The Deacon's Bench

Back in the 1947 – 60 years ago — newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst bought an estate in Beverly Hills for the then-astounding sum of 120-thousand dollars. Hearst only lived there four years before he died.

A variety of other people have owned it since then, and it acquired a colorful history.

Well, last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that this property is now for sale.

If anyone here is interested, the asking price today is 165 million dollars.

It is officially the most expensive residential property listing in America.

It has six acres, four houses, a security cottage, three swimming pools and 29 bedrooms. I have no idea what you do with 29 bedrooms, unless you’re running a hotel.

You hear about places like that, and wonder what it must be like to live that kind of life.

And then you hear today’s gospel.

A man spends his life becoming rich – “acquiring a bountiful harvest.” He tears down barns to build bigger ones, and makes plans to enjoy the rest of his life with all he has accumulated. Maybe he had three swimming pools and 29 bedrooms, too.

But in the middle of it all, God speaks: “You fool.”

The man is about to die and everything he’s collected will be gone.

“You fool.”

And those of us hearing this can only wonder: is God talking to me?

You know how it is. The more you have, the more you want. You’re happy with that nice little Sprint cell phone you’ve had for years…you know, the one you keep forgetting to turn off during mass…but then along comes the iPhone. You see the ads everywhere, and every day there are newspaper articles about it, and then a friend goes out and gets one and as soon as he shows to you, he has to get Kleenex and wipe off your drool.

And you start looking for ways to get one for yourself. You see it everywhere you look – in newspapers, magazines, TV. You see people using one on the bus in the morning. You don’t need one. But that doesn’t matter. You’ve just got to have it.

And before you know it, you are all set to tear down your barn and build a bigger one. Just for your iPhone.

I know the feeling. I’ve been there, too. I like to take pictures on vacation, and I’ve got more cameras than one person can possibly need. And every now and then when my wife sees me looking at camera ads in the paper, she rolls her eyes. And I can almost hear her little voice saying to me: “You fool.”

Guilty as charged.

This is the world we live in. And it’s the world Jesus lived in, too. Our toys have changed, but our impulses haven’t.

But in today’s scripture readings, we are asked to be better than that. “Put
to death,” Paul writes, “the parts of you that are earthly.”

“Vanity of vanities,” we hear in the Old Testament. “All is vanity!”

But God still, I think, puts it best: “You fool.”

We spend so much of our lives trying to get what we really don’t need – and so often we lose sight of what we do.

In the gospel, Jesus cautions us about storing up treasure for ourselves while not being “rich in what matters to God.” He doesn’t say we can’t HAVE treasures. But we need to be “rich in what matters to God.”

Over the last few weeks, as we’ve listened to Luke’s gospel, we’ve been hearing “what matters to God”: we have been told to not look at what was left behind…to be bearers of peace…to love God and love our neighbor…to cherish prayer. Last week, in the gospel, Jesus even taught us how to pray.

All of that is so fundamental. It is the heart of Christ’s message to the world.

But it is so easy to forget it, or neglect it, when there are new toys waiting to be bought.

We can forget “what matters to God.”

We can forget what it means to make room for others in our lives.

We can forget the mysterious and boundless force that brought this world into
being…and showed us how to love one another, how to pray for one another, and how to uplift one another.

In the gospel today, Jesus tells us: “Though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Last Wednesday, in Minneapolis, on a bridge over the Mississippi River, the reality of that became all too clear.

For dozens of people this Sunday morning, life isn’t about the iPhone they wanted or the camera they craved. Life consists of a wife who is missing. A daughter who can’t be found. A husband who never made it home from work. One’s life does NOT consist of possessions – but of so many things that are intangible, and precious.

At mass today, in a very special way, we hold those people in our prayers.

And we gain a new appreciation for the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

It is a wisdom all of us need to pray for – probably now more than ever. The wisdom to know what is important. To appreciate and value those around us. To live every day for what it is – a gift from God – and to give it back to Him with thankfulness and with joy.

Let this, then, be our prayer, today and every day:

“God, teach us to number our days aright…that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

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