Our True Shire
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year. Fr Joseph Bailham warns us not to be distracted by the desire for a quiet life.
‘If only’ – these two words are a great get-out clause that we may often use in life to absolve us of responsibility. ‘If only I didn’t have so much work, I’d be able to pray more’ … ‘if only someone had told me, I would have done things differently.’ Life does indeed have many distractions, many of which can be out of our hands to some extent. But sometimes there are distractions in life which we enable and facilitate. The problem is we don’t think of them as distractions in the moment; we tell ourselves that they’re something else.
In the first reading, the Lord has harsh words for those ‘ensconced so snugly in Zion and to those who feel so safe on the mountain of Samaria.’ In the Gospel we have the rich man ‘who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day.’ It is only in death and confronted with the reality of his state—separated from God and cast into the flames—that the man can lament his state. With a clearer mind, to his credit, his turns his mind and care to his father and brothers, that they might be spared the torments he is undergoing. It is with a clear mind, free from disordered passion, that we can begin to see clearly: the man realises it’s not all about him.
None of us need to fumble in the dark. In times past the Law was given to direct the people; with the advent of Christ, we are told and indeed shown the way to and in Whom is eternal life. We are shown the ordinary means by which we will be saved.
The message we are to take from scripture is not that we should not have lives of relative comfort and tranquillity. Do we not raise money for the poor so that they might be able to live a life more like the one we live materially speaking? The warning today is about allowing ourselves to become distracted. The first reading and Gospel allude to wealth and material comfort. But of course, distractions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The most dangerous are the ones that lurk around under the mask of something good and positive: is this not how we distract ourselves for so long before realising what a distraction these things are?
We have all that we need for salvation. The Lord has provided. It is for each of us, in the words of St Paul, to ‘work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12). In his letter to Timothy, St Paul spells out clearly what this looks like: ‘You must aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called…’
It is natural for us to seek peace and security. Many of us no doubt can identify with the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and for the quiet life of the Shire. But our true Shire, our true homeland and place of security and peace, will not be found in things of this world. We are not to pitch camp and make of this life our final resting—this was the mistake of those in the first reading and the rich man in the Gospel. It can be a struggle to keep our heads up, gazing out towards the horizon; so much easier it can be to turn away from it, especially when we feel unequipped for the journey or if the journey takes a turn we had not expected or wanted. But the Lord instructs us today that, in those moments, we must not become deterred and indulge in that which ultimately cannot lead us to life—do not be distracted—but rather cling to what we know, to that which He has revealed. As St Paul puts it in the second reading:
I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who at the due time will be revealed by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal, whose home is in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen and no man is able to see: to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.