Sunday, May 9, 2010

Heavenly Peace (Easter 6.C)

When we celebrated Confirmation a couple of weeks ago, I told a story that also fits in well with Mother's Day. It was about the teenager who would never pick up his things. Clothes, books, everything—he’d just drop them on the floor. His room always looked like a tornado had just passed through.

So his mother decided to take drastic action. She told her son that she considered grown-up enough to pick up after himself. “From now on,” she said, “Every time I pick up something of yours I am going to charge you a quarter.”

At the end of the first week of this experiment, the mother presented the boy with a bill for seven dollars and twenty five cents. The next day she found $8.25 in an envelope in the kitchen.

Noticing the overpayment, she asked about the extra dollar. Her son replied “Oh, that’s a tip. I’m hoping you’ll keep up the good work.”

I heard another story this week about a tornado, a real one that ripped though the outskirts of a prairie town. It tore up two large fields, uprooted trees, and then totally demolished a farm house; by the time the twister moved on, there wasn’t much left of the house but some planks and a big hole in the ground.

When the RCMP got to the farm, an officer heard voices. He looked into the hole and saw an old man holding on for dear life to a piece of timber, his eyes tightly shut.

“Hey down there,” the fireman called, “Are you all right?”

The old man opened his eyes slowly and looked around. “I guess so,” he said as they hauled him out.

“Was there anyone else with you down there?” the policeman asked, “I heard voices.”

The old man replied, “Just me and God, but we were having an urgent conversation.”

Both these stories say something to us about an important topic: spiritual stewardship.

What use do we make of the blessings that God has showered on us in Christ and in His Church? Do we approach with wonder and awe the Easter mysteries we’ve been celebrating all these weeks?

And most importantly, do we praise God for his goodness?

A spiritual steward does all these things: to use Father Dan Mahan’s three magic words, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, responsibly, and generously. While this involves sharing our material blessings, we don’t act that like the cagey teenager—dropping something in the collection so that God will keep up the good work!

Nor do we wait until a tornado’s blowing before we talk to God, heart to heart. We don’t wait until we’re at the bottom of a hole to praise him for the goodness of our lives and to give thanks for His many blessings.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says three things about spiritual stewardship:

If we love him, we will respond to his love responsibly: we will keep his word. We will follow his commandments day in, day out, with the strength and help that the Spirit gives.

If we believe him, we will listen gratefully to the voice of the Holy Spirit. We will humbly allow ourselves to be taught. Archbishop Carney’s father, who finished school in grade six, was said to be a self-taught expert on Shakespeare. But there are no self-taught experts on Christianity; Jesus sent the Spirit to teach us, and we must receive that teaching gratefully.

The Spirit was sent once and for all at Pentecost. But Christian life is a series of Pentecosts as the Spirit continues to pour out God’s truth through all ages. Too many folks make their minds up about Church teaching without giving the Holy Spirit a quiet half hour to present His view of the subject.

Finally, the spiritual steward accepts the gift of peace, and shares it generously with others. In the sixties there was a hit song that went “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” (Do you remember that? I actually sang a song at the First Communion Mass yesterday but once was enough.)

Love’s certainly needed, but I think today’s world needs peace even more. Unsettled hearts have a hard time loving and hard time receiving love. It was once said of someone “He doesn’t have ulcers, but he’s a carrier.” We need to be carriers of Christ’s peace to others; after all, Jesus considered peace so important that he made it his farewell gift to those whom he loved.

To paraphrase St. Paul, Jesus has made a large deposit in an account with your name on it. But there’s no interest paid on the account; we’re meant to make frequent withdrawals. What kind of a steward would leave that account untouched?

Jesus tells us to lay up treasure in heaven. But how can we do this if our thoughts never turn to heaven? On the internet I came across a thirty-year old homily by a minister in a small town in Ontario. He said something powerful: “If you are trying to look up and down at the same time you’re in trouble. Turn your eyes towards heaven and get a proper perspective on life.”

None of us is likely to have the glorious vision of heaven that the angel gave to St. John. But in our prayer we can all set our sights on the heavenly Jerusalem—we can feel the security of living even now in a city guarded by the Apostles and lit up by the glory of God.

God’s Word is clear on this. St. Paul tells us “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col 3:2)

That’s a formula for spiritual stewardship. Even more, it’s a formula for peace. The more we realize that “the present form of this world is passing away,” (1 Cor 7:31) the more likely we are to experience Christ’s peace in our hearts.

God doesn’t want to pick up after us; he doesn’t want to pull us out of holes. He wants us to live full and abundant lives rooted in Christ. Sure he’ll rescue those who call for help, but his Plan A is for each of us to live in peace—not without stresses and trials, but always knowing that God’s presence in our hearts is more powerful than anything that frightens or troubles us.

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