Monday, November 14, 2011

11-11-13: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,31 / Psalm 128 / 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 / Matthew 25:14-30

It seems that today’s parable of the good and wicked servants wouldn’t go over too well in Zuccotti Park, especially when the Master orders the one talent to be taken from the poorer servant and given to the richer servant who already has ten. So much for God’s view of the 99%. The master in the parable rewards a good investment but gets furious over a safe bet. Taking a lead from the parable, some of us who tend to take the gospel literally might be tempted to take that nest egg lying in the CD with near nothing in interest and put it in some venture capital scheme. The problem is the parable doesn’t record what would have happened to a servant who actually lost on his investment. Then again the world hadn’t yet heard of Bernie Madoff.

There’s a trend in Evangelical Protestantism these days that’s gaining wide popularity: some call it the gospel of prosperity. It takes today’s gospel quite literally, seeking to enable its adherents to see in prosperity and material wealth a divine mandate, evidence of salvation. It’s nothing new of course. The Puritans were into way back when. And in the nineteenth century American westward expansion – a giant land grab – was clothed in biblical allusions like Manifest Destiny. Today, the power of the media has made evangelists of the gospel of prosperity into contemporary icons: Joel Osteen is the number one TV evangelist and Creflo Dollar (is that really his name?) is on the air every night. I suppose there’s something to be said for their theological point of view; after all, God wills all to be saved – even the rich. But how then do we understand those, the majority of mankind, who live in poverty. Are they to be seen as abandoned by God? Is there poverty a sign of their sinfulness, evidence of their unsavedness? Something akin to the way the ancient world understood sickness and disease, as punishment for a person’s sinfulness or that of his parents. Those of us lacking in self confidence or a healthy self image, who thought God didn’t love us before, will now have proof – a depleted 401K or a mortgage worth more than the house itself.

The Catholic view of things vis-à-vis wealth has always been a bit murkier, viewing money as a necessary evil. Jason Berry, who’s written a lot about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, turned his attention recently to the subject of money in his recent book, Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church. Not a very well-written, coherent account of things, Berry nonetheless offers juicy tidbits of contemporary corruption in the echelons of power in the Vatican and among the hierarchy. He delves into the recently reported but unconfirmed reports that the Legionnaries of Christ disgraced founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had long perpetuated a system of what amounted to bribery for the advancement of his young and highly successful order. No one less than the former Vatican Secretary of State figured in the alleged corruption. If Maciel hadn’t secretly fathered several families, and sexually abused young seminarians, his “bribery” might have been seen as a clever instrument of God’s will since the order he founded had been the fastest growing in the Church and much beloved by John Paul II. As coincidence, or providence would have it, I finished reading this chapter as we priests of the diocese were holding our bi-annual convocation at Our Lady of Thornwood – one of the many houses owned by the Legionnaries who, it must be admitted, treated us very well (Father Maciel’s name was never mentioned and his pictures long removed).

But let’s be honest – there’s nothing really new in all this. If you’ve ever visited Rome and taken a tour of the Vatican you might acknowledge that all the splendor and the inestimable treasures of the Vatican library wouldn’t be, save for a previous generation’s “corruption.” In this case the corruption of a certain Dominican friar called Tetzel who started taking too much money for selling indulgences back in the early sixteenth century. We still ”sell” such things like indulgences, masses, sacraments, and the like. We use other words, but money still must exchange hands. One new bishop, a few years back, no doubt in a first frenzy of episcopal zealotry, abolished all fees for sacraments in his diocese. But someone still had to pay for the electricity and heat for the church building, the paper work and record keeping still had to be kept, and the very meager salary of the priest still had to be paid. So they called the fee by another name and kept the bishop in blissful ignorance.

Money and what it buys seems always to be viewed as a means to an end or a necessary evil. Some think the more we try to control its flow will ensure a transparent and therefore honest result. They’re the kind responsible for such things as the federal budget and the U.S. Tax Code. Now, there’s transparency for you.

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