Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: Wis 18, 6-9; Ps 32, 1.12.18-22; Heb 11, 1-2.8-19; Lk 12, 35-40

Spiritual Capital: Treasures in Heaven

During the course of the past week, I happened to chance upon a former student of mine, thanks to Facebook. We had a brief chat. I was intrigued by what he was doing for a living. He predicts stock-markets. He appears on TV at breakfast shows forecasting trends in the market and advising investors. He trains people on how to make money sitting at their homes buying and selling shares. I watched a few of his TV-shows. It was all about how to get rich quickly and effortlessly! And his ideas sell. In this climate of quick money, I asked myself how would people look at religion and spirituality. We are forced to speak a language of economics even in the context of faith: hence my reflection today is on “spiritual capital”. I am aware that this term is already in use in different circles. But the way I use it is in line with the Word of God this morning.

The gospel text of today seems to suggest that there is nothing new under the sun. Even Jesus uses economic language. He speaks about purses that do not wear out, stocks that will not fail you, and treasures that cannot be robbed or liquidated. It is around these themes that my reflection will revolve.

Spiritual Capital is what Jesus calls, “treasure in heaven”. It is in our own exercise of free-will in responding to the grace of God that the spiritual capital is built. Therefore we cannot fully take credit for the growth of the spiritual capital (SC). The readings of today seem to suggest three pathways towards the building of the spiritual capital:

(1) At the intrapersonal level by means of being awake
(2) At the interpersonal level by means of giving alms
(3) At the transpersonal level by means of faith in God.

Let us explore these three areas basing ourselves on today’s Liturgy of the Word.

Awareness: “See that you are dressed for action…!” (Lk 12:35)

Most religious traditions have spoken about awareness as a point of departure for a spiritual journey. Silence, meditation, prayer are the means to deepen this awareness of the concerns of the self towards God and fellow human beings. A sure way of building the spiritual capital!

In the Christian context being awake is tied up with a sense of readiness and hope, as we hear in the gospel reading of today: “Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (Lk 12:43). Being awake does not surely imply being tensed and anxious about the moment of grace- the arrival of the master. In fact, in the context of the Word of God, being awake is just the opposite of being anxious. We are called to be alert to the action of God in our hearts and in our lives – which is being at home with ourselves, others and God. Silence and deep prayer are the means to attain a relaxed – but not lethargic – state of openness to recognize the Lord who is passing by.

Spiritual writers have called this state “being centered” or “being rooted”. Even amidst the busy schedule of daily life we can remain rooted. In fact when we are rooted even the gushing wind cannot down the tree of life and the self. How do we establish these roots of inner stability – only by means of awareness, silence, meditation and contemplative prayer. These means facilitate our own openness to the grace of God that shares with us the taste of eternal life – life in God – here and now!

Altruism: “Sell your possessions and give alms” (Lk 12:33)

Jesus consistently invites us to perceive wealth as a means of building better relationships. In the parable of the astute servant (Lk 16:1-9), Jesus invites us to “use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings.” In the gospel reading of today, as on several others occasions (Mt 6:2-3; Mk 10:21), Jesus invites us to “sell your possessions and give alms” (Lk 12:33). Therefore, one possible way of gathering treasures in heaven is giving away the earthly treasures to people in need. This is a concrete way of investing towards the increase of the spiritual capital.

I see that there are at least two manners by which we can reach out to others in building the spiritual capital. One way is what we have mentioned above, namely, giving away the material treasures of the earth to those in need. I draw the second manner from the first reading of today. I was intrigued by this phrase from the Book of Wisdom that we heard read in the first reading of today: “So the holy children of the good offered sacrifice in secret and with one accord enacted this holy law: that the holy ones should share good things and dangers alike” (Wis 18:9).

When I was a school kid, there was a Jesuit priest who introduced us to the devotion of “the Spiritual Bouquet.” There are different versions of this practice, but what I am referring to goes something like this: we were given small booklets that contained line drawings of different images of, say, flowers, ladders, paths, rosary beads – and similar objects. Whenever you did a kind act to someone or a good turn in secret or you did a penance by yourself, you took that booklet and colored one of the petals of the flower or one of the rungs of the ladder. You went on to complete the flower or the ladder by repeating the little sacrifices in secret. And when the flower was complete you did an offering of it to Jesus or to the Blessed Virgin. However childish this devotion was, recently I was thinking how much valuable it was in building good habits and motivating us to take spiritual matters seriously. The words from the Book of Wisdom referring to the secret sacrifices of children reminded me of the immeasurable value of little acts of charity and personal penances that I did as a little boy.

I believe very strongly in the redemptive meaning of the sacrifices that we make in enduring the little inconveniences of daily life. For instance, I believe, that it is not the flowery language that might touch the hearts of the listeners of my sermon, it is the sacrifice that I make in preparing this sermon that will move grace to touch the hearts of people. Our actions performed even in secrecy have a social and spiritual impact. They build the spiritual capital for others and for ourselves.

Primacy of God: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for…” (Heb 11:1)

The third means of building the spiritual capital is faith. The second reading invites us to focus on the primacy of God in our lives, because “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Heb 11:1). What is the blessing that is guaranteed by faith: could we say it is the spiritual capital, the treasure in in heaven, eternal life?

Before we focus on eternal life and the treasure in heaven, I would like to add a word about the primacy of God. Faith, to me, is the recognition of the image of God that I am created in, and the acknowledge action of God who moves me from within me towards himself. This is naturally linked up to awareness and silence – being awake. It is also linked to altruism because every human person is in fact in the image of God. And because the image of God is also Trinitarian and relational, I also realize the image of God within me only through genuine relationship with others. So growth in spiritual capital is three dimensional – intrapersonal, intrapersonal and transpersonal. The end product is eternal life – the true treasure, the true spiritual capital. And what is eternal life?

Pope Benedict XVI says, “‘Eternal life’ is not – as the modern reader might immediately assume – life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize ‘life’ here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone” (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, pp.81-82).

Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.

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