Are you at home in the world?

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 7
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Hoffman (Wikimedia Commons). Too many possessions can erase our longing for Heaven.

Last Fall we helped my parents move from their home of 39 years to a senior co-operative. As is usual for people preparing to move, they spent some time fixing up their home before putting it on the market. They repainted every room, installed hardwood floors, and bought new curtains and light fixtures. My mom confessed that it looked so nice, she did not want to leave.

What does this have to do with the spiritual life? More than you might think. We face a persistent danger that life in the world will get too comfortable. What if we don’t want to leave?

Abraham’s example

Our father in faith Abraham teaches us the proper attitude.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:8-10)

We are not really settlers on earth. Abraham was a nomad. He had no permanent home here. Today we might think of ourselves as renters. We need to care for what we have, but not because possessions are a priority. We care for them precisely because they are not our possessions. Everything we have belongs to someone else, given to us in trust.

St. Paul wrote:

“I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31)

The blessings of poverty

Do I need to say that our culture’s wealth is crippling people’s souls? Historically, saints and theologians have linked the sins of greed and lust. Msgr. Charles Pope writes:

And this is greed, the insatiable desire for more, or the inordinate desire for things, such that they are considered apart from wider norms that limit desires with the boundaries of what is reasonable and in service of the common good. Greed cares little for the common good, for the needs and rights of others. Greed just wants what it wants. Lust is very close to greed in that it is also an inordinate desire for bodily pleasures apart from any consideration of the needs of others or of what it just, right and reasonable.”

The whole post is worth reading.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that sexual immorality is rampant at this time when even lower-middle class people live better than kings did in previous centuries.

When we surround ourselves with nice things, we begin to get comfortable. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, but we can become too comfortable. So comfortable that we no longer feel a yearning for God.

Our home has been very needy since we bought it and I’ve never felt quite “at home” in it. But lately we’ve been doing more remodeling, and suddenly I like it. I find myself tempted to find peace in my surroundings, rather than in God.

The Evangelist Luke wrote, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Lk 6:20). I have never been really poor. But neither have I ever had much extra money. I think that’s been a blessing, although sometimes in disguise.

Spiritual Poverty

We can maintain a spirit of poverty even in the midst of riches. Saints like King Louis exemplified this. But it’s not easy. Recall these words of Jesus:

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:24).

And we also have the example of the rich young ruler, who went away sad when Jesus told him to give away his possessions.

How can we live in the spirit of poverty (which is what Matthew’s Gospel says will merit a reward), even if we have a lot of money?

Here’s a radical idea: meditate on death.

Are you ready to die?

You see, when we die, we will have to leave everything behind–literally. “You can’t take it with you.” If we try to, God will have to pry us free in Purgatory.

Meditating on death reminds us that life here is temporary. That we don’t belong here. That nothing we have is ours to keep. Someday, we will have to let go. Money will mean nothing in those last hours, besides perhaps the means of a little comfort care.

If we regret anything on our death beds, it won’t be that we did not own a bigger house or a fancier car or have a larger bank account. It won’t be that we had to rent instead of buy.

It will be that we did not love as we could have and should have.

Will it be easy for you to go when God calls you home? May it be said of us as of the saints of old:

These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:13-16)

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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7 Responses

  1. Roberta Lambert

    I have been perplexed with some of my friends who are deep into living their Catholic Faith, yet become depressed and anxious with a diagnosis that means death. Not just initially but over a long period of time. I have puzzled over this many times over the years and cannot understand it, at all. I kept quiet about it, sort of, because I thought that perhaps there was a remote possibility that if faced with a similar diagnosis, maybe all I know about Eternal Life would go out the window, too.

    Well, I have had the wonderful opportunity of life threatening diagnoses (plural) in the past couple of years. I could not have been more thrilled. My understanding of WHY each person is born – to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with Him in Heaven – is operating full steam and more so, with such a diagnosis. In fact, with one of the diagnoses of Cancer, there was a 5-day period awaiting MRI brain scan results. I had already climbed into the taxi to the Space Shuttle to Eternity. Metastatic Brain CA is a really quick trip. I have a loving husband, children and grandchildren but nothing in my comfortable life could compare to ‘finishing the Race.’ In fact, I described my excitement over the seriousness of my health as only about the fact that ‘finishing the race’, successfully ‘fighting the good fight’ and attaining my purpose in life, could only be the happiest day of my life.

    I am commenting because this seeming lack of knowledge of WHY each one of us was created seems widespread, if not universal. Even my spiritual friends seem to react to news of terminal illness as if they do not believe what they practice. I don’t get that. My attitude about impending death probably seems cold and harsh. I know there is a severe suppression of talking or thinking about the “Last Things.” Eventually most good Catholic people work out, adjust, grieve and finally accept death but why is it so difficult when they have been following a good spiritual life? The apathy over the revelations of Divine Mercy seems tied to the fact that people no longer have the “Last Things” in their consciousness. But, why? What is the point of living the Catholic Faith, if it is not about Salvation? Salvation is about being in Union with God forever in Heaven in such deep love that it is compared to espousal to God. Living life with this ‘purpose’ right in front of my face dictates my actions and repentance for the thoughts or actions that conflict with this ‘purpose’ right in front of my face. I am highly motivated by purpose and I cannot fathom a more important nor a more all-consuming purpose, than preparing for death and the other ‘Things’ that follow.

    • Connie Rossini

      Sorry that this was stuck in my spam cue for a couple of weeks! You are really blessed to have a peaceful acceptance of death. I hope that I would respond similarly, but I just don’t know and I don’t want to be presumptuous. It would be hard to leave my young kids behind without a mom. You are right that we should be meditating often on the Four Last Things. We should be dying to ourselves every day, so that the final big step is just the natural next one to take. But God may allow some of us to face fear and doubt in our last days to finish our cleansing so that we can enter directly into His Presence after death.

      • Roberta Lambert

        Connie, thank you for mentioning that my original reply was stuck in your spam cue for awhile. I went on vacation with my husband and got your new article today in my email. I closed my browser after reading it and then thought to check on my comment from 3 weeks ago. I took this non publishing of my comment as God’s will for my continued, radical “hiddenness” to further purify my contemplative life. Thanks for your wonderful work in explaining the contemplative life and that everyone of us is called to this purpose of union with God.

  2. Jenna Miller

    Thank you, Connie. Your comments came to me as an encouragement at just the right moment. Our family lives in an old house, and it is full with our six children, my husband, and I. It’s also kind of dilapidated at times! It can be tempting to feel I have failed when I don’t meet the status quo for home appearance; certainly there is a lot of pressure to create not only a happy home, but also a magazine-perfect one. We have never been in dire need, but we have tasted many of the challenges that come from not having very much money. As you state in your post, this situation has been a blessing to our family, many times over. Our home shrine (place of prayer) is called “Consider the Lilies,” but still I need to be reminded so often that God is calling us to this kind of heroic trust and detachment from things that are just things. Even in the Church, there is the temptation to make our lives, our evangelism, even our relationships, into slick products, and to exclude people and efforts that aren’t quite up to this arbitrary standard.

    • Connie Rossini

      I’m glad the post helped. I made a commitment to live evangelical poverty over 20 years ago and I am still sometimes tempted by materialism. God bless you and your family.

        • Connie Rossini

          Evangelical poverty = poverty according to the Gospel. This is like the religious’ vow of poverty, but applied to a layperson in my case. It means living simply, giving to the poor, being detached from material things, etc. The best resource on this is Fr. Dubay’s Happy Are You Poor.

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