Wealth

Wealth - Pope Francis           

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

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Today let us continue to meditate on the Decalogue, and to look more closely at the theme of idolatry; we spoke about it last week. Now let us take up the theme again because it is very important to know about it. And, let us take our cue from the idol par excellence, the golden calf, which the Book of Exodus (32:1-8) describes — we have just heard a passage from it. This episode has a precise context: the desert where the people await Moses who has gone up the mountain to receive God’s instructions.

What is the desert? It is a place where uncertainty and insecurity reign — there is nothing in the desert — where there is no water, no food and no shelter. The desert is an image of human life, whose condition is uncertain and has no inviolable guarantees. This insecurity creates a primal anxiety in mankind which Jesus mentions in the Gospel: “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” (Mt 6:31). These are primal anxieties. And the desert causes these anxieties.

And something occurs in that desert which triggers idolatry. “Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (Ex 32:1). He remained there for 40 days and the people grew impatient. The reference point was missing: Moses, the leader, the one in charge, the reassuring guide; and this became unbearable. Thus, the people called for a visible god — this is the snare into which the people fell — in order to identify and orient themselves. And they said to Aaron: “make us gods, who shall go before us” (v. 1); make us a leader, make us a chief. In order to escape uncertainty — the uncertainty is the desert — human nature seeks a do-it-yourself religion. If God does not show himself, then we custom-make one for ourselves. “Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols ‘have mouths, but they cannot speak’ (Ps 115:5). Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands” (Lumen Fidei, 13).

Aaron is unable to refuse the people’s request, and he makes a golden calf. The calf had a double meaning in the ancient Near East: on the one hand it represented fertility and abundance, and on the other, energy and strength. But first and foremost, it was golden, thus, a symbol of wealth, success, power and money. These are the great idols: success, power and money. They are timeless temptations! This is what the golden calf is: the symbol of all desires that give the illusion of freedom but instead enslave, because an idol always enslaves; it has charm and you succumb; the charm of the serpent who looks at the little bird and the bird is unable to move, and the serpent gets him. Aaron was unable to refuse.

But above all, everything stems from the inability to confide in God, to place our insecurities in him, to allow him to give true depth to the desires of our hearts. This also allows us to sustain weakness, uncertainty and precariousness. Referring to God makes us strong in weakness, in uncertainty and also in precariousness. Without God’s primacy one can easily fall into idolatry and settle for poor reassurances. But this is a temptation which we always read about in the Bible. And consider this carefully: it did not cost God much effort to free the people from Egypt: he did so with signs of power, of love. But God’s great work was to remove Egypt from the hearts of the people, that is, to remove idolatry from the people’s hearts. And again, God continues to work to remove it from our hearts. This is God’s great work: to remove “that Egypt” which we carry within us, which is the attraction of idolatry.

When we welcome the God of Jesus Christ who was rich and became poor for us (cf. 2 Cor 8:9), then we discover that recognizing one’s weaknesses is not a disgrace of human life, but the condition necessary to open up to the One who is truly strong. Thus, God’s salvation enters through the door of weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:10). It is due to man’s own inadequacies that he opens up to the paternity of God. Mankind’s freedom comes from allowing the true God to be the only Lord, and this allows one to accept one’s fragility and reject the idols in one’s heart.

We Christians turn our gaze to Christ crucified (cf. Jn 19:37) who was weak, insulted and stripped of all his possessions. But the face of the true God is revealed in him, the true glory of love and not that of glittering deceit. Isaiah says: “he was wounded by our transgressions” (Is 53:5). We were healed by the very weakness of a man who was God, by his wounds. And through our weaknesses, we can open up to God’s salvation. Our healing comes from the One who became poor, who welcomed failure, who undertook to bear our insecurity until the end, in order to fill it with love and strength. He comes to reveal God’s paternity to us. In Christ our fragility is no longer a curse but a place of encounter with the Father and the wellspring of a new strength from above.


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Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in which all of us are asked to implore from God this great gift. Christian unity is a fruit of God’s grace, and we must dispose ourselves to accept it with generous and open hearts. This evening I am particularly pleased to pray together with representatives of other Churches present in Rome, and I offer them a fraternal and heartfelt greeting. I also greet the ecumenical delegation from Finland, the students of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church. My greeting also goes to the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox students sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with Orthodox Churches of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Book of Deuteronomy sees the people of Israel encamped in the plains of Moab, about to enter the land that God promised them. Here Moses, as a kind father and the leader appointed by the Lord, repeats the Law to the people, and instructs and reminds them that they must live with fidelity and
justice once they have been established in the Promised Land.

The passage we have just heard shows how to celebrate the three main feasts of the year: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), Sukkot (Tabernacles). Each of these feasts requires Israel to give thanks for the good things received from God. The celebration of a feast calls for everyone’s participation. No one is to be excluded: “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut 16:11).

Each of these feasts requires a pilgrimage to the “place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there” (v. 2). There the faithful Israelite must come before God. Though the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, lacking personal possessions, they are not to “appear before the Lord empty-handed” (v. 16); the gift of each is to correspond to the blessing received from the Lord. In this way, all will receive their share of the country’s wealth and will benefit from God’s goodness.

It should not surprise us that the biblical text passes from the celebration of the three principal feasts to the appointment of judges. The feasts themselves exhort the people to justice, stating that all are fundamentally equal and all equally dependent on God’s mercy. They also invite all to share with others the gifts they have received. Rendering honour and glory to the Lord in these yearly feasts goes hand in hand with rendering honour and justice to one’s neighbour, especially the weak and those in need.

The Christians of Indonesia, reflecting on the theme chosen for this Week of Prayer, decided to draw inspiration from these words of Deuteronomy: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (16:20). They are deeply concerned that the economic growth of their country, driven by the mentality of competition, is leaving many in poverty and allowing a small few to become immensely
wealthy. This jeopardizes the harmony of a society in which people of different ethnic groups, languages and religions live together and share a sense of responsibility for one another.

But that is not simply the case in Indonesia; it is a situation we see worldwide. When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centres, symbols of incredible wealth. We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.


Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, applies the same thinking to the Christian community: those who are strong must bear with the weak. It is not Christian “to please ourselves” (15:1). Following Christ’s example, we are to make every effort to build up those who are weak. Solidarity and shared responsibility must be the laws that govern the Christian family.

As God’s holy people, we too constantly find ourselves on the threshold of entering the Lord’s promised kingdom. Yet, since we are also divided, we need to recall God’s summons to justice. Christians too risk adopting the mentality known to the ancient Israelites and contemporary Indonesians, namely that in the pursuit of wealth, we forget about the weak and those in need. It is easy to forget the fundamental equality existing among us: that once we were all slaves to sin, that the Lord saved us in baptism and called us his children. It is easy to think that the spiritual grace granted us is our property, something to which we are due, our property. The gifts we have received from God can also blind us to the gifts given to other Christians. It is a grave sin to belittle or despise the gifts that the Lord has given our brothers and sisters, and to think that God somehow holds them in less esteem. When we entertain such thoughts, we allow the very grace we have received to become a source of pride, injustice and division. And how can we then enter the promised kingdom?

The worship befitting that kingdom, the worship demanded by justice, is a celebration that includes everyone, a feast in which gifts received are available to and shared by all. To take the first steps towards the promised land that is our unity, we must first of all recognize with humility that the blessings we have received are not ours by right, but have come to us as a gift; they were given to be shared with others. Then, we must acknowledge the value of the grace granted to other Christian communities. As a result, we will want to partake of the gifts of others. A Christian people renewed and enriched by this exchange of gifts will be a people capable of journeying firmly and confidently on the path that leads to unity.