EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
Evidently, one of the fastest growing businesses today is the Self-Storage industry. Right here in Bellerose a fairly large Cube Smart opened a few years ago on Jericho Turnpike. And the town in Connecticut close to my lake house there are two such facilities. We Americans are unselfconsciously acting out Jesus’ cautionary parable in today’s Gospel. And I must confess that I have contemplated renting out one of those units as I look around my office and residence. Where has all this stuff come from, I wonder to myself: all the sweaters, the shirt, the slacks that no longer fit, all the books, all the pictures and tchotchkes that have built up over the years, all the Boy Scout neckerchiefs, caps and tee-shirts, all the train stuff, all the souvenirs. When I returned to this parish seven years ago, I was immediately prepared to outfit myself appropriately, my closet readily offering a selection of St. Gregory’s gear, including my Festival and Hibernian jackets. And that does not include all the stuff that I either jettisoned or left behind with each of my moves through the years. Even so, I am still at a loss to get fully unpacked after seven years back in this rectory.
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth,” St. Paul advises us in his Letter to the Colossians. Paul knew full well that the things we hoard can block our vision as well as our stairway to heaven. And one of few vices that Jesus repeatedly condemned is greed. “You fool,” he has God say to the farmer who stored up treasure for himself. That is very strong language invoked by the teacher who said in the Sermon on the Mount, “whoever says, ‘You fool’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
But it is not just things that we hoard. Things can be easily cleared away – consigned to the shredder, the dumpster, the clothing drive, the poor box. There are other ways we can fill our souls from floor to ceiling with junk that blocks our vision of things above, and hinders our progress toward the holiness without which no one can see God. We easily hoard resentments, hold on to grudges, pile up unhappy memories, cling to bad habits and venial sins. St. Paul knew all about this sort of spiritual hoarding when he urged the Colossians to clean out – literally put to death – immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed.
The late Bishop Sheen once gave a talk about spiritual housecleaning. He said it is impossible to drive out undesirable habits or self-defeating patterns of behavior. Instead, said the sage preacher, you must crowd them out. That is, you must fill your mind, your psyche, your soul with realities that are noble, holy, pure, unselfish. And the two things above all others that can crowd the junk out of our souls are the experience of God’s loving mercy in the absolution received at the end of a good confession and reception of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is, after all, the bread that contains within itself all sweetness. It is the very presence of the Son of God giving himself to us in the most intimate way imaginable.
Some years ago, The Learning Channel cashed in on the hoarding craze with a series entitled, Buried Alive. Some of the people it showed were so buried under piles of stuff that they could no longer find anything that they were looking for. Just about every priest has been summoned to hoarder’s den, sometimes to administer the Last Rites to a parishioner who has been buried alive in his or her own home. St. Paul reminds us that we were buried alive in the sacrament of Baptism – buried and immediately raised to new life in Christ. May that same Christ remove from us everything that keeps us from seeking and finding our life that is hidden with Christ in God.
Along with the growth of the Self-Storage industry, there is now a trend to write books about the various strategies of decluttering one’s life, offering examples of strategies from Scandinavian and Japanese cultures. The book offering the most effective decluttering strategy, however, is the Bible. Jesus has a formula for stopping the Self-Storage industry in its tracks. “Go and sell what you have, and give to the poor. And you will have treasure in heaven.”