As many of you know I went to seminary in Boston. I studied at what is now called St. John XXIII National Seminary. Now Boston is home to some very beautiful churches. In particular there’s one church I remember. The name escapes me but what I do remember about it is its expertly restored stained glass windows. They were stunning. On one side of the nave there were seven windows with each one depicting a sacrament. And at the bottom of each window there was a quote from scripture. There was, however, a problem with one of the windows. The window illustrating the sacrament of penance always caused a bit of a scandal during the hot summer months. Because during the summer the windows are opened making it impossible to see the whole scripture quote. During the summer the sacrament of penance window reads, “Go and sin more.” The word “No” is on the part of the window that’s folded down and out of sight. It’s an unfortunate accident of art.
That phrase, “Go and sin more” is the message of the world. The message of the world tells us to place all our trust in money, possessions, power, and pleasure. The message that we read in the Gospel and our first reading of today, of course, is the exact opposite. That message tells us to trust in God. This is going to be a letter filled with questions and the first one is this; whom will you trust; God or the World? I hope everyone reading this letter will choose to trust in God, but as we know the world can be a very tempting place and Jesus gives us the beatitudes to contemplate our life in the world.
In the beatitudes Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who are poor.” They are blessed who do not root their lives in money and material things. So we ask ourselves. How central is wealth to us? Do we spend too much time thinking about making money? Do we compare our wealth to that of others? Are we never satisfied with the amount of money we have? How tenaciously do we hold onto money? Do we tithe or give until it hurts just a little?
In the beatitudes Jesus tell us, “Blessed are you who are now hungry and blessed are you who are now weeping.” They are blessed who do not root their lives in sensual pleasures. Pleasures are a good but we don’t root our life in the constant pursuit of them. So we ask ourselves. How much of our budget is given to pleasure? How do we react when life becomes painful? Do we go to God? Do we shrink away from doing things we know we should, but don’t, because they’re painful?
In the beatitudes Jesus tell us, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on the account of the Son of Man.” They are blessed who don’t put their faith in the approval of others. How concerned are we about what others think of us? Do we crave the honor, the glory and the attention of others? Are we bothered when we are passed over for an honor? Are we bothered when someone gets more attention? Are we more concerned about what others think rather than what God thinks?
This has been a letter of twenty questions and I end with just two more, but I also give the answer. What does life look like when we put our faith and trust in something other than God? Jeremiah tells us it looks like a barren bush in the desert. It is dried up. It has no vitality and enjoys no change of the season. That bush, a stunted tree, is rooted in power, money, possessions, and pleasure. It bears no fruit. And the last question, what does life look like when we put our faith and trust in God? Jeremiah tells us it looks like a tree planted beside the waters where there is no fear of drought. A tree rooted in God has roots that go down deep to where the water is plentiful. Drought and heat will always come into our lives, we can’t escape it, but when we live the beatitudes, when we are rooted in the Lord we are still fruitful even in the midst of trials.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley