|Sorry, but the Bible Just Isn't Readable in English.
The Eleventh Saturday of Ordinary Time; or, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday.
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Chronicles 24: 17-25.
• Psalm 89: 4-5, 29-34.
• Matthew 6: 24-34.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Ephrem, Deacon, Confessor & Doctor of the Church;* and, the Commemoration of Saints Mark & Marcellian, Martyrs.**
Lessons from the common, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Timothy 4: 1-8.
• Psalm 36: 30-31.
• Matthew 5: 13-19.
If a Mass for the commemoration is said, lessons from the proper:
• Romans 5: 1-5.
• [Gradual] Wisdom 3: 1-3.
• Luke 11: 47-51.
The Fourth Saturday of the Apostles Fast; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyr Leontius.***
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Romans 8: 14-21.
• Acts 12: 1-11.
• Matthew 9: 9-13.
• John 15: 17—16: 2.
6:45 AM 6/18/2016 — The difficulty with finding a relevant meaning from some of these Gospel passages has a lot to do with the art of translation. Matthew’s Gospel is a problem in particular, because it’s the only book of the Bible written in what is now a dead language. The other Gospel’s were written in Greek; Matthew’s was written in Aramaic, the common Hebrew dialect spoken by our Lord. Those of you who saw Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, heard that language being spoken.
The word in question, which causes the difficulty in this passage, is the one which the Roman Missal accurately indicates as “mammon”; and, while it’s almost always translated as “wealth” or “money,” 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 each of them connotes something unique. So, in your Bible the word reads as “money,” and in English money is money. But in Aramaic you may have twelve 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, 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 and Aramaic languages give 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 your 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 an inanimate object.
And this, I think, is a very good way to understand the point our Lord is making. 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, is a much more difficult thing.
We can, therefore, presume that our Lord used 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 are there who would not be practicing their Catholic Faith at all except for the fact that, somewhere along the line, they married someone who went to church on Sunday? How many Catholic couples are there who honestly know that they would have given their faith a second thought 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 is a positive one, and not 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.
* That musical Doctor of the Church, Saint Ephrem, was commemorated in the ordinary form on June 6th, and a homily on that occasion can be found here.
** Saints Mark & Marcellian were twin brothers of a noble Roman family, both married, and both tortured for a day and a night before being shot to death with arrows in AD 286 for refusing to renounce the Faith. Their parents and wives were required to witness their torture and death.
*** Saint Leontius was an officer in the Roman Legion in Tripoli, and was martyred under Emperor Vespasian in AD 69 or 70.