July 31, 2022 – Investing in Humanity

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings || Lecturas

Previous Years: 2019, 2016

Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA




Transcript (Edited)

I would like to tell you the story of the Ellis Street Houses. In 1997, or thereabout, this parish underwent a future growth survey. Now, this was after the Cold War but before September 11th. It was a period of incredible optimism in this country and in this church. And so this growth study saw, rightly, that Bellingham was going to increase in size significantly over the next 20 years. And because this was before the sex abuse crisis drove many people away, the assumption was that if the city was going to grow by 30% or 40%, then the church also would grow by 30% or 40%. We had to plan for that growth. Hence the study. A plan was put into place. And we asked, what are the things we’re going to need to grow over the next 20 or 30 years? A lot of things were proposed. There was a big capital campaign. Three phases happened. Phase one was repair. Phase two was medium growth. Phase three was big growth. That’s where we got the gathering space and the new part of the school and the new altar and the new campus and everything else.

Well, phase three of that project was, if we plan to grow so much over the next 20, 30 years, we need to expand our campus. And so between 1998 and 2000, we bought six lots along Ellis Street. Now, those lots were purchased specifically to demolish the houses and build a parking lot. If you’re going to have a lot of people, then you need a lot more parking. And so we bought them to demolish and build a parking lot, but they were a phase three goal. Once we did phase one, phase two, then we would think about expanding the campus with phase three. But the houses came up for sale and we jumped the gun and decided to do the phase three buy anyway. And we never really had the plan to do the parking lot or build another building or anything like that. So we’ve had these houses for 20 years or so and many of you will have read the letter I wrote two years ago about why we’re selling the houses. But I bring this up because I want to highlight the way we used those houses for the 20 years that we had them. When we bought them, some of them were already renters, so they were already not in great condition. But because we bought them to demolish them, we never thought about investing in those houses. And so we would make the necessary repairs to be certified. We needed a new furnace; we’d get a new furnace. If we had to do the roof, we’d do the roof. There was a couple of mold projects we had to undergo, take the mold out, but it was always just the bare minimum to get by, just the bare minimum so that we could rent the house. And all of the revenue from those houses we used to support our parish budget, which was necessary because buying the house had put us into significant debt and the debt cost money. And so a lot of times the rent was just paying the debt that the houses caused. But even so, the rental income from those houses was not put back into the houses, it was pulled out of the houses and then put into the parish budget. Logical. Many Catholic churches do this. It’s not unheard of, but I highlight it because over those 20 years the houses got worse and worse and worse. They were just not in great condition by the time we sold them because we were not investing in them. We were not taking the resources produced by these houses, which is to say the rental income, and reinvesting it in the houses. Now that we’ve sold the houses, you’ll notice each of those houses looks ten times better than it did when we bought it and when we owned it, because the people who bought them are reinvesting in those houses. They’re taking their resources and putting them towards construction projects and paint jobs and new bathrooms and all sorts of things.

I tell you this, because I think it’s a very concrete and immediate encounter with an economic principle. This is not an anti-capitalism homily, but when we live in an economic system, we have to think, what are the detriments of that system? What are the things we have to be aware of? The temptation of our capitalistic system in the United States is the kind of exploitation that this parish carried out with those houses. It’s to take a resource from a place and then pull that resource or pull that wealth to another place and not reinvest it. So this is the criticism against multinational corporations, for example. They go to a place, they create wealth through a business, but then that wealth goes away from the place to their shareholders or to their CEOs. Jeff Bezos is not rich because he only sold goods in Seattle, right? He’s rich because he sells goods everywhere. And then those profits all go to him and the shareholders of Amazon.

What the Lord is talking to us about today is the fact that resources are not intended to be pulled out, exploited or stored. The Catholic word for this is the common good. It’s the idea that everything that we have is given to us by God: our life, our health, but also our skills, our talents, our businesses, our economic goods, our families. It’s all a gift from God. And God gives those gifts to humanity equally for all. We did not create the Earth. We take the Earth and we cultivate it as God told us to do in the Genesis account. But we didn’t create the Earth. The gifts of the Earth are ours. And so the idea of the common good is that the gifts that are given to us by God are intended for the sake of all humanity.

Now, the Church is a proponent of private property because we know that private management of these goods causes those goods to be managed better. Somehow, having ownership of a thing causes us to care about it in a way where a common kitchen in a dorm building, for example, just never gets cleaned because nobody feels ownership. They just pile up stuff all the time. Well, even with private property, the idea is you foster the goods, you steward the goods. But those goods are still common. It’s a common good. It’s for the intention of all humanity.

Which brings us to our gospel in the gospel. We have this parable of a man who has a bountiful harvest. He has had more grain this season than he’s had ever before. And so he thinks to himself, What am I supposed to do with that grain? Where am I supposed to put it? How am I supposed to deal with this harvest? What he does, what he decides is he says, I’m going to build bigger barns. This harvest is for me and I am going to keep it. It’s this possessive, exploitative mentality. Everything is for me, and I’m going to draw it all to myself.

And so he builds the bigger barns. He puts the grain and other goods in these barns, and he possesses it for himself. And then God comes and says, You fool, this very night, your life will be demanded of you. The Lord is telling us that such a possessive mentality is not going to work out. It doesn’t work well. It’s not the Christian way of seeing things. Instead, he could have used that grain for a whole lot of other things. He could have said, You know what? My neighbor’s field failed this year. I’m going to make sure that this excess grain helps him out in this time of need. We’re going to help each other. This gift was given to me by God and is intended for the sake of others. He could have used it to feed the poor. He could have used it to take care of his children. He could have done a lot of things. But he said, I’m going to take it for myself and I’m going to keep it.

Well, one of the things that we have to confront is that this whole world, our faith tells us, is passing away. Everything that we see and know and experience at the end of time will be gone. You can build all the monuments you want, all the businesses you want, all the intergenerational wealth that you want, but it’s all going to go away. Everything that you do in this world, with an exception that we’ll talk about, is going to go away.

And that’s what Qoheleth is talking about in our first reading when he says that the whole world is vanity. Everything is vanity. What he’s saying is that, yeah, everything is going to pass away. So what’s the point of working this business or making this profit or creating this monument or experiencing this pleasure? It’s all going to go away. None of it matters in the end. If you have this view from God’s perspective, this eternal view, none of it matters. It’s an incredibly nihilistic book of the Bible and something that we have to confront regularly.

But the exception to that is humanity. If you think in terms of eternity, you have got God and the angels. You can’t change them. They are outside of time. They are unchanging. And then you have humanity. We are changeable. We are the only eternal thing that can change. And so if we’re going to focus on something that is not going to pass away, that at the end of time is going to remain and continue; and we want to feel like we’re actually changing something for the better, that we’re actually working for the good and for the coming of the kingdom; then the only focus we should ever have is on the human person, because the human person, again, is the only eternal entity that can change.

Wealth is not eternal. Pleasure is not eternal. Honor is not eternal. Power is not eternal. But humanity is. So if we think in terms of the resources that we have, maybe they’re financial, maybe they’re talent resources, maybe they’re time resources, whatever it is, if we think in terms of the resources that we have, the only thing that matters to use those resources for is a human being. The only thing that is going to last is a human being. And so we have to think in terms of investing in humanity.

But I want to be clear. This is not to say that one of Christ’s two commandments doesn’t matter. Loving God is the most healthful, helpful, fulfilling, and saving thing at a human being can do. Loving God is necessary for the flourishing of humanity. And so when I talk about investing in humanity, I mean and include in that the idea of preaching the gospel and bringing people to Jesus Christ and engaging in the worship of Almighty God. Because in doing so, our souls are affected, a change that eternal soul that we’re investing in needs, that experience with God. And so an investment in humanity is not apart from the love of God.

But if you want a rule of thumb for how to use your money and your time and your talents, that rule of thumb is invest in humanity. Do something that affects a human soul somehow. If you’re a business owner, for example, you’re making profits. Hopefully you’re staying in the black. You might have a profit margin. You might actually be able to take something home and not just stay afloat. Well, like the man with the grain, what do we do with that excess? Ideally, we are reinvesting that in humanity. We’re reinvesting it in our employees or we’re reinvesting it in our local community. We’re making sure that the resources that we have are being used for an eternal purpose, the purpose of a human soul. Or maybe we find ourselves with some excess time. Maybe the kids have moved out of the house, or we’ve recently retired. Well, what do we do with that? Do we spend that time with someone who needs that time? Somebody who needs mentored or loved or cared for or supported? Do we give that time back to something that’s going to matter eternally? Maybe we’ve been given a special talent. How do we use that talent? Is it just for our enrichment or is it for the enrichment of the community, of the people around us? Of the people in front of us?

Think about the houses – the fact that we use the rental revenue for so many years just to shore up a fragile parish budget. Necessary, maybe, but you can see the results of that. The houses just got worse and worse and worse. Apply that principle to humanity. If we exploit humanity, if we use them for their wealth, if we use them maybe for something a little less concrete, maybe their companionship or their goods, but not in a mutual way, not a friendship that we’re giving back into, if we exploit humanity and pull from them what we need to pull from them, then the things that we get are temporary. The wealth we get will fall away. The pleasure will fall away. Whatever else we get, it’s going to fall away. It’s temporary. It’s vanity. It’s chasing after the wind. But the corruption that we engender in their soul by using them and exploiting them, that corruption is eternal. But if we do the opposite, if we take the things that we have which are passing away and we invest them into something that is eternal, then the growth and the benefit becomes eternal. When time ends and we are placed in the new heavens and the new earth, what we might call heaven, when we’re in heaven, we’re not going to have a stack of cash. We’re not going to have whatever fleeting pleasures we enjoyed on Earth. We’re going to have other human beings. Those human beings that we had a relationship with insofar as we’ve invested in those relationships, insofar as we have built people up, insofar as we have used the fleeting things of the world for their good, we will enjoy the benefits of that for eternity. We will have built up what is truly what matters to God, that treasure in heaven.


Sólo hay tres cosas eternas: Dios, los ángeles y el alma humana. Cada otra cosa que veas o sepas en este mundo pasará a la nada. Puede haber algunas cosas, como animales, que se recrean – la vida después de la muerte es un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra después de todo – pero lo único que sabes ahora que persistirá más allá del fin de los tiempos es Dios, los ángeles y el alma humana.

Entonces, ¿por qué molestarse en preocuparse por cualquier otra cosa? A esto se refiere Cohélet cuando dice: “Todas las cosas, absolutamente todas, son vana ilusión”. Todo en este mundo, cada cosa, es una ilusión vana porque todo pasará a la nada. Entonces, ¿por qué molestarse en preocuparse por algo de eso?  ¿Por qué, como pregunta Cohélet, trabajar por dinero o propiedad cuando puede terminar en manos de niños tontos o ingratos? En otras partes del libro, se pregunta por qué molestarse en buscar el placer cuando es fugaz y no trae ninguna satisfacción. O, como Jesús nos dice, puedes morir en cualquier momento, entonces, ¿cuál es el punto de poseer algo en absoluto?

De las tres cosas eternas, solo el alma humana puede ser cambiada, así que si vamos a aplicar nuestros esfuerzos a cualquier cosa, si vamos a trabajar por algo, entonces lo único que importa es el alma humana.  Lo que significa que cualquier otra cosa en el mundo de las cosas cambiantes debe existir para servir al alma humana. Y de hecho, eso es cierto.

¿Por qué molestarse en venir a misa? Porque es bueno para el alma, nos conecta con nuestro creador, nos llena de gracia. Cuanto más estamos aquí, más fuerte y santa se vuelve nuestra alma. Obviamente Dios es lo más importante en el mundo y en nuestras vidas, pero el tiempo que pasamos con Dios no es vanidad porque tiene consecuencias eternas en nuestra alma.

¿Por qué la iglesia se molesta con hermosos edificios? Porque el culto digno en un espacio que parece una iglesia y no un almacén es bueno para el alma.

¿Por qué molestarse en criar una familia? Porque ser miembro de una familia, contribuir a la pequeña sociedad que es una familia, es bueno para el alma, nos ayuda a convertirnos en personas mejores y más amorosas. Nos ayuda a participar en la vida de un Dios trinitario, que es él mismo una familia.

¿Por qué molestarse en tener un trabajo? Dinero, claro, y hablaremos de eso. Pero el trabajo también es bueno para el alma. Nuestra alma desea participar en la obra de la creación de Dios, por lo que cuanto más podamos contribuir a la edificación de una sociedad y al avance de la industria, más felices seremos.

¿Por qué molestarse en tener dinero y trabajar por dinero? Para asegurarnos de que nosotros y los que amamos podamos comer, tener refugio y vivir una vida digna. Ahorrar dinero es necesario para la jubilación, o para superar un período de desempleo, pero ahorrar demasiado dinero es malo, porque ese dinero pasará a menos que se use para ayudar a un ser humano. El hombre que tenía demasiado grano no debería haber construido un nuevo almacén, debería haber dado ese grano a los necesitados. Los necesitados son eternos, y le habrían agradecido en el cielo, pero el almacenamiento adicional era temporal y se volvió sin sentido cuando murió.

El punto adicional a todo esto es que, si actualmente posees algo o estás haciendo algo que no es una inversión en un alma humana, necesitas deshacerte de él o dejar de hacerlo.

Si tienes más ropa de la que necesitas, o más dinero del que necesitas, o más coches de los que necesitas, debes preguntarte si hay alguna manera en que esas cosas puedan ayudar a una persona humana. Si te encuentras con algo de tiempo extra, ¿cómo puedes usar ese tiempo para ayudar a una persona humana? Si vas a una actividad que se ha convertido más en una adicción que en una ayuda, algo que en realidad no te está ayudando a descansar, algo que no es bueno para ti, entonces deja de hacer esa actividad. No sólo porque puede ser pecaminoso, sino porque no ayuda a un alma humana, como todas las cosas deberían.

Mis amigos, es muy fácil caer en la vanidad y centrarse en cosas que se dirigen solo a la destrucción. Es fácil enamorarse de este mundo, olvidando que este mundo finalmente dejará de existir. En cambio, debemos asegurarnos de permanecer enfocados en la eternidad, en los seres humanos, y que todo nuestro tiempo y recursos se utilicen en última instancia por el bien de los seres humanos;  recordando, por supuesto, que lo más sano y lo mejor posible para un ser humano es una relación con Jesucristo.

Español – Original English

There are only three eternal things: God, the angels, and the human soul. Every single other thing that you see or know in this world will pass away into nothingness. There may be some things, like animals, that get recreated – the afterlife is a new heavens and a new earth after all – but the only thing that you know now that will persist beyond the end of time is God, the angels, and the human soul.

So why bother to care about anything else? This is what Cohélet means when he says, “Todas las cosas, absolutamente todas, son vana ilusión.” Everything in this world, every single thing, is a vain illusion because it will all just pass away into nothingness. So why bother to care about any of it? Why, as Cohélet asks, work for money or property when it may just end up in the hands of foolish or ungrateful children? In other parts of the book, he asks why bother to pursue pleasure when it is fleeting and does not bring any fulfillment. Or, as Jesus tells us, you may die at any moment, so what is the point of possessing anything at all?

Of the three eternal things, only the human soul can be changed, so if we are going to apply our efforts to anything, if we are going to work for anything, then the only thing working for is the human soul. Which means that every other thing in the world of changing things must exist to serve the human soul. And in fact, that is true.

Why bother to come to Mass? Because it is good for the soul, it connects us to our creator, it fills us with grace. The more we are here, the stronger and holier our soul becomes. Obviously God is the most important thing in the world and in our lives, but the time we spend with God is not vanity because it has eternal consequences in our soul.

Why does the church bother with beautiful buildings? Because dignified worship in a space that looks like a church and not like a warehouse is good for the soul.

Why bother to raise a family? Because being a member of a family, contributing to the tiny society that is a family, is good for the soul – it helps us to become better, more loving people. It helps us to participate in the life of a Trinitarian God, who is himself a family.

Why bother to have a job? Money, sure, and we will talk about that. But work is also good for the soul. Our soul desires to participate in God’s work of creation, so the more we can contribute to the upbuilding of a society and the advancement of industry, the happier we are.

Why bother to have money and work for money? To make sure we and the ones we love can eat, have shelter, and live a dignified life. Saving money is necessary for retirement, or to get through a period of unemployment, but saving too much money is evil, because that money will pass away unless it is used to assist a human being. The man who had too much grain should not have built new storage – he should have given that grain to the needy. The needy are eternal, and would have thanked him in heaven, but the extra storage was temporary and became meaningless when he died.

The additional point to all of this is that, if you currently possess something or are doing something that is not an investment in a human soul, you need to get rid of it or stop doing it.

If you have more clothing than you need, or more money than you need, or more cars than you need, you should ask yourself if there is some way in which those things can help a human person. If you find yourself with some extra time, how can you use that time to help a human person? If you are going an activity that has become more of an addiction than a help, something that is not actually helping you rest, something that is not good for you, then stop doing that activity. Not just because it may be sinful, but because it does not assist a human soul, as all things ought.

My friends, it is so easy to fall into vanity, and to become focused on things which are headed only for destruction. It is easy to become enamored of this world, forgetting that this world will ultimately cease to exist. Instead, we must make sure we remain focused on the eternity – on human beings – and that all of our time and resources are ultimately used for the sake of human beings; remembering, of course, that the healthiest and best possible thing for a human being is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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