Do Our Possessions Possess Us? Learning the Logic of Giving on the Path to Evangelical Freedom
was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
"Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.'
"But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:19-31)
Notice, the Lord said nothing about the rich man's possessions themselves, but rather his use of them. He failed to recognize, let alone respond to, the need of others. Having "goods" is not the sin. It is rather a matter of the heart. In this story, the goods possess the man and he is blinded, unable to see the needs of His brother. He lived for himself as if God did not exist. His sin was that he did not even see Lazarus. He did not love, in word and deed.
St Augustine proclaimed in a homily on this Gospel passage: "Lazarus was received into heaven because of his humility and not because of his poverty. Wealth itself was not what kept the rich man from eternal bliss. His punishment was for selfishness and disloyalty"
As Christians we are called to a different way of relating to the goods of the earth. In an age with bumper stickers that say, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins" and "I am spending my retirement spending my children's inheritance", we are invited to make a choice concerning our relationship with the goods of the earth. We are called, in whatever state in life we live out the Gospel vocation, to live the way of simplicity and learn the logic of giving.
Among the treasures of the Catholic faith, we have the witness of those who have gone on before us and show us the way to respond to the invitation to live the Gospel. Next to her Son, Mary, the Mother of the Lord, lived this way of simplicity most perfectly. In prophetic contrast to our contemporary western excess, her humble life reminds us that simplicity is the path to holiness, happiness and freedom.
Simplicity is not about the quantity of the goods of the earth we may possess. It is about our relationship to them. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). The real question posed by the challenge to live lives of godly simplicity is "Do we own them or do they own us?" In truth, God owns them all and we are His stewards.
Mary's simplicity stands in prophetic contrast to two mistaken notions concerning our relationship with the "goods" of the earth, "our" possessions. These same questions emerge in every age. At the one extreme is a misguided embrace of economic poverty in the name of a spirituality that seems to maintain that wealth and material goods are somehow intrinsically evil.
Although some believers are called to a voluntary embrace of economic poverty as part of a specific vocation, most of us live in the material world of bills, possessions, and financial challenges and we are to learn how to receive and to use the "goods" of the earth, including money and material possessions.
Wealth and possessions are not evil. We are given them by the God who loves us. We are to receive them with gratitude and use them with freedom in the Lord. Matter is not evil. How can it be so when Jesus' earthly body was formed of matter? To think that it is often reveals that we misunderstand His incarnation and the Resurrection of the body, which will take place in a new heaven and a new earth.
Our relationship to this world - and the goods of this world- should mirror that of God's Son whom we follow. One of the great theologians of the twentieth century, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, wrote of the relationship with matter, in these profound words: "In Jesus Christ, God has engraved his name upon matter; he has inscribed it so deeply that it cannot be erased, for matter took him into its innermost self."
The other error, found in its most extreme contemporary manifestation in what has been labeled the so-called "prosperity gospel, equates God's favor with ...
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Money, love of money, prosperity gospel, Lazarus, solidarity, poverty, evangelical poverty, evangelical counsels, detachment, holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Deacon Keith Fournier
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