Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32
Fear is a powerful force. It can make us incapable of acting. It can remove ambition, destroy motivation, and usher in complacency. It is like "the undiscovered country", about which Shakespeare writes, "from whose bourn/ No traveler returns, puzzles the will,/ And make us rather bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others that we know not of?" (Hamlet, Act III, Sc. I).
This is very much the point of the Gospel instruction. Jesus tells his disciples, "Do not be afraid any longer" (Luke 12:32). Complete trust is what is needed, "for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). They are to step out into the unknown. "Sell your belongings and give alms," He says (Luke 12:33). Look for real worth, real value, "an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy" (Luke 12:33). Then Jesus concludes with one of the most famous lines in all of the Gospels. "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Luke 12:34).
In my reading and study of the Scripture these many years, I have noted that Jesus has absolutely nothing good to say about fear. He warns against it, He admonishes His followers to flee from it, and today He tells us never to return to it. Someone who knows where a true treasure is cannot be afraid. That person will have fallen in love with that treasure. That person will have discovered where the heart is.
C. S. Lewis makes an observation in his "Screwtape Letters" that is worth considering. He writes that the devil¹s objective is to keep human beings from living in the present. So the devil plays on two worries that are natural to us all: regrets about the past and fears about the future. The challenge of the devil is to monopolize on these human fixations. The devil does not want us to live in the present, because the present is where God is found.
Jesus knew this and He taught it. For that reason in the parable of today¹s Gospel, Jesus says, "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival" (Luke 12:37). The true servant must live in the present, as though the master were to arrive at any moment. In this way and only in this way can the servant be ready, as though every moment was the "now."
The Christian is a "now" person. The Christian knows that God is present now. The Christian has heard the Lord speak and His words are in the present. "Reform your lives!" Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). We are to love now. We are to place our faith in Him now. Hope, which is that great virtue of the future, has nothing to do with fear. It is a virtue of fulfillment. The future to which hope looks forward is a time of fulfillment for which a foretaste is given now. Thus, we find that classic definition of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews. "Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).
In fact, Christian faith is the most positive force in the world. It is so powerful that someone could indeed sell all his belongings and think nothing of the loss. He would have discovered "an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy" (Luke 12:33). For such a person there is no room for fear.
Recently at the chancery I was told that two men wanted to see me. I went down to the reception area. There I met two young men. One was a seminarian from New Jersey, the other a college student. They were just passing through and wanted to greet the bishop. They were crisscrossing the area witnessing to priests about how Jesus had touched their lives. In this way, they said, they wanted to give encouragement to priests to continue their good work. They wanted nothing, no money, no food, no housing, only my blessing. As they knelt, I thought to myself, here are two people touched by God who live in the present. To the world what they are doing might seem foolish, but when you are in love, you do foolish things. As they left, I felt as though in some way I had witnessed the Kingdom of God in all its idealism, force, and inner strength. Their hearts had found their treasure.