Translation of the Epistle for the 14th Sunday After Pentecost

Brethren, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh: for the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another; so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things, shall not obtain the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences.

The Sermon on the Mount, Gustave Doré, 1866

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: No man can serve two masters; for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will sustain the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air; for they neither sow nor do they reap, nor gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of much more value than they? And which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment, why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin: but I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. Now if God so clothe the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast in the oven, how much more you, O ye of little faith! Be not solicitous therefore saying: What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? for after all these things do the heathen seek. For your Father knows that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Transcription of Homily

The Saving Words of the Gospel

No man can serve two masters.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One Sunday morning driving to offer Mass, I saw a bumper sticker on a car in front of me which said, No gods. No masters. We ought not be surprised at our ability to deceive ourselves. Everyone serves someone else and if it’s not Our Lord and Savior, then it’s the world, the flesh, or the devil. But we all serve someone. The question is not, “Will I serve?” it’s, “Whom will I serve?” We, of necessity, are built this way. It’s instinctive because we cannot escape our creatureliness. And this, being a creature, makes us attach ourselves to something that we deem superior to us. And so, the crucial question is precisely this: “What master will I serve?”

And here’s where man’s freedom of spirit makes its faithful decision. “Will I choose in truth, or in perversity?” In other words, will I serve the Master whose very proximity brings with it all of these fruits of the Holy Spirit, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, et cetera, or another master unworthy of my fealty? We’re made to belong to another. Who will this be? Satan doesn’t really care who it is, as long as it’s not the blessing Trinity. Whatever it may be, something innocuous or seemingly so, or something vicious, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s anything but God. 

The context of this Gospel is the Sermon on the Mount and it’s at the epicenter of the three chapters of chapters five, six, and seven of Matthew’s Gospel, and this is at the very middle of the middle chapter. Earlier, in this same chapter, He speaks about the inner chamber when He enjoins us to pray in secret and private. The inner chamber is a strong room. It’s like a safe, but it’s large enough for one to move around in, or it can be a basement. It’s a particular room that is secure. It’s a sort of treasury that was common in Middle Eastern homes, that was not contiguous with a wall so that thieves from outside could not bore through the wall to enter and rob. So, it was a protected place. Παμειον (pameion) is the word that’s used in Matthew’s Gospel. Pameion comes from the word παμιας (pamias), which means steward. So the pameion is this treasury in which the goods of man are kept safe, and that’s precisely where we go when Our Lord tells us to go find Him. And so, obviously, He also refers to this inner room, this inner chamber, as our heart; a place where we are alone with Him. In that same Sermon on the Mount, when He enjoins us to pray in private, He also tells us to give alms in secret, not call attention to it, and to fast in secret.

And this is the most important business that we can be involved in; the business of our souls. And any business that doesn’t make profit is stagnant and won’t last. And so, Our Lord, in entrusting us with Himself as the treasure of this inner chamber, is hoping that we will build on it, that there will be interests. He wants more than just the talent He gave us. Remember in the Parable of the Talents, that the man who gives Him His talent back, he didn’t lose it, he just didn’t make it work. And so, Our Lord when He invests in us, He wants us to make something of it so that we have something to offer Him. And we will all have to render accounts for how we use His grace and the many graces that He sends us. 

We heard a reference to tabernacle in the entrance and antiphon. Our Lord speaks of the birds of heaven. And we have this inner chamber, the conscience, where we are alone with God. So, all three of these dwelling places refer one to another. None of them exist in a silo.

And so, that’s the context for these words that Our Lord gives us today in the Gospel. And He starts with this principle; No man can serve two masters. And then, He goes on to particular applications of that, but this inability to serve two masters is precisely that; it’s an impossibility. The unity of our person, body and soul, we’re not a duality, the inner unity of our natures, body and soul, demands one master and rebels at the notion of serving two. We may think we can serve more than one master, but we lie to ourselves, first of all. And when Our Lord speaks of service, δουλεύειν (douleuein), is the verb to serve. Comes from the word δούλος (doulos), which means slave. So, this service is open-ended. It’s absolute. It’s permanent, but it’s freely entered into. This is the maximum exercise of our freedom; to give Our Lord that which is most precious in ourselves, our intellect and will, to make Him master over that so that we serve Him. And if we don’t renew this choice of service, if we don’t renew our fealty to Him daily in prayer, the world, the flesh, the devil will make claims on our heart and will be tempted to serve a different master, if only for a moment. But that’s all it takes.

The word mammon is interesting. Augustine says that it comes from the Punic language, right?, which was the language of the Carthaginians, right?, in Northern Africa, and in the French Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament there’s a beautiful, fascinating article on the roots of that word, which find a place in the Aramaic word for amen. And so, mammon and amen have a common root. And amen, which we end every prayer with, is a manifestation of fidelity. It’s a manifestation of faith. The notion amen means “a solid rock upon which I build”. And so, our faith in Christ then, is the foundation of everything that follows.

Therefore, if that’s the case, our hearts, our minds, our choices, the things we read, the energy we expend, ought to be in function of that. We can ask ourselves, how much time we spend in front of screens, how much time we spend, perhaps online looking for something to buy, how much time we spend on things that are passing, or, more disturbingly, how much time we spend on anxiety. St. Francis de Sales says that the greatest evil that can befall us after sin is anxiety. So that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. Anxiety consumes us and it becomes an idol. It demands totality and becomes the master we choose to serve.

What is the foundation of my life? Is it Christ? Is He the rock, the foundation, upon which I’m building? I’m sure He is for all of us here. That’s why we’re here. And nonetheless, we have this tendency to be distracted with things that are not Christ, and this is not a problem it’s just our situation. And these attractions, these distractions, or even our passions, they’re not problems. We’re not set up for failure. They’re opportunities to reaffirm our fealty to Him, to tell Him once again, “You are the master I serve. I build my life on you. I am in a relationship, an intimate personal relationship with You. And all, therefore, all my other loves – family, friends, spouse, children, relatives, work, hobbies, whatever it may be – all of these other things then are subsumed by this one all-encompassing love for Christ. And so, what Christ does is He elevates these other loves so that they’re not compartmentalized so that they’re not something that is at odds with love for Him. Rather, He sanctifies them.

And this is the importance of a morning offering: “Everything I think and say and do, Lord, is Yours.” And so, this is how we serve Him, especially in the practical things of life, these banalities that, perhaps we can think, distract us. The practical things we have to do that seemingly don’t let us pray, those can become prayer when we offer them up to Him. Lord, I do all of these things that pertain to my vocation for You to Your glory. That itself is very pleasing to Him and is a prayer that has great value. And may it be so for all of us.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger