Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 4, 2022: Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
1) Wis 9:13-18 Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
2) Phlm 9-10, 12-17 Gospel: Lk 14:25-33
Our attachment to earthly things removes us from love of God and neighbor
Many saints discover the truth conveyed in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom that “the corruptible body burdens the soul, and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” Many holy men and women arrive at a point in their lives when they admit a deep dissatisfaction with the pursuit of earthly possessions.
From time to time, we too have a similar experience when the things we so desired yesterday no longer satisfy us today! This recognition of dissatisfaction with material things can be a moment of grace when we turn, once again, to God as the supreme source of the happiness we long for.
The life of St. Francis of Assisi is a good example. Born into a wealthy noble family in the hill town of Assisi, Italy, around the year 1181, Francis’ family expected their son to continue the family business. But Francis was keen on enjoying the pleasures of life and spent his youthful days squandering his family’s wealth in a self-indulgent life.
Around age 20, Francis was taken prisoner during a battle. After prison, Francis suffered a prolonged illness during which he reflected on the emptiness of his life. A spiritual crisis followed, and he turned to God looking for the meaning and purpose of his life.
Soon after, his encounter with a poor, disfigured leper transformed him. After years of chasing fleeting possessions, Francis felt the desire for God written deep in his searching heart. He renounced his family wealth to embrace a life of radical poverty in imitation of Jesus and went on to leave a lasting, transformative influence on the church.
In the Gospel, Jesus describes attitudes that mark a Christian disciple. Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Then, Jesus says, “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” And Jesus notes that our relationship to God is more fundamental than even our closest family relationships!
Earthly possessions are not harmful in themselves. It’s our attachment to them that can take us away from love of God and neighbor. Along life’s journey we become attached to things, ideas and habits.
Over the years these attachments make us less free, less able to choose the good of others and to choose the way of self-giving love that marks the life of a disciple of Jesus. Attachments bind us to patterns of thought, action and habits that are destructive to our dignity and to our relationship to God and neighbor.
God gives us freedom to liberate us from attachments that are harmful to body and spirit. God’s gift of freedom removes the chains that bind us so that Jesus Christ can make us a new creation in him.
Today the word of God invites us to reflect on whether we are truly free to love God and neighbor. As we take stock of the habits and possessions that prevent us from experiencing true freedom to live in friendship with God, we pray in confident faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
What possessions or habits prevent you from experiencing the love of God?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.