On Being Rich in What Matters to God – A Reflection on Our Often Wrongful Priorities

The Gospel from today’s Mass was of the familiar parable of the man with a big harvest who built larger barns to store his excess, but then was called a fool by the Lord for he would die that night and his riches profit him nothing. I have written before on the parable itself but would like to reflect here a bit more on the lines just before and after the parable.

The passage begins as such:

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”

The Lord then tells the familiar parable and how the rich man dies surrounded by his riches, but a fool and unprepared to meet God because he thought somehow that his wealth could sustain him for years.

Then comes the memorable line:

Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.

While this line may invite a post describing at length a list of what matters most to God, I’d like to limit the reflection more on how, what we are usually most anxious and concerned about is not usually what matters to God.

Look at how the passage begins. A man is concerned about money and that he should get some share of the family estate. Surely Jesus who cares about justice will side with him! But the reaction of Jesus indicates a kind of irritation with the nature of the request. In effect he says, “Look, this sort of stuff is small potatoes. You’re all concerned about the wrong thing. You have far bigger issues in your life you ought to be thinking about (like greed, and a host of other sinful drives that will destroy you) than money and fair share. I have not come to be a banker, a real estate attorney, a probate judge, or a financial adviser. And as for you, you need to get your focus and priorities right.”

Here of course is a kind of paradigm (or example) of a common human problem, and that is, that we often get all worked up about the wrong things and pay little attention to things that matter far more. Consider a few examples:

I. In listening to people pray, including myself, at public gatherings it is interesting how most of the prayers (almost 100%) deal with worldly matters. “O Lord, fix my finances, fix my health, fix my spouse, fix this or that situation so I am more comfortable and better situated, help me get a promotion at work.” None of these things are wrong to pray about, but notice the worldly and passing quality of most of it. It is almost as if we were saying to God, “Just make this world a better and comfortable place for me. Give me enough health, friends, money and creature comforts, and that’s all I need, I’ll just stay here forever!” In a way it’s a terrible thing to say to God and surely there are things for which we should ask that matter more to God.

I am sure God waits for the day when we will finally say from our heart, “Lord give me a closer walk with you….help me hunger for your justice, righteousness, truth and holiness. Help me repent of my sins and desire greater holiness. Help me yearn for the day when I can come and live with you and grant me the grace to be prepared to enter your presence. Take away my sinful attachments to this world and make my heart’s truest desire to be You and the joys waiting for me in heaven with you.” I am sure God’s waits for the day, for these are things that matter to God.

In the end, nothing matters more to God than you, yourself, and that you be made ready to be with him forever. Money, who cares? Health? That passes anyway, as does the body, and worldly glories. But the soul? Now here is something that matters particularly to God. But we go one praying for money, health, greater comforts, etc. Not wrong per se, but not the true priority, a priority which is often wholly neglected by us.

II. What then is our greatest problem? Lack of money, health or resources? No! Our greatest problem is our sin. Jesus says, If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to loose part of your body than to have it all cast into hell (Matt 5:30).

What is Jesus saying? He is saying that it is more serious to sin than to lose your hand, or your eye, or your foot.

Now we don’t think like this. If I were to lose my hand in some terrible accident, I would hate this day for the rest of my life. Indeed, it would be terrible. But why don’t I think this way about my sin? To God my sin is a far greater problem than a financial shortfall, or even bodily loss.

My sin matters to God, because he sees what it does to me, and that it is a far greater danger for me than any other worldly danger or problem. And yet, most of us pay little heed to this and are un-alarmed by it. But we sure know how to hit the panic button if we lose our job or get a diagnosis of cancer.

Our priorities are wrong and we are not rich in what matters to God. That is, we are not rich in repentance, cries for mercy, and a sober understanding of our truest and deepest problem, our sin.

III. And look how we too often raise our children. Almost all the focus is on worldly success. Johnny might know little or nothing about God, the Mass, Scripture or Sacraments, but let Johnny bring home a bad report card, and the reaction is quick. Here is a problem to get to the bottom of, because if Johnny doesn’t get better grades, he might not get into the premier local High School, and then, might not get into the best college, so he can make a killing, (oops, I mean a living).

So, the parents go into action. Perhaps a tutor is hired to help with math etc. Meanwhile Johnny barely knows the Our Father, doesn’t have a clue at Mass, his moral life is heading south,  and all he knows about Adam and Eve is that they were “in the Bible or something.” Finally Johnny’s scores are better and he proceeds apace to the finest local High School.

One day his father proudly says to the Catholic pastor,Great news! John has gotten a full scholarship to Princeton.” And the pastor says “Great!” When what he should say to the father is “OK fine. Now let’s find out who is going to preach the gospel to him up there. You know that it will be, (like most college campuses), a moral cesspool of fornication and drinking. So, if we’re not serious about John’s spiritual life, he may go in there, come out a big-wig lawyer, and yet be heading straight for Hell. So what’s the plan for his spiritual welfare and growth?”

But do the pastor or parents really give any thought to this? Usually not.

And so John climbs the ladder of success but it’s leaning up against the the wrong wall.

Too often parents, pastors, families and parishes are not rich in what matters to God. Our children hear that they should study hard, get good grades etc., to make it in this world. Of itself this is not wrong. But their souls are more important, and matter more to God. How well do we teach and equip them to care for the vineyard of their own soul? How does this compare to worldly preparations?  And do we conform to what matters more to God?

Well, perhaps this is enough. But the point here is that too often, too many of us are not rich in what matters to God. We too easily resemble the man in the crowd who was asking Jesus, the Savior of the world from sin and hell, about money. A sad demotion of Jesus to be sure, but also highly disclosing of a basic human tendency of caring more about passing worldly things, than eternal lasting things or God himself. Too easily we store up riches for ourselves but are not rich in what matters to God.

Help Lord! We need a new mind, but even more, a new heart.

18 Replies to “On Being Rich in What Matters to God – A Reflection on Our Often Wrongful Priorities”

  1. This leads to a kind of paradox: Jesus is God Incarnate, and as a Jew, He prayed the Jewish Benedictions, among which include a prayer for worldly needs, and He taught the Our Father, which is a summary or abridge of the Jewish Benedictions. So, I wonder how Jesus would have viewed worldly needs in light of “rich in what matters to God”? Does the Church have any teaching in this area of Christology?

    1. Here are the benedictions in question:

      “On weekdays, the middle section of the Amidah consists of 13 blessings that are individual and communal requests to God. Originally consisting of only 12 petitions, the total number of blessings recited was 18, hence, an early synonym for the Amidah was the Shemonah Esrei, or the Eighteen. However, in Rabbinic times another blessing was added resulting in a total of 19, yet the original name of the Shemonah Esrei was retained.

      Of these 13 requests recited during the weekday Amidah, the first five are essentially personal, or individual requests to God to improve the situation of each person. The individual prays to God to grant us intelligence and understanding, give us the ability to repent of our transgressions, for God to be gracious and forgiving, to send a redeemer, or messiah, to the Jewish people to end our affliction, and finally, to grant healing to those who are sick and ailing. Despite the individual nature of these requests, the language of the prayers are all in the plural emphasizing the corporate nature of even singular Jewish identity.

      The following eight blessings are focused more explicitly on the communal and national needs of the Jewish people. There is a request for rain or dew in the proper season to ensure agricultural bounty, a plea to end the dispersion of the Jewish people, and prayers to restore true judges and establish justice in the world; to humble the arrogant and those who seek to malign and injure the Jewish community; to sustain the righteous of the house of Israel; rebuild Jerusalem; reestablish a Davidic leadership; and a final petition to hear and answer the prayers of the Jewish people.

      On Shabbat and holidays, instead of requests that might distract us by reminding us of our physical and national wants and needs, the Rabbis established the middle section as an opportunity to celebrate the holiness of the Sabbath day and/or the festival. On Shabbat morning, the entire middle section of the Amidah describes Moses receiving the Ten Commandments followed by the verses from the book of Exodus (31:16-17) that describe the observance of Shabbat as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Furthermore, Shabbat is summarized as a gift given only to the Jews out of God’s love for His people. It concludes with a blessing thanking God for sanctifying the Shabbat.

      On festivals, particularly the pilgrimage holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the middle portion of the Amidah similarly describes how God has given these holidays as a gift to the Jewish people for joy and celebration. There are also references to the biblical patriarchs, King David, and Jerusalem to be remembered in glory. Despite the official absence of requests, the holiday prayers of the Amidah do in fact ask that God enable us to enjoy and celebrate the holiday with gladness of heart and conclude with a blessing thanking God for sanctifying the people of Israel and the holiday.”


      1. OK but remember, earlier Judaism understood little of an afterlife and hence couched blessings in a “this-world” context. Later revelation clarified some aspects of the ancient version of the prosperity “gospel”

        1. I’m just wondering how Jesus thought of worldly needs when He prayed for them. I find it fascinating. 🙂

          1. I think praying for worldly needs can be a reflection of an appropriate relationship with God–showing absolute reliance and gratitude for all good gifts–as distinguished from praying for worldly “wants” which puts me at the center of the prayer (which is what I presume Msgr. to be addressing in this post). I think that in light of a previous post about Jesus’ self knowledge (“Jesus is Lord, and he knew it”) there is a challenge posed for anyone who wants to suggest Jesus actually prayed for worldly needs, rather than simply knowing that it would be provided, or that he was somehow limited by “earlier Judaism’s” lack of understanding about an afterlife.

  2. Thank you for “God waits for the day when we will finally say …….”. Perfect advice for me. And thank you for your internet ministry.

  3. So true. The part about parents really resonated with me. I pray all the time for my children, I pray that they stay close to God, especially knowing what I am up against out there. It’s really my deepest prayer. But I do get caught up in the “success” part of school as well.

    1. Same here. I want them to be their best selves, which means putting in the effort at home, school, play and Church, so that they can become the kind of people God wants them to be — saints.

      I rememberd Rick Warren’s book (Purpose-Driven Life) when I saw the video.

  4. In all corners of the world we have somehow separated worldly matter as the priority from what matters to God. At the individual level, I know many of us constantly struggle to put what we think, say and do first before God. Further, many of us do not see every moment as an opportunity to holiness (Jean-Pierre De Caussade).

    I pray that our Lord awakens our hearts to his blessings and graces, so we may begin to work on ourselves and carry this work to our family members, churches, schools and businesses.

  5. Now this is much better! We all need reminding of this. I fall into the trap you describe too often. If this was being said every Sunday, We would all be better off. Much less likely to be wrong then specifying the dollar amount the minimum wage should be.
    Will try to remember this, not easy though.

  6. Bravo! In watching the video I was impressed with the segment where the individual is burdened to the point of falling onto his knees. It is at that point for many individuals that they are open to meeting and entering into a relationship with Him. The desires of our hearts were put there by Him. We were created by Him and for Him,unfortunately we allow the busyness of the “world” and life takes precedence, leaving us lost and constantly searching,seemingly for the wrong things. Always patient and ever the gentleman, God never goes uninvited. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”

    We teach little children that God lives within their hearts and when they love others they love God. Likewise when we hurt others we hurt God. Do we believe what we say? Do we believe what He has said? The answers lie there within.

    The sooner we all come to the realization of how temporary this world and our life in it is, the sooner we will live according to His teachings. Time for apathy to get the boot! What we do here and now in this life determines where and how we spend our eternity. Ask a patient at the door step of death.

    Sin never looks ugly until your in it! Our souls are staked at a high price. The Enemy and his evil cohorts never rest and are good at what they do. The ‘choice’ is always ours to make….

  7. My main petition is for the conversion and salvation of family members who have abandoned the Faith. That is the most important prayer I pray is answered, after that the other things, health, employment, etc.. As a grandparent I encourage my family to remember the poor souls in Purgatory, since I may be in that group one day and dependent on them. It seems that when a person dies these days, everyone immediately puts them into Heaven (“they have gone to be with the Lord”–say so many obituaries). And they are forgotten and not prayed for when they really need their families help for release from Purgatory.

  8. The ‘prosperity gospel’ would just -NOT work- inside of a Catholic Church. A Crucifix with the Corpus of Christ, the stained-glass windows & statutes of the Saints that suffered & were martyred, and as we all stand and pray ‘He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered death and was buried, – teaches Christians that life is a pilgrimage through a vale of tears.
    The ‘prosperity gospel’ ONLY works well with an empty cross. The preacher can say, “you’re children of God & He loves you – like you love your children. God wants you to be rich, happy, healthy, and successful.” —(Obviously, that message does -NOT work- with the Son of God hanging dead on the Cross above the altar.)— The ‘prosperity gospel’ preacher goes on to say, “As it says in the Bible -‘cast your bread (your moolah) on the waters (my ministry – send me your moolah) and it will be returned a hundred-fold (by God).” The ‘prosperity gospel’ preacher also says, ‘If you don’t receive a ‘return’ -don’t blame God or me! (you didn’t send my ministry enough moolah).”
    I know it’s an uncharitable description of the ‘prosperity gospel’ but I think it’s accurate. Maybe, I should say – Praise God – salvation through Jesus Christ is proclaimed & thank you Lord that you are the One that decides Merit on Judgment Day. The uncertainties of life makes it difficult to become a ‘living saint’ & totally trust in the Providence of God. The ‘prosperity gospel’ is just another way to escape the world that God has given us.
    One of the many mysteries of our Catholic faith: the closer you come to God the more you suffer. Thank you for being a Priest, Monsignor.

  9. What a spiritual goldmine this website is. I am so grateful that I stumbled upon it one day.

    See everything in the light of Faith and think supernaturally!

    We should care more for the state of our souls than how we look, especially women, who spend an inordinate amount of time fussing about themselves. I have noticed that the more immoral we have become, the more concerned we are about appearances. Our priorities are awry!

  10. My first visual impression of the still from the video was Mickey Mouse ears. I thought “huh? Mickey Mouse?”

    That impression is perhaps not entirely off topic when one considers DIsney’s mission statement. Most organizations have a mission statement that describe what they do. Most of these statements are rather long-winded, and likely can’t be quoted verbatim by the average employee. Even when a mission statement is concocted by the best and brightest within the organization, the core of what the organization does often is lost within the sea of words.

    Disney’s mission statement: To Make People Happy. You can’t be more clear-cut than that. The company is so effective at engaging its staff with its mission and values that Disney is considered a model even outside the entertainment industry.

    For most of us, our personal mission statements include goals for what we want to achieve or have, for ourselves or for our children. The core of what we should be is lost in the sea of secular successes and earthly possessions.

    Our personal mission statement should be: To Love and Serve God. You can’t be more clear-cut than that.

  11. Developed countries are far worse about this than those who have little to begin with and little to attain.

  12. What a wonderful article… thank you. The soul that has COMPLETE trust in God lives an exciting life of adventure… and is rewarded with consolations that one keeps within their heart for fear of being accused of being insane by the world… ah sweet insanity!

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