Sunday, August 11, 2019

Traveling through Life

By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

We have been hearing a lot about Abraham lately in the liturgy over several recent Sundays. According to the account in Genesis, Abraham - at the astonishing age of 75 – was commanded by God to move from his ancestral home to a new land which God promised would belong – eventually – to his descendants. Unlike so many migrants, past and present, Abraham not only got to bring his wife and his nephew, Lot, but also their herds of animals and whatever other possessions he had accumulated in those 75 years. The New Testament author of the Letter to the Hebrews rightly wanted to emphasize Abraham’s faith. And surely Abraham’s faith was the most important thing he brought with him, but obviously those other people and things that he brought along mattered to him too.

Jesus famously told his disciples to travel light, to trust in God’s care for us in money bags that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven. We all appreciate that detachment from other people and from possessions may be important – and at times absolutely necessary. Still, as Aristotle insisted, a life without friendships would be hard to bear. And Jesus himself valued his friendships, as did his disciples in the early Church. As for things, they too can be very attractive. All those homes and cars and gadgets we accumulate may weigh us down with possessions - and possessiveness - and may distract us from more important human relationships; but we know that they can also make our lives easier and more fulfilling in some fundamental ways. Even those phones and computers and other technological toys that, on the one hand, may make our social interactions so artificial may, on the other hand, also make some social interactions possible that wouldn’t even happen otherwise.

So I think Abraham basically got it right when he realized that living productively in this world and maintaining fulfilling human relationships were important values in themselves and would always require paying attention to other people and things. But what made Abraham’s human relationships and possessions so especially meaningful and gave them a whole new dimension was the confident faith that freed him always to respond trustingly to God’s commands, wherever that took him.

So it must be for all of us, as we navigate our way through the ordinary demands of daily life and the extraordinary challenges of this increasingly troubled time in which we live.  A faith like Abraham’s invites us to recognize, even in the challenges we encounter, new opportunities to respond to, new opportunities to rediscover the heart of who and what we are fundamentally meant to become, by means of our relationships with other people and things – and so become the people we hope to be when we settle down once and for all forever in God’s kingdom.

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, August 11, 2019.

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