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?
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.
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)