Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs

Reading 1 Rom 4:20-25

Brothers and sisters: Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do. That is why it was credited to him as righteousness. But it was not for him alone that it was written that it was credited to him; it was also for us, to whom it will be credited, who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification.

Gospel Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

Reflection

There is the now iconic moment when Pope Francis was asked about gay priests, and he replied, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” And this is often, unjustly, reduced to “Who am I to judge?” It’s unjust because that’s not exactly what Francis was saying.  He did judge the priest, on two criteria:  That he seeks God and that he has good will. I suggest to you that Francis was echoing – though not precisely repeating – our Lord’s words today in the Gospel. Notice, someone brings to Jesus a worldly concern:  My brother isn’t willing to share!  Surely this violates the principles Jesus teaches, and Jesus will say something! Likewise, see that the concern of the reporter to the Pope is a worldly one:  One’s sexual orientation.  The reporter thinks it is a real conundrum, a trap if asked the wrong way. Jesus and Francis both realize that they are being cast as judge in these contentious worldly disputes.  Now, here’s the interesting point:  They are judges.  They are responsible for maintaining order and discipline among believers.  That requires approving some things and disapproving others – judging.   Indeed, we have seen how Francis does have criteria for judging the hypothetical gay priest; Jesus, as well, has criteria for judging the dispute before Him. Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” In other words, Jesus is not the arbiter of worldly disputes; for Him, even if you have a legitimate claim to some possession, it might still be bad for you to have it.  He is the judge of the heart – and His criteria is that one guards against greed. Indeed, greed exists – and only can exist – where valuable things are finite.  They are made valuable because of their scarcity.  No one is fighting over his share of oxygen, critical though it is for life. But where Jesus is judge, the important thing is the state of one’s soul.  He judges – and will judge – that you have come up short if you are ruled by greed.  Better to be generous, which is enabled by valuing things properly.  The ultimate thing of value – grace – is exceedingly abundant (upon request) and so there can be no greed about it. Just so, Francis cuts to the heart.  Surely the point is obvious:  As a professed celibate, sexual orientation is ephemeral to the vocation of a priest, straight or gay.*  The reporter’s concern is worldly. What does matter – his criteria – is that the gay priest seeks God and has good will.  Why these criteria? Like avoiding greed, seeking God has the effect of improving one’s worldly situation.  You may feel that you are losing, emotionally, if you are not practicing your sexuality; but Francis says the important thing is altogether different.  The reporter pointed down at the problem, and Francis pointed up at the answer.   This ability to look up for an answer, in spite of the troubles below, is called faith.  And that is St. Paul’s great admonition in the first reading. “Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do.” Let us seek God and cultivate good will.   *This is not to say that priests do not struggle with issues of sex or sexuality.  The discipline of the Catholic priesthood, ideally, makes it irrelevant.  Whether it is practical to depend on this is a subject for another day.