By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hearse with a U-Haul?

I remember having a chat many years ago with a colleague, who was commenting on the rather prevalent obsession with accumulating possessions and wealth. He said, “You know, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.” A rather striking way to voice something we all know to be true and more commonly express as, “You can’t take it with you!”

Which begs the question: What do we take with us? When at death we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, what shall we offer? We know from Sacred Scripture that the Lord will not be particularly interested in a record of things we have accumulated.

In fact, what we are able to offer the Lord, now and at death, is no more than empty hands. It is important to understand this correctly. An ancient heresy called Pelagianism held that we can follow the Lord’s teachings and thus save ourselves without the help of God’s grace. This was condemned by the Church, because the truth is that we can do nothing without the help of God. By that divine help our lives are made an acceptable offering to God. We acknowledge this in the eucharistic prayer at mass: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance [i.e;. eternal life] with your elect…”

I love watching how young children respond when collection is taken up at mass. They obviously have nothing to offer. So, Mum or Dad gives them something, which they then joyfully put in the collection as their own gift. What we can offer the Father is that which is given to us by the grace of Christ, or, better, that which we have been made by him, and we offer it joyfully in gratitude for God’s love and mercy.

This has huge implications for the way we live our lives. It means being disposed daily to that which the Holy Spirit wants to bring about in us. The Scripture readings of Sunday teach something of how to do that.

Fundamental is faith. The excerpt from Wisdom (18:6-9) underscores the trustworthiness of God’s promises to his people, and summons us to rely confidently on them. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1-2, 8-19) recalls how this trust was exemplified in Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. It thus highlights the centrality of faith, which is lived out as trust in the providence and wisdom of God and surrender to his saving work within us.

This openness in faith to the working of the Lord within our hearts as we journey through life stands behind the instruction of Jesus to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35) Faith is not passivity. Yes, we rely entirely on the grace of Christ, who works within us by the Holy Spirit to make of us a pleasing offering to the Father. Yet this same grace moves us to acts of charity. Faith finds expression in love (cf. Galatians 5:6). Christian action springs from faith, not from self-centered motives. This is why we must “have our lamps lit,” that is to say, be constantly vigilant to guard against the lies and seductions (like the temptation to accumulate wealth and possessions) that tempt us to rely upon ourselves and take pride in our accomplishments so as thus to lead us away from an authentic Christian life.

We won’t take a U-Haul full of stuff to the grave. But our naturally “empty hands” will be filled with deeds of love if we live by faith and allow the grace of Christ to transform us into an offering truly pleasing to the Father.