Shortly after I was ordained a priest, I was bringing Communion to people in our parish who were ill at home or in the hospital. At the time, newly ordained priests in Chicago were forbidden to own cars for five years. I did a lot of walking and riding buses in those early years. One day I got on a North Avenue bus to bring Communion to parishioners in a hospital five miles away. I sat next to a middle-aged woman with a not-so-friendly face. She looked at me in my clergy suit and Roman collar and asked, “Are you a Catholic priest?” I assured her that I was. She then angrily remarked, “Well, I don't believe in God!” I saw where this conversation might go, so I said to her. “Well, I'm sure you have your reasons, but tell me what kind of God is it that you don't believe in. Maybe I don't believe in that kind of God either.” The woman looked me over carefully and abruptly concluded, “You're not a Catholic priest!” She got off the bus at the next stop, so we never had a chance to continue our conversation.
So let me ask each one of you today: “What kind of God do you believe in? What God do you trust with your very lives?” When you look around these days, you might see a lot of false gods that are attracting a lot of people. There is the god of Popularity (just watch TV shows where celebrities perform for their adoring fans, the god of Competition (see the raw energy and money fans pay their favorite teams at their local cathedrals called sports stadiums, where if you're not number 1, you're nothing!), the gods of Fashion & Beauty where looks mean everything. Then there's the god of Consumerism wherein accumulating material stuff is supposed to make us happy. Then of course there is Mammon, the “Money” god condemned by Jesus in today's Gospel, the god whom many people pursue anxiously and erroneously all their lives.
These surely are false gods, but there are also false images of the One True God. If the God we know and serve is punishing and vindictive, eager to damn evildoers, we're off the mark. If the God we know and serve is that accountant keeping accurate records of us in the Big Book in the Sky, we're off the mark. If the god we know and serve can be bought off by false promises and empty excuses, we're still far off the mark. So the question remains, “What kind of God do we believe in?
If the God we know and serve is the one Jesus tells us is like a Father who eagerly welcomes home a repentant sinner without vengeful demands and punishments, then we've finally arrived. Ours is the God of Prodigal Love, the God of whom Saint Augustine famously declared “Our hearts are restless till they rest in God!” When the day arrives when you are no longer restless, it'll be because you've discovered this Amazing God, the One who sent us Jesus to show the depth of love for us. “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down ones life for ones friends!” May we soon come to know this God, and may we serve this God with profound trust! AMEN!