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September 22, 2013

Struggling to make ends meet on a first-call salary, the young deacon was livid when he confronted his wife with the receipt for a $550 dress she had bought. "How could you do this?" "I was outside the store looking at the dress in the window, and then I found myself trying it on," she explained. "It was like Satan was whispering in my ear, “You look fabulous in that dress. Buy it!” "Well," the deacon replied, "You know how I deal with that kind of temptation. I say, “Get behind me, Satan!” "I did," replied his wife, "but then Satan said, “It looks fabulous from back here, too!”

In a poor country, a nice dress just costs a few dollars. Most people live in poverty. I had a chance to see an “essay” on 'The poverty in the World' of my great niece that began with the following lines: "Once upon a time there was a poor family. The mother was poor. The daddy was poor. The children were poor. The house was poor. The garden was poor. Everyone as well as everything was poor'. My first reaction was to smile at the schoolgirl's naivety. Yet behind the naivety there was the child's sure instinct for the truth. For the fact was that most people around her were poor and she saw poverty everywhere in her village.

The readings of this Sunday focus on the problems of wealth, weakness, poverty and on the proper exercise of power and responsibility. They point up a very definite direction which basically states that unnecessary wealth should be used on behalf of the poor, the weak, the silent sufferers to whom God's Kingdom belongs.

The first reading is a clear statement against exploitation and the values of the market place. It rings out like a loud bell amidst the market place philosophy, the attitude of profit even before people, which characterizes so much of what is now considered to be the more successful business approach. In our age of pressure advertising, subliminal suggestion, creation of needs and general exploitation of weakness, the voice of the Prophet Amos calls halt. This is not just, it is market rigging, it is oppression, and "the Lord will not forget" such unjust action.

In the Second Reading St. Paul asks for prayer for those who have been placed in positions of power and authority. He knows the responsibility which goes with office, and he asks the community to pray for those in power. He longs for a society in which there is harmony, where there is "no anger, no argument", where people may give themselves to prayer in peace and quiet.

For the average person such a society does not exist. In the world of the everyday, there are problems to be faced, bills to be paid, rights to be protected, things to be achieved. You may have heard the protest when the Government of Quebec, led by the Parti Québécois, is currently drafting a “Charter of Quebec values”. A draft version leaked to Le Journal de Montréal last week included a proposal to restrict the wearing of “religious symbols” “ostentatiously” in publicly-funded settings; and media reports suggest that it will prohibit public employees from wearing Sikh, Jewish and Muslim headgear or visible crucifixes at work. What the Gospel is saying when it tells us we cannot be slaves to both God and money/power, is not that we withdraw from the challenges and hurly-burly of life; it is rather that we are to be balanced in our commitment to it. It wants us to give perspective to our commitments. How wise this is even in human terms! The excessive concentration on achievement can produce a deadly situation. It can lead to neglect of other areas of life and may also lead to great disappointment.

We are of course to help shape God's creation through our work but we are to do so in a way that will please him, in a way that is in accordance with his law which is the law of love. Christ, both God and man, is not merely the mediator between man and God; his command of love and service is also the standard of action between man and man. Christ wants all to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. This truth involves another life, an eternal goal, a joy unutterable which is beyond the capacity of human to imagine. This is especially available to the lowly, the downtrodden, those who are daily sacrificed to the gods of money and power.

It is hard to accept the divine logic. Cold economic logic would indicate that the strong would prosper and the weak would perish. This of course is the law of the jungle. However, it is not the law of Christ and neither should it be the law of the person redeemed by Christ. The human heart will reach out to the lowly. It must resist the bombardment of consumerism, the worship of the passing riches, the fleeting illusion of power, and it must see behind them to the reward beyond all riches, the rest of heart and mind in the truth of God for all eternity.

Our Christianity is not then a rushed three quarter hour of inattentive worship once a week followed by a week of whole-hearted commitment to mammon. Christianity is about people, not things. It is about respecting people, helping people, loving people, and it rules out the hard sell, the fast buck and the big con. It radically interrogates such practices in the name of all humanity. As market growth, market share, market targets and market margins become the jargon of the day, let us not forget that all this has to serve humanity - if it is to be in line with the law of God's creation, the law of the Gospel. To flourish at the expense of others is to flourish unjustly and this is the message of today's readings. To abuse power in any form is to be oppressive and this is to treat God with scorn. It is not an easy truth, but it is the truth of Christ. These principles can be applied to any present crisis of our time. The question is, do we have the courage to let Jesus’ teachings rule over our secular world?