Homily. Climbing up the right ladder.
Father François Beyrouti. Sunday, March 26, 2017.
Fourth Sunday of Lent. Sunday of our Father John Climacos.
Epistle. Hebrews 6:13-20. Gospel. Mark 9:17-31.
Everything about Stew Leonard’s dream was big. The Guinness Book of World Records listed his store in Connecticut as the “World’s Largest Dairy Store.” He had many visitors: tourists, families, politicians, business people, and celebrities traveled from all over the world to visit. Everyone was amazed at the shopping theme park, the petting zoo, the life-size robot animals that sing and dance, and the dozens of pictures of Stew with famous people. The New York Times called it “the Disneyland of Dairy stores.”
Books and documentaries highlighted Stew Leonard’s success and when he started his own management school, the biggest corporations and government departments sent people to attend. President Ronald Reagan even gave Mr. Leonard a Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement.
Wouldn’t you love to accomplish something like this in your life? What a great ladder to have climbed to the top of.
Unfortunately, in June of 1991 his reputation imploded. He was stopped at the airport with $75,000 cash on his way to the Caribbean island, Saint Martin. In 1993, after the investigation and trial he was charged with tax fraud and his scheme was uncovered that diverted more than $17.1 million dollars in cash register receipts. He then served almost four years in prison and was finally released in June 1997 when he was 67 years old.
Stew was very smart, but perhaps a little too smart. Stew was very wealthy, but what he had was not enough for him. He wanted to be even wealthier and wanted to be even smarter than everyone, even the government.
He had climbed up the ladder of success, the ladder of wealth, the ladder of intelligence, the ladder of fame, the ladder of influence, and many other ladders. He was on top of the world until, all of a sudden, he fell off all those ladders.
We might laugh or feel sorry for Stew, but each and every one of us is climbing a ladder in our life right now. We want to get better grades, have more friends, graduate, be more successful at work, have more digits on our bank account statements, or whatever other ladder we are on.
But are we doing the right things as we climb up the right ladder?
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate Saint John who was born in Syria in 579 and became the abbot of a Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt. He is famous for his book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is sometimes also called The Ladder of Virtues. Just as the title may suggest he felt the most important ladder we should be climbing is that of virtue and faith. We climb up so many ladders every day. We put pressure and expectations on ourselves and on our families in many ways, but sometimes those ladders are not leading us to where we should be.
Imagine if you wanted to fix your roof because it was leaking and damaging your house. You get a ladder, get to the top, hire some people, and spend thousands of dollars and countless hours. When you’re done, you get down, you take some pictures, and are amazed at how great the roof looks. You did everything right, then you realize you made only one mistake: you went up the wrong ladder and you just fixed the roof on your neighbor’s house.
In his book, Saint John teaches us to make sure we are on the ladder of virtue not the ladder of worldly success. In particular, he encourages us to focuses on renouncing the attachments we have for things of this world. His 30 steps of the ladder include topics such as detachment, repentance, control of our anger, talkativeness, gossip, lying, purity, vainglory, simplicity, and a few others.
The Bible also teaches us to work harder at climbing the ladder of virtue than we do at every other ladder we are currently climbing. In Matthew 6:33 we read: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” If we work hard to live a life of virtue we will be happy, but if we only seek happiness, then virtue is often compromised.
We might think that Stew Leonard was smart but too greedy. His life was tragic because he climbed up the wrong ladder then fell off. But which ladders are we climbing? The fact that we are here shows that we want to climb up the right ladder; that of faith and virtue. In this journey, we should be solidly convinced that God is with us and helping us on every step. At work? God is with us. At school? God is with us. At home? God is with us. God is with us to make every aspect of our life even better. And when we struggle, stumble, or fall, God is also with us. Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
Unfortunately, sometimes our faith is shaken when things go bad for us in life: if we have health problems, if we go through financial difficulties, if we have a death in the family, and all the other life challenges. In times like this we need to hold on with a firmer grasp of our ladder of faith, rather than let go.
Faith is like a train, it leaves the station, then goes up and down mountains. We keep trusting the conductor throughout the journey and definitely don’t throw away our ticket and jump out when we go through a dark tunnel, regardless of how long and rough it is. Rather, we trust the skill of the conductor who will get us through to the end where the sun will shine upon us.
Faith, especially in times of darkness, brings us comfort and helps us see the bigger picture of the meaning of our life: we are not here to simply eat, drink, buy, sell, work, and sleep. God has a bigger plan for us both here and in heaven.
Stew Leonard was on the wrong ladder, then slipped off it, learned from his mistake, and paid for it, both financially and with his tarnished reputation.
Saint John wrote about how to get on the right ladder, the ladder of virtues, and how to move from one step to the next by holding on properly so that we don’t fall off, hurt ourselves, and those around us.
As we continue our Lenten journey and as we get closer to our celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus, let us always be confident that when we are on the ladder of living our faith we will either always have the strength to go one step further, or be carried by God to the top if we can no longer hold on.
Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
My cell phone: 714-914-1710
New Holy Cross Church YOUTUBE Clip posted on September 13, 2016: www.youtube.com/HolyCrossMelkite
“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24