of Creighton University's Online Ministries
August 16th, 2011
Andy Alexander, S.J.
University Ministry and the Collaborative Ministry Office
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It is I who sent you. - Judges 6
"It will be hard for one who is rich
to enter the Kingdom of heaven."
It seems to me that we tend to forget that Jesus warned us about the dangers of being rich. Much of the world doesn't know the gospel or has forgotten his words about it being as hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as it is for "a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." Upon really hearing this gospel, all of us are one with his first disciples is immediately asking him, "Then tell us, just WHO can be saved?" Of course, the consolation is that what Jesus really wants us to know is that "for God all things are possible."
That assurance of Jesus takes some translation. My guess at a translation is: "yes, it is very difficult, and will take great conversion, but with God's help, since all things are possible, even this kind of conversion is possible." There is hope for us, if we hear God's word and realize the message of Jesus calls us to a new way of seeing ourselves in the world, a new way of seeing our relationship with each other. Because God is love, we are called to loving, compassionate and giving of ourselves, as Jesus did.
So, if the values around us shape our desires to want more in order to be more, and success is defined in these terms, we need to let God's grace effect a conversion - a turning around in the other direction - toward a different set of values, outlined in Jesus' gospel.
What's wrong with being rich? Experience shows us that the more we have, the more energy it takes to maintain the wealth we have. And, it inevitably happens that the more we have, the more we want. And, sadly, the more we have, the more it seems we think we deserve what we have. Of course, there are outstanding exceptions. There are wealthy people who are incredibly generous and who work hard for the benefit of others. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it always works.
St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, puts it in terms of the two competing strategies of Jesus and the Evil One. The "Enemy of our human nature" has a strategy of drawing us to his side by attracting us to riches, which lead to honors, which ultimately trap us in pride - which ultimately is what ruins us. Pride takes away from God. St. Augustine said that pride is, "the love of one's own excellence." In contrast, Jesus draws us to himself by attracting us to poverty, which leads to dishonor, which ultimately offers us the gift of humility. [For a fuller explanation of the Two Ways of Desiring, see Week 17 of the Online Retreat, also on this website: onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/guide17.html ]
I find myself most challenged by how Jesus asks us, later in Matthew's gospel, Chapter 25:41-46, to live. It is our mission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and care for the sick and imprisioned. That is how we will be judged. It is stunning to me sometimes to realize that much of what I think is important, much of what troubles me, much of what takes up so much of my time, has nothing to do with caring for "the least" of Jesus' brothers and sisters. Too often the "riches" of talents and energies and our place in the world so insulate us from the day to day life and struggle of the poor that we can be seduced into the path that leads to pride, rather than the holy and simplifying path that leads to humility.
It is an examination we all can make and we can continually pray for the grace to heed the loving warnings of Jesus and ask for the graces of conversion.
There is an outstanding summary of Catholic Social Teaching for our day - well worth reading in its entirety, as a meditation, with amazing relevance for the challenges of today. It is the great economic pastoral, written by the U.S. Catholic Bishops 25 years ago this year. I conclude with just two paragraphs from it. It is challenging and can call us to great conversion.
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