Friday, February 2, 2007

The Gospel of Prosperity

Once in a while I see a preacher on TV or hear one on the radio. And I think, well, maybe I’ll listen for a minute; who knows? Maybe I’ll learn something about how to preach. Often what I hear, though, it bothers me. I’m bothered because often what I hear is what they call “the Gospel of prosperity.”

This teaching says that if you honor God and confess that Jesus is Lord, God will bless you. Now I hardly dispute this in itself, but the blessings they talk about are always materialistic. By honoring God and praying in a certain way, God will bless you with money and houses and cars and economic security for you and your family.

Now I just don’t think this kind of doctrine stands up to Sacred Scripture. In Luke’s Gospel, which we are proclaiming this year, Jesus says quite plainly, “blessed are you poor” and “woe to you who are rich.” In fact the whole of Sacred Scripture is a testament to God’s special love for the poor and the oppressed, for the stranger and the widow and the orphan. In the Church’s evening prayer every single day none other than our Blessed Mother herself proclaims and blesses God, who has

Cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly [and who] has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Perhaps one of the greatest correctives to this so-called “Gospel of prosperity” comes in our Gospel reading for today. Peter, James, and John are business partners, and they aren’t having a good day. As they say, they “have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.”

But after they try again on the advice of Jesus, they catch an astonishing amount of fish; so many in fact that they’re nets begin to tear. So far so good for the “Gospel of prosperity;” they honor and obey the Lord and material success follows. But then the story changes.

Rather than sit back and enjoy their new, God-given prosperity, this huge catch of fish that makes their business a success, Peter, James and John decide instead to leave it all to follow Jesus. They leave the fish, their boats, their sudden prosperity, and follow Jesus into a life of uncertainty, danger, and homelessness. Why? If God blesses us with so much success in our business, be it fishing or whatever, aren’t we supposed to stay home and appreciate it?

Peter, James and John see beyond the huge catch of fish. They see through the material success to a Savior who is much more than a material benefactor. This Presence of the saving God is Blessing Itself--and much more valuable than the material blessings we may or may not receive from him. And so, seeing through the catch of fish to the blessing of God beyond, Peter, James and John found themselves brave enough to leave the catch behind to follow the divine Presence itself that they perceive in the man Jesus.

And this is what we are called to do. Whatever God has blessed us with, whether it be “time, talent, or treasure” as we say here in the offertory, or whether it be a gentle heart or a generous disposition or even just an infectious smile, God has not given us these things so that we might enjoy them for ourselves, but so that we might in turn bless each other with them.

In Jesus Christ, God has given away everything it means to be God, and has lavishly bestowed upon us every blessing of the divine life. And we are called to imitate God by wasting the best of ourselves on each other, to give of ourselves for the life and happiness of the other. That’s what it means to give up your life for the life of the world, just like Jesus does on the Cross.

Now this is a tall order, and it takes a lot of trust on our part. In fact, we almost always resist the idea and balk at the little inspirations of the Holy Spirit. But we shouldn’t be surprised or ashamed of this. Peter, the first among the apostles, his first response to the Lord was to ask Jesus to leave, for, as Peter said, “I am a sinful man.” And Isaiah, greatest of the prophets, he cried out in response to the call of God, “Woe is me, I am doomed!”

But they changed their minds, and pretty quickly. In fact, the term the New Testament often uses for conversion, the Greek word metanoia, simply means, literally, to change your mind. And God is there to strengthen us and to help us change our hesitant minds too.

Isaiah is strengthened after an angel touches his mouth with an ember taken from God’s heavenly altar. And it can be the same with us. Except the burning coal that will touch our lips is the Holy Communion we receive here at Mass. The Body of Christ we receive is the burning love of God for the world, the passion of God for our well-being and salvation. The burning love of God we receive into our very bodies in Holy Communion, it purges our wickedness, strengthens us in our hesitations, and forgives our sins.

So let us receive the Body of Christ with great faith and gratitude. For it is the burning ember of love that will enable us to respond to the call of God to give of ourselves, our communion in the Body of Christ is the strength we need to respond to God in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am. [Lord] Send me!”

(5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this homily this is an issue that comes up a lot in my life.

My wife likes to ask people who espouse a prosperity gospel, and it is so appropriate for today's feast, "If God materially blesses those who do his will, why did Joseph have to make the poor man's offering?"

Don said...

Brother Charles this is a fabulous homily and I'm glad you have shared it with us. I wish I was going to be there to hear it. I will link it to my blog in the hope that more will read what you have written.

Jeff said...

Great homily, Friar.

This is a point on which we tend to equivocate far too often.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks guys, so much for your support. I'm just back from my parish weekend gig, tired, and to see your encouragement means so much.

Tiber Jumper said...

what a great message!~
I was a victim of the faith and prosperity thing for a long time (Claiming a healing for my wife who died of cancer) Her death and the falsity of this health and wealth gospel led me back to Catholicism where the fullness of teuth is to be found.
God bless you

renae gregoire said...

Hello. I am not Catholic, but I am a believer in the Lord. Your message is so deeply moving to me. I have read it once, twice...and will read it yet again. God is speaking to me through it. Thank you for sharing!

Charles of New Haven said...

Nice to meet you, Renae, and thanks for your kind words.

GrandmaK said...

Oh, how I appreciate this homily. I will be with the RCIA candidates tomorrow morning and this has been a wonderful reflection to aid in Breaking Open the Word...Thanks be to God and YOU!!! Cathy

Elizabeth said...

Charles, I thoroughly agree with everything (except your last few paragraphs on what the communion service really is.) Thanks for writing this. I especially like this line

wasting the best of ourselves on each other, to give of ourselves for the life and happiness of the other.
and pray that daily God sees me wasting myself for Him.
Blessings, Elizabeth

4narnia said...

AWESOME homily, Fr. C! and, yes, it is very relevant in our day. i'm glad you're using it again. we all need to remember the part you share in your homily: "whatever God has blessed us with, whether it be time, talent, treasure, gentleness, generosity," (or any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit), that we must share them with others. every once in a while i use this following quote from Micah 6:8:"You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God." this is a good reminder for us. i received an e-mail called "God's little notes" and one of them reads: "God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called." so, as unworthy as we might feel we are, God can use us if we are open to the Holy Spirit. if we live the way we're reminded in Micah 6:8, then we will know just what to do with our time, talent, treasure and everything else the Lord has blessed us with and God will "qualify us!" PEACE! ~tara t~

Karinann said...

Br. Charles,
Great and needed homily! I especially liked your last paragraph with the analogy of our receiving Christ's Body to the burning ember. I think it sums up the whole of what today's readings are saying to us. Thank you for taking us deeper into them.
God Bless!