“Do You Have Spiritual Amnesia?” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, August 7, 2022

I remember in the early days of Pope Francis’ papacy, that he gave a really blunt speech to the bishops and priests who make up the Curia, that body of clerics who run the central administration of the whole Catholic Church, from their offices in the Vatican, in Rome. In essence, the Hoy Father made the statement that many of those clerics, were suffering from what he called, “Spiritual amnesia”. You have forgotten, Pope Francis said, why you were ordained: to be servants of Christ, not rulers in the Church, to have pastoral care and concern for the Catholic flock, not to immerse yourselves in finances and administration alone.

That phrase “spiritual amnesia” could well be addressed to all of us, brothers and sisters, myself included. We have forgotten our spiritual identity, as children of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of the Holy Spirit. We have forgotten the incredible destiny that comes with that identity, a heavenly inheritance, what we call the kingdom of God. Jesus , in his address to his disciples today, is reminding them, and us,  that our  focus and vision is not to be limited to having a comfortable lifestyle here on earth, which so many people without faith restrict themselves to . By contrast, we should be looking forward to a much greater treasure, life in heaven for all eternity. That should be our focus, that should be the all-encompassing vision for our lives, that should be what our hearts are set on, where our true priority lies. “Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given you as well” (Luke 12: 29-31). Immediately after these words from Luke’s gospel, Jesus goes on to say, as we read in today’s gospel passage, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”. 

Don’t be afraid, you disciples of mine, few in number, and poor in possessions, says Jesus. Don’t be afraid, as you look around you and see plenty of people who have no faith in me or in God, and they all seem to be doing very nicely, with plenty of possessions and money, and fame and power. Don’t be afraid that you are somehow missing out on something important. You, my disciples, are to inherit, something infinitely better and grander and more long-lasting, an unfailing treasure in heaven.  Compared to this, everything else that the world can offer is no more than a vapour, vanity of vanities- empty and destined to fade away. What the world offers as desirable and good, compared to what God offers those who have real faith in him, is a façade, an illusion, not worth throwing your life away on. “What will it profit anyone who gains the whole world but forfeits their true life?” (Matthew 17:26) 

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. So true, so very, very true. And so, the real question for us today, brothers and sisters, is this: where does our real treasure lie, what is the heartfelt desire deep within us? Are our hearts set on the return of Christ in glory at the end of time, and coming into our heavenly inheritance with his return – or is it set on “the nice life” here on earth?. Many Christians have settled for an “in-between” answer to these questions- what I like to call “Jesus plus”. I want to keep believing in Jesus, plus having a nice life on earth. I want to keep believing in Jesus to provide for me, plus having a nice full bank account, good stock options, a healthy retirement plan. I want to keep believing in Jesus’ return one day, plus making sure I don’t miss out on any and every enjoyment this world offers me.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong necessarily with wanting the “nice life”. But if we make this part of our grand plan for our lives, along with believing in Jesus, then we just make faith in Jesus part of the package of our lives, instead of being the single most important part of it. Jesus plus a “comfortable life” can soon become a “comfortable life” plus Jesus. Then we, little by little, drop faith in Jesus altogether and just focus on making our lives here on earth as comfortable as possible. 

This kind of faith is not faith at all. The heroes of faith in our second reading are heroes of faith for precisely this reason, that their goal, their vision, went way beyond seeking to make their lives on earth nice and comfortable. That chapter of Hebrews from which our second reading comes, makes clear that all these heroes, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses and so on looked beyond this life and sought after life with God. Hebrews says that they were all were seeking no earthly city, but the city “whose architect and builder is God”. They considered themselves as “strangers and foreigners on the earth” because, they were desiring, as Hebrews says, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one”.They were walking, in the words of St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “by faith, and not by sight”. (2 Cor 5:7), as we all should, who are disciples of Christ. Or, as Jesus says of his disciples in John’s gospel “you are in the world, but not of the world” (John 17: 11, 14-16). Again, St Paul reminds us, in his letter to the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ “ (Phil 3: 20) –. Do we have this expectancy of faith, brothers and sisters? Don’t forget that in the prayer following on the “Our Father” at Mass, the priest says that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”. Are we awaiting that event with faith and trust and hope, brothers and sisters? Or are we like the servants castigated by Jesus in the gospel, those who have forgotten that their master is returning home, and start pursuing lives of total self-indulgence, as so many are doing this day, who have forgotten, or don’t know, or no longer care, that Jesus will be returning at some time to bring this world, and all it holds dear, to an end.

Those whose citizenship is in heaven, through their baptism, and who never allow themselves to forget it, and who treat lightly all that this world holds as precious , will not be in danger of falling into a life of self-indulgence, forgetful of God and his will. That is why the Church has the season of Advent every year, to re-focus our minds and hearts on the second coming of Christ. That is why we pray with insistence the words of “Our Father”- Thy kingdom come!! They will be done !! on earth as it is in heaven.

To return for just one moment, and I will close here, to Jesus’ words in John 17. In verse 18, Jesus says of his disciples, and therefore of you and me, “Just as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. Do you get that, brothers and sisters? You and I should consider ourselves, as citizens of heaven sent into the world from above, from our true heavenly home, just as Jesus was. We are born and brought up in this world, engage in it through work and study and marriage and family, but our true purpose is to speak to others about our heavenly home, which God wants to be theirs as well. We are meant to warn others that this world is not the be-all and end-all of our lives, that there is a future and whole new way of life beyond, to which our baptism calls us. Through our words and example, we show ourselves also to be heroes of faith alongside Abraham and Sarah and Noah and Moses, and all the rest of them, because we consider ourselves to be strangers and foreigners on the earth, in the words of our second reading today, people who are seeking another homeland, a better country, that is a heavenly one. Hebrews says of such people that God “is not ashamed to be called their God, and he has prepared a heavenly city for them”. How are you and I doing with that, brothers and sisters? Can we say that God is not ashamed to be called our God and Father, because we make it clear to anyone and everyone that we are not ashamed to be called His children, and sharers in His divine nature? Or are we guilty of falling into spiritual amnesia?