(These are my notes, adjusted by my memory of how I delivered this homily three times this past weekend...)
Looking at that second reading, we might make a couple of points:
1) St. James is not indicting everyone who has wealth,
but those who misuse their wealth, and the power that goes with it.
2) Many of us who wouldn't call ourselves wealthy would--nonetheless--
by James' standards be considered wealthy, if we:
> own our own homes
> have savings and investments
> own nice stuff
...because James is contrasting those who have security in wealth with those who do not.
James' point is not that wealth is bad, but that it has perils.
Have you not found that when we have possessions, what we own possesses us?
When you own things, or have responsibilities for a business and so forth,
these things occupy our thoughts and cares.
I experienced this when I decided to enter the seminary.
Before I did so, I had a job with some responsibility; I owned a nice car,
on which I had payments to make; and I owned a home, with a mortgage.
When I entered the seminary, I gave up the job; sold the car and bought a cheaper one,
with nothing owed; and sold my house.
While I was sad to give up those things, it was very freeing--
especially not to owe anyone a penny.
Well, I've come full circle--while I don't own a lot,
I do have plenty of responsibilities for this parish and the other parish
and it occupies my thoughts and cares.
When we find that these things overwhelm us,
the only thing to do is a prayer of surrender--
of turning these things over to God--and that can be very hard to do.
Often, we can only do that when our backs are against the wall
and we finally admit we can't handle it all on our own.
For me, it comes late at night, when I am turning things over in my mind,
and I can't sleep, even though I need to; it's when I'm finally exhausted that I let go.
But that letting go--loosening our grip--is what we need to do.
Not giving up, but giving over--to God who is ultimately in control.
A funny thing happens sometimes--people who have wealth or responsibility,
sometimes just decide to give it up.
This is not just a feature of the religious life, it's one of its principal attractions,
the vow of poverty.
St. Anthony--not of Padua, who helps us find lost things,
but of Egypt, from a long time ago, was one of the first monks.
He inherited a lot of money, and like many of us, decided to give part of it to God.
But that wasn't enough for him; so he gave most of it to God,
keeping a little for himself. Ultimately, he gave it all away.
Those who enter the vowed, religious life, this is one of the great attractions:
making this radical gift to Christ.
It was the same with St. Francis of Assisi, who even gave over his clothing.
But what about the rest of us, the majority of us who won't make a vow of poverty?
This is why giving part away is important--this is the spiritual rationale for that.
Just like fasting or penance or other spiritual exercises,
giving a part of what we have away helps us not hold the grip too tightly.
Of course, if we have money to give away, that's wonderful,
and thank you for your generosity to the church;
but it is also giving talent and time away too.
And when we give these things away,
we realize another kind of wealth we have: Christ!
His mercy and his presence are a bank account that is never empty.
As we take part in this Mass, perhaps we realize we need to let go a little more;
but take this opportunity to seize--with both hands!--
the great wealth that is Christ! He is our true wealth--in this life, and for eternity!