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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"Life in all its fullness“(John. 10,10)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"Store up your treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

St. Francis of Assisi baffles us. He was a man who abandoned everything of this world and in a rather radical manner. Even the clothes he was wearing he cast at the feet of his father and declared that he does not need anything of this earth. Yet it is this same saint who would exult over the beauty of a flower and sing with the birds of the air and stand captivated at the splendour of an evening sky. He could laugh like a little baby and delight in the wonder of creation. He could kiss a leper and caress a ferocious wolf and look at the hot sun and call it his brother and enjoy the sweet radiance of the moon and call it his sister. The world he abandoned he could embrace. In the life of this dear saint, we see unfolding, the hope and beauty of this earthly life. The world he left behind did not make him a dry and lonely individual. His heart was free to live life in all its fullness. Modern man has much to learn from the attitude of this saint especially in his approach to possessions and wealth of this world and how one is meant to enjoy it. The rule is simple – the more you grab, the less you have. The more you let go, the more you will be able to relish it. What St. Francis lived out was the gospel vision of the wealth of this world.

“The earth is the Lord's” (Psalm 24:1)


In the beginning God created this marvellous universe with all the riches it contains. He entrusted it to man and man was made steward of all creation and had to improve and enjoy it. One thing God clearly affirmed was that man must subdue creation. But as the story of Genesis revealed sadly, it was creation that subdued him. The fruit of the forbidden tree so enchanted him that he would go to the extent of denying his Creator. Paradise was lost and life became a drudgery of sweat, blood and tears. What God gave man as a gift of love became a curse of slavery.

From then on God has been revealing His vision of material wealth in the pages of the Bible to instruct man that he may not fall as his first parent Adam did. The first thing God says about everything created is that ‘it is good’. Evil came from the heart of man when he chose to rebel against his Creator. There is nothing unholy about earthly prosperity, though it can cause man’s downfall if he handles it with evil intention. “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant.” (Deuteronomy 8:18) Again we read, “All silver and gold belong to me, says the Lord God.” (Haggai 2:8)

As everything belongs to the Lord, it is clear that man is not the owner but only the steward of the property and possessions handed him. Hence the warning of the Lord, “Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17) The lure of mammon should never blind us to believe the wealth in our hands is our possession. It was handed to us that we may glorify God. St. Paul clarifies this by simply saying, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Scripture clearly reveals that living out this stewardship of wealth requires the offering of tithes. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lords; it is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30) The failure to do this amounts to robbing God Himself! “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How are we robbing thee?' In your tithes and offerings. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Malachi 3:8,10)

“Sweet is the sleep of a labourer” (Ecclesiastes 5:12)

As a steward, man is expected to work hard and improve on what is given to him. With the parable of the talents, Jesus explained the responsibility of man to work on the gifts given to him. The first servant in the parable to whom the Master gave five talents gained five more; the second one who received two talents doubled it. However the one who received one talent buried it. This servant is reprimanded and punished for being “wicked and slothful” (Matthew 25:26). The lesson of the parable is clear. Man has a responsibility to work hard and provide for himself and for others.

St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians - “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) The context was the idleness of some of the early Christians in Thessalonica on the pretext that the Second Coming of Jesus was near. They assumed that there was no need to work – it was enough to wait for the Lord in prayer. St. Paul cites his own example of working: “We were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone's bread without paying, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8)

“Be generous, and someday you will be rewarded” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

While affirming wealth as a Divine gift, the Bible exhorts everyone to share this wealth with others especially with the least of our brethren. Along with the gift comes a mission. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) is an exhortation and a warning. Lazarus the poor man lived a life of painful neglect and would have died an anonymous death. But after his death, he was carried by the angels to the bliss of resting on the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, lived in plenty, feasting with his friends and when he died, he surely was given a grand funeral. But in death, he was cast into hell fire to be tormented for eternity. One wonders what terrible sin was there for the rich man to deserve eternal damnation. The parable makes no mention of him being immoral, corrupt or oppressive. Neither does the parable say that he earned his riches through unjust ways. His one crime though was that he did not care and share with the less fortunate. For that lack, he had to pay for eternity. He should have seen the misery of Lazarus as an invitation to share his riches. It was in fact his obligation and not an option. His failure to fulfill this obligation to share his wealth with another in need had a costly consequence. This is a fearful warning for us.

We are given in order to share. “Caring for the poor is lending to the Lord, and you will be well repaid.” (Proverbs 19:17) In some mysterious way, the Lord is identifying Himself with the poor. To open one’s eyes and see the Face of the Lord in the disabled, the sick and the less fortunate is the perfection of man on this earth. Jesus makes it the scale for the Final Judgment. The great separation on the Final Day takes place between those who recognized God in the poor and those others who were blind to this truth.

The curse of human life is that man is not able to find God’s Face in the poor and to feel with and live for them. Jesus presents the Judgment describing that the King will condemn the unmerciful thus - “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:41-43) The blessedness of human life is man’s openness to the poor. The judge affirms, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) To the extent man is able to extend his heart to the poor and share, to that extent he is closer to God and perfect in His love. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

What we share with the other is not for us to imagine that the other is indebted to us. We cannot have strings attached to our contributions. Our reward is solely from the Lord for dispensing what He handed to us according to His Will.  “Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven.” (Luke 6:35-37)

“He who pursues money will be led astray by it” (Sirach 31:5)

When wealth becomes our god, we can turn into inhuman oppressors - blind to the evil we pursue to achieve our materialistic goals. The curse of the world today is the unjust order of the distribution of wealth among the nations. About 80% of the wealth of the world is possessed by 20% of the population. And 80% of the population has to survive on 20% of the resources of the Universe. The richer nations are getting richer and the poorer nations are getting poorer, getting further entangled in all forms of debts, dependencies and diseases. In all nations of the earth, the difference between the rich and the poor is so vast and growing that the poor have no chance to improve their standard of living. Over the, centuries, the wealth got accumulated in the hands of a few and these deliberately saw to it that the poor are kept in the subjugation of poverty.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:10) Wealth does not satisfy anyone, least of all those who seek their comfort in wealth. So the rich are in an endless pursuit to increase their comforts and luxuries. And for this they oppress the poor, depriving them of even their meagre means of existence. The end of the greedy is decreed in the Scriptures - “He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to want.” (Proverbs 22:16)

“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself?” (Luke 9:25)

Money can make us so selfish that we lose sight not only of our brothers and sisters around us but even of the God above us. Though God is the Giver of all that we have, it can very well happen that we hold on to riches and make it the security of our future - even propping ourselves against God. The parable of the Rich Fool reveals to what extent money can blind us. A rich man’s fields yielded a great harvest. Instead of thanking God for this gift, his sole preoccupation was to keep it all aside as a security and to consolidate himself. His entire vision of life was confined to the deception of money. Looking at the great harvest his obsession is clear from his response: “This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’.” (Luke 12:18-19) And at this moment, like lightning the thought struck him that he could perish that very night. This is the deadly risk money can expose us to.

In the preoccupation to insure ourselves with the wealth of this earth, we could lose our hold in the true security of God. St. Paul reminds the early Church of the responsibility of wealth, “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

When money shifts our attention from God, we can become arrogant to imagine that all our wealth is our making. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10) We become godless. St. Paul concludes that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). The choice is clear as the Lord said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

“Do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25)

When one’s attention is focused on his possessions, one would find the meaning of life only in amassing more and more wealth. Wealth being so unreliable leads one therefore to sure insecurity, fear and hopelessness. A rich businessman wanted to make the life of his children secure and invested his money in a financial concern. At one meeting it was announced that the concern had gone bankrupt. Much of his money was now lost. The instant he heard this, he collapsed and died because he could not take the shock of it. When our hearts and hopes are set on something passing as wealth surely is, we are putting our entire lives at risk.

“Wakefulness over wealth wastes away one's flesh, and anxiety about it removes sleep.” (Sirach 31:1) There is a story of shoemaker who led a simple happy existence making a living by stitching shoes and repairing old ones. His customers were very pleased with him. He loved his job and lived a carefree life making everyone happy and being happy in the process. That is when a rich man who wanted to show his gratitude, gave him a small sack of gold coins. He was thrilled and he kept it in a safe place in his little house. But by night as he was going to lie down, he realized that that place was not safe enough. He spent the entire night sitting by the sack worrying about how it could get stolen. The next day, he was tired due to lack of sleep. He could not work properly. Soon he lost his happiness and was all the time anxious and preoccupied. He was irritated with his wife and unmindful of his children. The whole house became sad. That is when he came to his senses and realized that the sack of money had become a curse. He returned it the very next day to the rich man. Once again, his life became a song. Money can make us anxious and deprive us of the very joy of living that we thought this money could achieve for us.

There is a story of a sanyasin (holy man) who was very happy in his contemplation of God and his simple living. He would go to his neighbour and get a glass of milk for his daily nourishment. Soon it occurred to him that every day he had to depend on his neighbour for his meagre lifestyle. He also thought he was losing a lot of time in fetching the milk that he could have spent for prayer. That is when an idea struck him that he could buy a cow. He could in his free time graze the cow and milk it whenever he needed. He bought a cow. And then, he realized that the needs of the cow were more time-consuming than he imagined. He needed a girl to take care of the cow. The girl had to be paid for coming and going. Now he had to wait for the girl to get the milk. A lot of time was spent waiting for her daily. An idea then struck him - if he married her, she would always be with him and he did not have to wait for her. That is when he realized he had to make a choice between his sanyasa status and his daily comforts. To his great surprise, he understood he was very much attached to the milk, to the cow and to the girl. So he thought to be sincere to his own feelings, he had to renounce sanyasa and opt for a worldly life. The Bible says money has its dangers. “It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it.” (Sirach 31:7) One has to realize anything one possesses without reference to God can make him a captive and soon turn his attention away from God.

“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17)

Wealth is indeed a blessing of God. However if money becomes more dear than God, man becomes a slave of it. And this slavery is the scourge that could come to any man of possessions. Hence the warning of Jesus, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) Jesus would further say, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:23,25) What is important is to realize that wealth should not cut us away from God. Rather it must become a ladder to reach God and reflect His Glory. And in this sharing of the wealth with the less fortunate to build the kingdom of God, man becomes perfect and his wealth becomes a blessing.

St. Francis was born to a rich merchant and he grew up in the glamour of wealth and chivalrous exercises of the elite. However early in his youth, he found the pearl of great price - Jesus Himself! The absolute value that He gave to God in his life diminished all the importance of the glory of the earth. His heart was so captivated by the love of the Heavenly Father that every relationship, every material treasure was relativized in the Light of the absolute Beauty of God. The modern man needs to learn from this great saint that life becomes meaningful when focused on God. In the light of this absolute value, one learns how to prioritize. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) When accepted from the Hands of God and shared with the fellowmen around, wealth becomes a blessing and life becomes a delight!

Let us pray

Lord in Your great Love, You have shared with us all of the beauty of creation. You entrusted to us all that belongs to You. You invite us to work with You to make this earth a heavenly place. Yet Lord we have failed You. We often placed creation over the Creator and we lost Paradise in our own lives. We bring to You the moments when our possessions became our one concern. We failed to seek Your Glory and neglected our duties to our neighbours. In every suffering and poor person is the stamp of our failure to reach out and hand them what You counted on us to.

Lord, we come once again to You and offer all that we have. We ask You, Lord, to purify our hearts that we may be able to rejoice in the beauty of Your Love and Providence. We bring to You our anxieties and fears that have arisen because we forgot that You are our Provider and we trusted in our wealth. Lord, we offer You our health, our strength and all that we have and we pray use us for building Your Kingdom of Love and Compassion. Purify our eyes and our seeking that we can rejoice over the splendour of Your handiwork in all of creation.

Amen

 
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