You can listen to the homily here.
It is not often that a Sunday homily begins with a poem, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
It’s a powerful image the head and legs are all that remain of one man’s ambition. I wonder was it inspired by the remains of the statute of Constantine? Shelley’s poem is, in part, a warning of the transitory nature of all power and wealth. Nothing lasts and yet we continue to strive to have, and to hold onto, those very things that are passing away, even physical life itself. We are bombarded from the time we wake up almost until we fall asleep at night with images and stories that tell us how we are expected to behave in our brave, new world. We are to be beautiful, healthy, slim and successful, talented and out-going, confident and tolerant and broadminded. God help you if you are plain, imperfect, of indifferent health, overweight, and mediocre, not particularly good at anything, if you prefer your own company, can’t tolerate nonsense and have an opinion that differs from the politically correct. Rarely are we urged to consider that one day we will die or that to live a good life has far more to do with how we behave than in what we have or still less with how we look. Today when you get home look at your home and say to yourself “One day it will all be dust and rubble”. Say to your favourite clothes “You will one day be rags” and to your most valuable possessions “I will one day part with you and you will eventually end up on the rubbish dump.” This is truth: all earthly things pass away. Wealth, power, beauty, property, fame, nothing exists in this world but it will cease to exist one day. Only God is eternal by His very nature. So you and I will die and leave it all behind us. That we will face eternity and God is certain. The only wealth you can keep forever is the standing you have with God.
Not that the world around us will tell us that. There was a time when Irish people could talk easily about bereavement, death and judgment and were embarrassed even to mention sex. Now it is the other way around. Now we need counsellors to help us deal with the very events we will all experience: the loss of loved ones and the end of our own life on Earth.
Yet some seem to live as if there were no death and no afterlife and many more as if there were no judgment and no risk of damnation. As a society we are all too familiar with stories of crooked and corrupt individuals these days. I’m not talking about organised crime, which is bad enough, but about those individuals found making backroom and under the counter deals, scandals around the Olympics and questions about Nama. It seems that corruption touches even the bodies that are supposed to have the highest ideals.
What then are we to make of this parable from the Lord where He seems to praise someone for being a crook? This man swindles his employer and then when he’s caught he goes to his boss’s debtors and does deals with them making more money for himself and robbing his boss again. The only thing one can say in his favour is that at least he is honest in that he admits he is too lazy to work and too proud to beg.
What is our Lord up to? Why is telling us to emulate this man who is so dishonest and selfish? Firstly we need to remember that being Christian does not mean that we can ever be selfish, manipulative or corrupt. Still less does it mean we are to be stupid, lazy or foolish. More importantly our Lord is praising not the man’s corruption but his astuteness. The crook is clever enough to use the passing things of this world to secure his future in this world. Our Lord wants us to be clever enough to use the things of this world to secure our future in eternity. He wants us to be as innocent as a dove in our dealings with others but as wise as a fox in our dealing with things so that we use them to gain wealth in Heaven.
It is a modern falsehood that everyone or almost everyone goes to Heaven. Our Lord nowhere says this or implies it. The saints nowhere believe it and the Church nowhere teaches it. Hell is a real possibility and Heaven is not guaranteed. We must choose to go to Heaven by believing in Christ and following His Gospel and so we must use the goods of this world to help us to attain to eternal life in the next. We choose Heaven by having faith in Christ, by repenting of our sins, by seeking conversion of our life and by doing good above all to the poor. What we do to them we do to Christ. He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion so that we can give ourselves to others in service. If you want to go to Heaven do what He has asked of you.
Our Lord commends the unjust servant for his foresight, for looking ahead and planning accordingly. He wants us to do the same but to look forward beyond the worries of this life to the reality of eternity and the judgement that precedes it. He urges us to think of eternity and to use our wealth, our talents and skills for the good of His Kingdom and His Church. In return He will reward us, storing up our investment in the bank of eternity where it cannot be lost. He expects us to unite even our smallest efforts with Him so that His grace can make our small investment grow into a rich dividend.
The things of this world, all that we own and value and hold on to, are only on loan to us. On the one hand if we are unfaithful, if we seek to store up treasure for ourselves here on Earth we will lose both that treasure and Eternal life. On the other hand if we are faithful in using the goods of this world for the good of the Kingdom of God then God will reward us. We can leave no lasting monuments behind us but we can store up glory with God.