Sunday, February 26, 2017

Choosing the Right Mattress

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
(RCIA Rite of Sending)

My dear friends, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what kind of mattress do you sleep on every night? Do you use a spring mattress? Or a foam mattress? Or do you use no mattress at all? Preferring to sleep on the cold hard floor? And what difference does it make anyway? Some of us may have seen that mattress advertisement in which a father is serving his little boy breakfast. But the poor man is still half-asleep. So, instead of milk, he ends up pouring coffee into his son’s cereal. And no prizes for guessing why the guy is so sleepy in the morning. It’s because he’s using the wrong brand of mattress. He needs to change it to the one that’s being advertised.

It’s an exaggeration, of course. But still, the point is well made. And the point is simply that we need to take care to choose the right kind of mattress on which to sleep every night. We need to choose the kind of mattress that we can trust to give our bodies the rest that they require. Good mattress, restful sleep. Bad mattress, restless nights.

And yet, we also know, sisters and brothers, that it’s not just our bodies that require proper rest. There’s something deep within each one of us that also needs a proper place of rest too. Our Mass readings refer to this inner reality as our soul, or our heart. And just as there are good and bad mattresses for bodies, so too are there good and bad mattresses for hearts and souls as well. Using a good spiritual mattress leads to a restful heart. Using a bad one results in exhausted days and sleepless nights.

Isn’t this what Jesus is teaching us in the gospel? No one can be the slave of two masters. Or, to put it another way, no one can rest his or her heart on two different mattresses at the same time. We have to choose one or the other. And, in the gospel, Jesus offers a very striking contrast between two brands of mattresses: God and money.

What happens when we choose to rest our hearts on money? When our concern goes no deeper than what money can buy? Like food and clothing… Cars and houses… Entertainment and technology… Popularity and success… When we do this, we experience a deep restlessness, which expresses itself in two ways. The first is worry. When we rest our hearts on material things, we somehow always end up worrying about them.

And the really curious thing is that we worry about these things even when we may have more than enough money to buy all of them. Isn’t it true that even the very rich among us worry? Why? I believe this can happen for at least two reasons. The first is that there’s always someone who is richer than us. Someone else who manages to buy things that are newer and shinier, faster and costlier, more stylish and advanced than my own. This, of course, then puts the pressure on me to keep up. To worry about appearances. The second reason is the nature of the market itself. Which keeps coming up with new things for me to buy. Convincing me, through shrewd advertising, that I simply must have them in order to be truly happy.

All of which should help us to better understand what Jesus is actually asking of us when he tells us not to worry. I’m not sure what you think, sisters and brothers. But I find this a very difficult instruction to follow. I’d even go so far as to say that it is, in fact, impossible. It’s impossible for me not to worry about material things. As long as I continue to insist on resting my heart on money. And on the things that money can buy. The only way to stop worrying, the only way to allow my heart to finally enjoy the rest it so desperately needs, is for me to change my mattress. To stop resting my heart on money. And to rest it instead on God alone. In God alone is my soul at rest… Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well.

But that’s not all. Worry is not the only expression of a tired heart. A heart that has chosen to rest on the mattress of money. In the first reading, we find a second sign of restlessness. Not just worry, but also complaint. Here, the people of Israel see that all the material things around them are crumbling. And, having chosen to rest their hearts on them, the people experience a terrible feeling of being abandoned. Forgotten by God. And yet, in the midst of their trial, God reassures them. Even if a woman forgets her baby at the breast… I will never forget you. What God is inviting Israel to do is to keep resting in God. To keep trusting in God’s care and concern for them. Even in suffering.

And this is also what Jesus is inviting us to do in the gospel. This is the only way for us to stop worrying and complaining. We need to trust in God’s care for us. To choose to rest our hearts in God’s love for us. For if God cares even for the birds in the sky and the flowers growing in the fields, will he not much more look after us? We of little faith? To trust in God by remembering how precious we are to him. To rest our hearts in God by seeking his kingdom first. The same kingdom of love and joy and peace that Jesus came to proclaim. At the cost of his own life. What does it look like when people begin to do this?

This is the question that the second reading helps us to answer. What does it look like when someone finally decides to rest his or her heart no longer on money and material things, but on God and the affairs of God instead? When that happens, a radical transformation takes place. A constantly worried and perpetually sleepy shopper of material goods is gradually transformed into a trusted servant, a responsible steward, of the mysteries of God. People must think of us as Christ’s servants, Paul writes, stewards entrusted with the mystery of God. Servants who do their best to be found worthy of God’s trust, by tirelessly proclaiming God’s love.

To change the resting place of our hearts. To trust no longer in money but in God alone. To gradually become ever more worthy of God’s trust in us, by responding generously to the call to proclaim God’s love to the world. This is also the kind of transformation that we have been witnessing in the catechumens and candidates who are gathered here with us at this Mass.

In a few moments, we will be sending them for the Rite of Election, presided by the Archbishop at the Church of St Mary of the Angels next Saturday. And, in sending them, we the parishioners of St. Ignatius Parish are testifying to the transformation that we have seen in them over the past months of the RCIA journey. Since July last year. And even as we testify to their transformation, we are also inspired and challenged by their example to continue submitting ourselves to being transformed as well. From constant worriers to restful hearts. From frantic shoppers to trusted stewards. From worshippers of money to servants of God.

My dear sisters and brothers, baptised and unbaptised alike, on what kind of mattress are you resting your heart today?

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