Money Isn’t the Root of All Evil, Just the Fertilizer.
The Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop.
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Romans 16: 3-9, 16, 22-27.
• Psalm 145: 2-5, 10-11.
• Luke 16: 9-15.
…or, from the proper:
• Isaiah 61: 1-3.
• Psalm 89: 2-5, 21-22, 25, 27.
• Matthew 25: 31-40.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors or the common of Holy Men & Women for Religious.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Martin, Bishop & Confessor; and, the Commemoration of Saint Mennas, Martyr.*
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 44: 16-27; 45: 3-20.
• [Gradual] Ecclesiasticus 44: 16, 20.
• Luke 11: 33-36.
If a Mass for the commemoration is taken, lessons from the common "Lætábitur…" of a Martyr not a Bishop:
• II Timothy 2 8-10; 3: 10-12.
• Psalm 36: 24, 26.
• Matthew 10: 26-32.
The Twenty-Second Saturday after Pentecost; the Feast of the Holy Martyrs Menas, Victor & Vincent; the Feast of the Holy Martyr Stephanis; the Feast of Our Venerable Father & Confessor Theodore the Studite; and, the Remembrance of the Passing of the Blessed Martyr & Bishop Vincent Eugene Bossilkov.**
First & fourth lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fifth from the menaion for the Martyrs, third & sixth from the menaion for the Venerable, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• II Corinthians 8: 1-5.
• Ephesians 6: 10-17.
• Hebrews 13: 17-21.
• Luke 9: 37-43.
• Matthew 10: 32-33, 37-38; 19: 27-30.
• Matthew 4: 25—5: 12.
7:56 AM 11/11/2017 — For most of my priesthood I made my annual retreat up at Arnold Hall outside of Boston. The very first time I went on retreat at Arnold Hall was over thirty years ago, just as I was preparing for my ordination to the Holy Priesthood; and, the retreats at Arnold Hall are silent retreats, so there is no talking. Nowadays, during meals, they play a tape of a spiritual book, but in those days they passed a book from table to table and we all took our turn at reading from it.; and, as it happened to be the feast of Saint Martin, the book selected that day for the evening meal was a very old biography of Saint Martin of Tours. And when the book was finally passed to me—and I had to stop eating for the next five or ten minutes to read out loud—I read from where the last guy had left off; and, it was one of these nineteenth century Lives of the Saints written for the benefit of the simple-minded, and it fell to me to read the passage about Bishop Martin making a journey to Gaul to visit the King, and he had a mule with him to carry his luggage. I don't know if it was poorly written or poorly translated from the French, but I had to read the passage which read, “And a bear came out of the woods and ate his ass.” And everyone in the room busted out laughing. The book went on to say that Martin punished the bear by making him carry his luggage the rest of the way. So there you have my significant memory of my first encounter with Saint Martin of Tours.
With all due respect to whoever the author of that unfortunate biography was, Saint Martin is not important to the Catholic Church because of his encounter with a bear. There are a lot of different reasons why Saint Martin of Tours is such an important saint to the Catholic Church, and I will mention only a couple since I really want to reflect on today’s Gospel lesson. Saint Martin is significant as the founder of the first monastery in the Western Church, long before Saint Benedict; he was also the first non-martyr to have a feast day on the Roman Calendar. He was born in the year 316, and was a soldier. Converted to Christ at the age of eighteen, principally through the influence of Saint Hilary, he went on to become the bishop of Tours, and from there sent the first missionaries into Gaul. Although a very gentle man by reputation, he raised his voice a couple of times, primarily in opposition to the practice of executing heretics. He died in 397.
Turning our attention to today’s Gospel lesson:
You might recall a few weeks ago, on the Feast of Saint Luke, how I had tried to impress upon you the brilliance of the man who gave us the third account of our Lord’s life and how he filled it with subtle and sometimes even cryptic linguistic tricks, noticeable only to those fluent in Greek, to indicate very sublime truths. Today’s lesson is just such an instance. The word in question, around which Saint Luke has centered the point of our Blessed Lord’s sermon to his disciples, is “mammon,” or μαμωνᾷ in Greek, from the root μαμωνâs. It’s a very rare word, and even Luke’s Greek-speaking readers would have had to look at it twice, and may even have had to go look it up. In almost all English translations of the Holy Gospel, it’s rendered as “wealth” or “money,” but it means something more than that. One of the frustrations in trying to learn some of these ancient languages is that there are so many different words which the Lexicon translates in the same way, because the words don't exist in English which would distinguish between them. So, in your Bible the word may read as “money,” and in English money is money. But in Aramaic or Hebrew—or, in the case here of Saint Luke, Greek, you may have five different words that mean money, and each one says something different about it or the person who owns it or uses it. Mammon is wealth or money, but with a certain quality of personification. When it’s used as the object of a sentence, it implies some kind of reciprocal human-like relationship to the subject of the sentence. So when one possesses mammon or μαμωνâs, one not only possesses money but is also possessed by it.
Which kind of sums up our Lord’s whole point, doesn’t it? Saint John Chrysostom explains for us exactly how the choice of this word defines the whole meaning of our Lord’s narrative. It’s not the possession of the wealth that’s the problem; it’s the possession that the wealth holds over us that’s the problem. The Greek language gives you the option of speaking about inanimate objects as persons because it is a fact of life that such objects can become virtual “persons” to those who desire them. Money becomes mammon when obtaining or preserving it becomes the focus of my life, a relationship which should exist only with another person. It’s all right to focus on your husband or your wife, it’s all right to focus on your children, it’s all right to focus on God, but to focus on something that is not a person is wrong. It robs all the other “persons” in your life of their humanity. You end up giving human dedication to something that is not human, thus making all the other people in your life less than human by subordinating them to something that has no life.
And this, I think, is a very good way to understand the point our Lord is making, or at least what Saint Luke would like us to take away from what our Lord is saying. There are all kinds of things we need to fulfill our obligations to the people whom we love. One of them is money. You can’t feed a family or put a roof over their heads without it. But every month you’re handed that pay check, as abundant or as meager it may be, it isn’t the number of digits on the check that should give you satisfaction; it’s what that number should represent to the person who has his life well-ordered: the meeting of his responsibilities to those who depend on him.
The ancient Desert Fathers we remember as the supreme teachers of holiness. But in another sense we have to recognize that, spiritually speaking, they took the easy way out. By forsaking all material possessions and retreating into the solitude of the desert, they isolated themselves from everything that could possibly come between God and themselves. We don’t have that luxury. We depend on others and others depend on us, in marriage, in the priesthood, in any number of situations in which we may find ourselves. They were like alcoholics who completely gave up drink; we are more like compulsive over-eaters who can’t give up food, but must try somehow to live with it in a modified and detached way—which, when you think about it, can be a much more difficult thing.
We can, therefore, presume that the good Saint Luke recorded our Lord using the word that he used very deliberately. It isn’t a question of how much, but a question of why? When two people get married and look forward to a family, they’re concerned with creating a home and an environment in which a family can flourish; but, as the years pass that focus can get lost; we can become so immersed in the various activities that keep the check coming in, that we can forget the reason for it all. Work and job, then, become goals in themselves; not that we consciously make them so, but that through years of going through the motions we have forgotten what it’s all for.
And this is true not only in reference to our families but most especially in reference to God. After all, just as material wealth exists for the benefit of our families, so our families are really nothing more than a means to bring ourselves and others closer to Christ. That’s why marriage is a sacrament: it is a way to God. One gets married precisely because two souls seeking perfection have a much better chance of success than one soul alone, because they temper each other, and limit each other, and motivate each other to do what is right. Otherwise, she exists only to please me, and I exist only to please her, when the reality should be that we both exist to help one another please God. And this is self-evident: how many people have we met along the way who would never go to church except that, somewhere along the line, they married someone who practiced the Faith? How many couples are there who honestly know that they would never have continued to practice the Faith after marriage were it not for the fact that they needed a baby baptized, or felt guilty about not raising a child in a religious environment. And while some might question the purity of such motives, the fact is that it’s exactly this sort of thing that marriage and family are for.
The longer I live the more I’m convinced that everything we do has some kind of ulterior motive, but that’s OK just so long as that ulterior motive draws us in a positive direction, and not away from our Lord like mammon. In the end, no matter what we do, no matter what reason we think we have for doing it, it must be something that will lead us to God. And it will be, as long as it’s not mammon, as long as we can see the will of God in every task of life. And that happens when we train ourselves to see, in everyone who depends on us, the face of Christ.
* Mennas, an Egyptian who served in the Roman Legion, was beheaded under Diocletian in the year 295.
** Menas is the same Mennas referred to above.
Victor and Stephanis (also called Stephanida) were martyred in Egypt under Antonius (138-161).
Vincent, a Spanish Archdeacon, was martyred toward the beginning of the fourth century under Maximianus.
Theodore the Studite was born in Constantinople in 759, and entered the monastery of Sakkhoudion in Bithynia, where he eventually became hegumen (abbot), eventually moving to the monastery of Studion, named after its founder, Centurion Studius. Exiled and recalled several times by various Emperors, he died in 826 after much suffering for the faith.
The Passionist Bishop and Martyr, Eugene Bossilkov, was born November 16, 1900, in Belene, Bulgaria, a village in the Danube Valley. His family were farmers and Catholics of the Latin Rite. Ordained for the Passionists in the Latin Rite, he studied in Rome and wrote his thesis on the union of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church with Rome in the 13th century, but returned to his own country in 1933 as secretary to his bishop. After Bulgaria joined the Axis powers in 1940, and the Soviets invaded, he was chosen to succeed the late Bishop Theelen in 1946, becoming a member of the Bulgarian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite. He was executed by the Communists on this day in 1952 at the prison at Sophia, being buried in a common grave which has yet to be found. He was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on March 15, 1998.