On Forsaking Fear by Remaining Ready—A Homily for the 19th Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel for this weekend (Luke 12:32-40) the Lord Jesus presents a “recipe for readiness.” He gives it to us so that we can lay hold of His offer that we not be afraid. He is not simply saying, “Be not afraid.” He is explaining how we can battle fear by being ready.

Christians today are often uncertain about what is necessary in order to be ready to meet God. Many also make light of the Day of Judgment, considering it all but certain that most of humanity will be saved.

Jesus does not adopt this position. In fact, He teaches the opposite. He consistently warns of the need to be ready for our judgment. Jesus does not counsel a foolish fearlessness rooted in the deception that all or even most will be saved. Rather, He counsels a fearlessness based on solid preparation for the Day of Judgment. Jesus tells us to do at least five things in order to be ready and therefore not afraid.

If we do not make these sorts of preparations, Jesus warns that He will come when we least expect and take away all that we (wrongly) call our own. Jesus says, But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap (Lk 21:34). The apostolic tradition says this of the unprepared: disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape (1 Thess 5:3).

Thus, while Jesus begins by saying that we ought not to fear (for the Father wants to grant us His Kingdom), He also warns that being free of fear is contingent upon embracing and following the plan that He sets forth for our life.

Let’s look at this plan and see how we can forsake fear by becoming and remaining ready. Jesus gives us five specific things to do that will help to ready us for the time when the Lord calls us. It is not an exhaustive list, for no single passage of Scripture is the whole of Scripture, but these are some very practical and specific things to reflect upon and do.

I.  Reassess your wealth. Jesus says, Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

In this passage, the Lord is giving us three teachings on wealth. He says that we ought to do these things:

        • Forgo Fear. In the end, it is fear that makes us greedy and worldly; we grab up the things of this world because we are afraid of not having enough for tomorrow. But what if we could receive the gift to trust God more and to know that He will give us our daily bread? He has given us the Kingdom; why wouldn’t He give us everything else? He may not give us everything we want, but He will give us what we really need. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be given unto to you (Matt 6:21). If we can just allow God to diminish our fear, we will be surprised at how easy it is to be generous with what we have rather than hoarding it.
        • Forward your Fortune. When we are generous to the needy and poor, we store up treasure for ourselves in Heaven. Treasure is not stored in Heaven by sending it up there in a rocket ship or a hot-air balloon. It is accomplished by generously distributing our wealth to others in wise and creative ways. I discussed this more fully in my homily last week (You Can’t Take It with You, but You Can Send It on Ahead). While it may not be appropriate to sell everything and go sleep on a park bench, the Lord is surely telling us to be less attached to and passionate about money and possessions, for they root us in this world. And where our treasure is, there also will our heart be.
        • Fix your focus. Our focus is misplaced because most of us have our treasure here in this world. Once we become less fearful and more generous, our obsession with worldly treasure subsides and our joy in heavenly treasure grows. This redirects our focus and puts our heart where our treasure really is and ought to be: in Heaven with God. Simplify! Be less rooted in this world; come to experience that your greatest treasure is God and the things awaiting you in Heaven.

Reassess your wealth. What is it and where is it? That will tell you a lot about your heart.

II. Ready yourself to work. The Lord says Gird your loins,which is the ancient equivalent of “roll up your sleeves.” The Lord has work for us to do and wants us to get to it.

Surely, the Lord has more than a worldly career in mind. He has in mind things like growing in holiness, pursuing justice, and raising children in godly fear. The Lord wants us to work in His Kingdom. We must commit to prayer, Sunday worship, the reception of the sacraments, obedience, and holiness.

The Lord has particular work for each of us based on our gifts. Some people are good teachers; others work well with senior citizens; some are entrepreneurs who can provide employment for others at a just wage. Some are skilled at medicine and the care of the sick; others are called to priesthood or the religious life. Some are called to suffer and to offer that suffering for the salvation of souls. Some serve in strength, others do so in weakness; but all are called to serve, to work.

Work with what the Lord gave you to advance His Kingdom. Part of being ready means doing your work.

III. Read the Word. The Lord says, light your lamps.

On one level, the phrase “light your lamps” is simply a symbol for readiness (e.g., the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matt. 25:1-13).

But in another sense, a lamp is also a symbol for Scripture. For example, You Word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps 119:105). We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

The Lord is teaching us that an essential part of being ready is being rooted and immersed in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. That makes sense, of course. Too many in this increasingly secular world are hostile to the faith. How can we think that our mind is going to be anything but sullied if we are not reading Scripture every day? How will our minds be sober and clear if we are inebriated by the world?

Clearly, being ready means reading Scripture each day and basing our life on it.

IV. Remain watchful. The Lord says, And be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. … Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

There are different ways to watch and wait. There is the passive watching and waiting that we might do when waiting for a bus: we just sit there and look down the street. There is another kind that is more active. Consider a waiter: he waits and watches actively; he observes and delivers what is needed immediately and notes what will be needed soon so that he will be prepared when the time comes.

There is also the eager sort of waiting that is much like that of a child on Christmas Eve. The child does not wait in dread for Santa Claus but in hopeful expectation.

Watchful and eager waiting are what the Lord has in mind. It is like that active waiting we do when we have invited a guest to our home. We joyfully prepare and place all in order.

To set our house in order is to sweep clean our soul of sin and all unrighteousness (by God’s grace) and to remove all the clutter of worldliness from our life. Regular confession, daily repentance, simplifying our life,  and freeing ourself from worldly attachments declutters the house of our soul.

Have you prepared the home of your soul for the Lord’s arrival? If not, you may experience Him as you would a thief. The Lord is not really a thief, for everything belongs to Him, but if we have not renounced our worldliness and greed and have not rid ourself of attachments to this world, then the Lord will come and take back what is His. He will seem like a thief only because we (wrongly) think things belong to us.

It’s never a good idea to call God, the Lord and owner of all, a thief!

V. Reflect on your reward. The Lord says, Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.

The Lord is clear that He has a reward for those who are found ready!

It is prefigured in the banquet of the Eucharist, in which the Lord prepares a meal and feeds us. He says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:30). Today, food can be bought on the spur of the moment and eaten immediately, but in the ancient world one of life’s most pleasant things was a leisurely meal enjoyed in the company of good friends and family.

The Lord offers us the magnificent blessing of Heaven, where we will be with Him and those whom we love forever in unspeakable joy and peace.

Do you meditate often on Heaven and long for its rewards? One of the stranger things about people in the modern world, even some believers, is that they talk so little of Heaven. And while it is not a place any of us have ever been (so it’s hard to fully understand what it will be like), we should reflect often on the joy that awaits us there.

Part of being ready to go home to the Lord is to long for that day to come. When we want to do something, we prepare for it eagerly; we are motivated and we make sacrifices. We will more naturally do whatever is necessary.

These are five elements constituting a recipe for readiness. You’d better set your house in order ’cause He may be comin’ soon!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: On Forsaking Fear by Remaining Ready—A Homily for the 19th Sunday of the Year

9 Replies to “On Forsaking Fear by Remaining Ready—A Homily for the 19th Sunday of the Year”

  1. Father,
    I generally enjoy your posts, I take exception when you cover the idea most are saved vs most are not saved. You proclaim most are not saved. You did this again in today’s post. At least I can’t see how you could claim you are not saying most are not saved based on what you said in your post. To make things worse you make the claim Jesus says most are not saved. Jesus does not say most are not saved just as he does not say most are saved.

    Here is how I understood what you posted. You say, “Many also make light of the Day of Judgment, considering it all but certain that most of humanity will be saved.” You then say, “Jesus does not adopt this position. In fact, He teaches the opposite.” The opposite being it is all but certain that most of humanity will not be saved. False, Jesus does not teach that it is all but certain most of humanity will not be saved. Neither should you.

    1. Most people refuse to accept the idea of a final Judgement or look on it as a mere formality, less difficult of a test than receiving a high school diploma. Is that befitting of God? Would that even be worth mentioning in the bible?

  2. MarianCenturion, please go back and re-read Matthew chapter 7:13-14:
    “Enter through the narrow gate;* for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.

    How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

    1. Tim, I reread Matthew chapter 7:13-14. This passage doesn’t not teach most people are not saved. This passage talks about the many who enter the wide gate and broad road that leads to destruction. It does not say the many are destroyed. Just as it does not say the few who find the narrow gate and constricted road that leads to life are given life.

      To say most are destroyed (most are not saved) or few are given life (few are saved) is conjecture. It is conjecture because the passage doesn’t say the many or the few stay on the broad or constricted road. It does not say if they made it to the final out come of the roads they are on. It does not conclude how many are destroyed or are given life.

      Here is why I think this is important for people, especially priests, to get right. A most are not saved mentality can lead to despair and a loss of hope. A most are saved mentality can lead to being presumptuous and a false sense of hope.

  3. Some get upset when Priests or Bishops say that few will be saved and others get up set when Priests or Bishops say that many will be saved. Neither position upsets me because here is the point, and I think the good MSGR will be the first to admit it; no one knows for certain. So here is how I look at it. St. Paul advises us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. That tells me that we should work and pray for our salvation and the salvation of our loved ones as if it wan’t a certainty.

    1. Steven, I commented on the good MSGR’s article because I don’t think he would be the first to admit no one knows for certain. I think he thinks he does know for certain most will not be saved. It seems to be quite evident he is certain in this article. So much so that he says Jesus is telling us most people are not saved.

      1. Steve, I want to admit to an error in my reply to you. The good MSGR does leave room for the possiblity of uncertainty when he used the wording it is all but certain in his article. It also follows that he would say Jesus is saying it is all but certain most are not saved. I don’t agree that Jesus is saying it is all but certain.
        I do think this all but certain most are not saved mentality is conjecture and to a lesser degree could lead people into despair and a loss of hope.

        I think it’s safe to say there are few fishermen and there are many fish.

        I think I could add it would seem from my observation there are even fewer good fishermen but sometimes things aren’t always what they seem when observed from a worldly perspective. I would put myself in the not so good fisherman category and that’s probably an over generous statement.

        Anyway let’s cast out our nets and catch some fish.

        JMJ

  4. The very idea that most are not saved causes us – “fear.” I can reason therefore, that if most are not saved then perhaps I shouldn’t be overconfident, but should instead work out my salvation in fear and trembling, no? Yes. In fact God’s Holy Word – Jesus – tells us these hard truths. Fear – that’s what this post was really about and it was about how to best deal with that fear. What are the best practices for dealing with fear? Being ready. Msgr. Charles Pope is providing sound and proper training here, which is exactly what an authentic leader does. He tells his people the truth, that they might live.

    Fear – a panic – a clinging to one’s own ideas and opinions. Clinging to lies does not serve one well in any form of combat – spiritual or physical. And we most certainly are at war! Spiritual war! Cowardice and ego (pride, hubris, arrogance) put more men in the ground, prison, or [God please forbid] – Hell, than anything else. Period. Now we don’t have to like that reality, but it doesn’t change it one iota.

    Did God really say you can’t eat of ANY TREE in the garden? Sure today it’s just this one tree, but what about next month? Next year? Fear stirs up the emotions. The first manure stirrer (the devil) stirring up concupiscence, a human sense of ‘justice.’ Lies – lead – to – death. Both spiritual death and physical death.

    May God give us the grace to be ready.

  5. You know, the consideration, in the abstract, that the majority of people go to hell may make Jesus appear severe to the point of being a psychopath. However, for the Christian in the street, someone who is honestly striving for the prize of eternal life in heaven, that consideration does not prevent charitable behavior toward anyone and it provides room for wariness for both spiritual and material self-preservation.

    Also, if that wariness is necessary for both spiritual and material self-preservation for the Christian honestly seeking heaven, then it is real-time evidence that Jesus is merely telling us how things are.

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