent in the eyes of the world. †

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