Christians and property

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (C). Isa 66:10-14; Ps 65; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12.17-20

One of the most prominent themes of today’s Gospel seems, at first, to be about property. Jesus says to the seventy-two disciples he is sending out, “Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals” (Lk 10:4). As a result of this passage and others like it, there has often been debate about the proper attitude that Christians should have towards property. Indeed, there have been groups of Christians in every century, such as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal today, who live a radically simple life. Nevertheless, while some saints have lived in radical poverty, others have had modest goods and some have even been kings and queens. How, then, should a Christian regard possessions?

The answer is that there is no single answer. The issue is not really about property, as such, but about understanding property, and indeed every aspect of our lives, within a much larger perspective. This larger perspective is that this present life is not what most people understand it to be. Most people try to find their ultimate happiness in this life and, for them, dying or at least the loss of the pleasures of this life is the greatest of all tragedies. Such people are doomed to disappointment, because time eventually sweeps away everything that is solely material in this world. The seventy years or so of the average human life is quite short and even the great pyramids of the ancient world are slowly crumbling into dust. The Christian, by contrast, thinks of this life as a pilgrimage or journey towards eternity. For the Christian, this life is extraordinary important, but only because this life is our opportunity to change and to grow, to serve and love God and to become saints. This love of God is not just for this life but for all eternity, where there is no decay and no death. Hence Jesus says, at the conclusion of today’s Gospel, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you,” in other words their victory over evil is not the crucial issue. He tells them, rather, to rejoice, “that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20). Those who aim solely at the things of this world are doomed to disappointment. Indeed, even those who want to make a better world, without God, are doomed to fail. By contrast, those who aim at their names being written in heaven experience far greater joy, even in this life. With this larger perspective, every good choice and action has eternal significance.

What, then, are the practical lessons to be drawn? First and foremost, I think it is important to ask God to change our hearts and to keep the eyes of our minds fixed on the salvation of our souls, not listening to the siren voices that offer false happiness in this life without God. Perhaps the greatest difference between many Christians today and those of the past is that many today do not seem overly concerned about salvation. Religion is often regarded as something to make this life a little better, and then heaven follows automatically. Many Christians of the past, however, had more sense of the drama of salvation, that heaven is not automatic. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to take one of many examples, at least worries about losing his soul in the quest for power. The character of Macbeth reflects accurately the general religious sensibility of Shakespeare's England, namely that salvation is not automatic and that a person who has definitively rejected God in this life is not going to change in eternity. Second, there is no substitute for investing in prayer. God so wants us to pray that he will even reward imperfect motivations for prayer and people who pray tend to have fruitful lives even here and now. Third, it is important to remove any things from our lives that prevent us from knowing and loving God fully, in particular, we have to get rid of sin, especially sin that kills the supernatural life of the soul. This is where the sacraments are important, in particular, the sacrament of Confession.

So may God keep our eyes fixed on heaven, protect us from anything that will distract us from that goal, and may He bring us safely to everlasting life.

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