In our second reading from 1 Timothy, we are urged to “Lay hold of eternal life.”1 Translated a bit more literally, we are urged, “lay hold of the life of the Age.”2 This refers to the age to come when God’s kingdom will be fully established.
What it means to “lay hold of the life of the Age” to come is to live in such a way as to make yourself fit for that age. This reading also gives instruction on how to do this: “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”3 Baptism and confirmation are alluded to when the inspired author reminds his readers of the faith they professed before witnesses, which commits them to “keep the commandment without stain or reproach.”4
What is the commandment to be kept? It is nothing other than the commandment to love: loving God with your entire being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. In our Gospel this week, Jesus teaches us in startling terms the importance of living this way. According to Jesus, your neighbor is the person whom you encounter who needs your help. You don’t have to go to Calcutta, India and spend time with the Missionaries of Charity to find people who need your help. There are plenty of people right here in our community who need your assistance.
In our first reading, the prophet Amos rebuked the wealthy of the Northern Kingdom for putting their comfort and luxury before the needs of the poor. Jesus echoes this prophetic call in today’s Gospel. His teaching is a provocation. Keep in mind that “provocation” is a compound word: pro- meaning “for”- + vocation- meaning “calling”- = for your calling. This refers to your God-given calling. A genuine provocation, then, is one that helps you fulfill your calling.
For Christians, there is essentially one vocation, one call: to become holy by becoming like Jesus Christ. You received this call when you were baptized. It was confirmed when you were confirmed. This call is renewed in every Eucharist. At the end of each Mass, you are sent forth to fulfill your divine calling. As Jesus’s disciple, one of the primary ways you do this is by helping those in need.
In the Confiteor, which we said together at the beginning of Mass, we expressed sorrow for “what I have failed to do.”5 These are “sins of omission.” Sometimes it is not so much that we choose what is evil as it is that we actively choose not to do good. Today’s readings are as straightforward as they are challenging; they don't require a lot of interpretation. As Christians our lives should bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. In anticipation of his glorious return, rather than drowning ourselves in an ocean of recrimination for our sins of omission, let’s each of us prepare ourselves and the world for the Age to come by committing to help those in need on an on-going basis.
Among the things you might consider are volunteering at the Bountiful Food Pantry or with the Ladies of Charity. You may also consider becoming involved with our Council of Catholic Women or Knights of Columbus council. Perhaps you can become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, taking Communion to the sick and home-bound. Maybe you can sing in the choir. This, too, is service to others for the sake of God’s kingdom. If you can, in addition to supporting our parish, commit to financially supporting local, national, and international charities on an on-going basis in a sacrificial way.
By sacrificial, I mean something like taking your lunch a few times a week or doing without that nice cup of coffee and donating what you would spend on those to help people in need. Perhaps you can help someone in your neighborhood or in our parish with yard work, fall clean-up, etc. Taking time to serve others comes at the sacrifice of not being able to engage in other activities you’d like to pursue. This prompts the question, What are my priorities? As Christians, it’s important to find ways to put the needs of others before your own comfort and luxury.
In light of these readings, it seems good to be reminded that as Catholics we observe Friday as a day of penance. Just as every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, each Friday, excepting those on which a Solemnity falls, is Good Friday. Friday is the day Christ sacrificed himself on our behalf, thus giving us a model to imitate.
As Catholics in the United States, our bishops teach us that we observe Friday as a day of penance in two ways: by abstaining from the meat of warm-blooded animals, which is obligatory on Fridays of Lent, or performing a charitable act. Performing a charitable act means something like going out of your way to help someone in need at some inconvenience and/or cost to yourself.
Traditional Catholic practices, like observing Friday as a penitential day, are time-tested ways for living as Christians. Adhering to these practices in your daily life is how you strive to make yourself fit for the age to come; it is how you make God’s kingdom a present reality; it is how you turn the “not yet” into the “right here and now,” thus giving hope to a world that desperately needs it.
That Amos was a farmer and Jesus was a carpenter (in Greek tekton) lend credibility to the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”6 As someone who adhered to the Rule of St. Benedict, the watchwords of Bernard’s life were, Ora et labora (i.e., “Pray and work”). This lovely three-word summary of life in Christ is made more explicit by these words of Pope Francis: “A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother [or sister] — the poor, the sick, those in need of help, [someone] in difficulty — is a sterile and incomplete prayer...”7
Just so, worship that does not lead to service, to diakonia, is not Christian worship.
1 1 Timothy 6:12.↩
2 1 Timothy 6:12 from The New Testament: A Translation, trans. David Bentley Hart, 422.↩
3 1 Timothy 6:11.↩
4 1 Timothy 6:14.↩
5 Roman Missal, "The Order of Mass," sec. 4.↩
6 Found in Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard Foster, 126.↩
7 Pope Francis, Sunday General Audience, 21 July 2013.↩