The Lord tells a familiar parable and how a certain rich man had a harvest too big for his barns, do built bigger barns. But he dies surrounded by his riches, and the Lord calls him a fool since he thought somehow that his wealth could sustain him for years and did not consider his judgment.
There comes the memorable line that concludes the parable:
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 we are usually most anxious and concerned about what matters far less to God.
The well known passage begins with a man is concerned about money and that he should get some share of the family estate which his brother is withholding. 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). These ought to concern you more than money and fair share. I have not come to be a banker, a real estate attorney, a probate judge, or a financial adviser. 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 at public gatherings, including myself, 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.
16 Replies to “On Being Rich in What Matters to God”
I love my kids so much! We give money and food to the homeless and we pray together all the time. Hell is real. And our souls last forever. I worry about their college…when I went to UCLA they had demonstrations on how to put condoms on bananas. It was quite shocking, and more importantly, all that public sex talk was spiritually impoverishing.
Yeah, we go to “the top” and find it is nothing but the pits!
I know some low class loser DJ from a radio station came to CSUF and did the same filth (promoting condom use) in the courtyard and blasted his microphone read loud so that everyone there can hear it, and the school administration people just turn their heads, nobody cares. There is NO SHAME! All the filth is out in the open! Lord, help this disgusting nation!
I wasn’t aware that banana’s used condoms? 🙂
This is a timely post. My prayer life has been growing as of late and I realized after reading that most of my prayers are for my earthly needs. Thanks for sharing; it helps to be reminded on what we really need to be asking our Lord for.
thank you for reminding us that the things of this world should grow strangely dim in the light of His glory. Lord, help me to keep my focus pure.
St. Paul says that if we are living the Christian life, the Catholic life, we are at peace with God.
” And so John climbs the ladder of success but it’s leaning up against the the wrong wall.”–well said.
“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. . .”–good insight and well said.
It’s because the worldly things have immediate or easily-imagined consequences. It’s the same reason a five-year-old doesn’t think about retirement–it’s so far away and unimaginable. I wonder if people actually think about Heaven and Hell with the same kind of immediacy as the struggles of life. We believe it because it’s revealed, but if it wasn’t revealed we wouldn’t know anything about Heaven or Hell. It’s hard to understand because it’s based on what someone told us rather than what we know for ourselves and we can’t really know about Heaven or Hell until we die. And at that point it’s too late to make corrections. I wonder if it’s possible to have actual knowledge of these things before we die.
An excellent series of three programs at the Australian ABC, significantly titled “Soul, this night”. The first one is devoted to the Parable of the rich fool.
Sorry father, I know this is off topic but when I saw this, I hoped you would comment on this.
Thank you for this fine post!
“None of these things are wrong to pray about, but notice the worldly and passing quality of most of it.” This made me think of the Lord’s prayer in Latin as we sing it in the Mass, “panem nostrum quotidianum” – “our daily bread”, and the other translation in the old Latin Bible, “panem nostrum supersubstantialem” – “our supersubstantial bread” – which can help us think, Who is our Bread, and what did He say His food was (John 4:34)?
As soon as I saw the title of the post, I thought of a poem published just after World War II began, imagining the Pope at the time of King Arthur praying at the time of the barbarian invasions and civil wars. It is called “Divites Dimisit” (‘the rich He has sent empty away’ from the Magnificat) and was written by Charles Williams (a friend of Lewis and Tolkien who has been lately called ‘the oddest Inkling’). He later re-wrote it as “The Prayers of the Pope” and re-published it in a book in 1944. It is not easy poetry, and I do not know what to make of all of it (or of him, a lot of the time), but the basic idea is interesting: the Pope realizing how rich we are in so many ways for which He might send us ’empty away’, and praying that He will not. It is also about awareness of our sin and guilt and its lasting consequences (lfor example, killing innocent people), and how we can be freed from them.
What a wonderful point. One of our local charter schools is one of the top 20 schools in the country. As a parent wanting what is best for my children, it is difficult for me not to consider this as an option for my children. However, that school is public, so there would be no attention to religion and exposure to all of the worldly problems. We are blessed to have two Catholic high schools to choose from. My children attend my parish school, which is an incredible blessing. I have a few years before I have to make a decision about high school, but your point is good. If they graduate from a great public school on the way success as professionals, but along the way lose their soul, what profit is that?
You could homeschool after grade school until your child can be admitted to the local community college, perhaps at age 16. There the child can earn credits in math, English, etc. which will fulfill basic requirements in a four-year college. He might earn an Associate of Arts or Science degree. Then he can transfer to a four-year college, perhaps entering as a junior. (He may have to earn a GED to transfer. This should be fairly easy unless he has trouble with math.) This way he can avoid the craziness of freshman year campus life and what one school called the expected freshman abortion. Former homeschoolers at our community college were known to say the Rosary together in the cafeteria. Of course, you could also homeschool all four years of high school. Best wishes.
Easy to write when you have an income and a roof over your head. Not so easy to say if you were homeless and near starvation. Having slept for months in a cardboard shelter in the woods in a makeshift homeless community and having gone 4-5 days without a single meal I can tell you I felt no shame in praying for an end to that. I can also tell you the Cathokic Church wouldn’t lift a finger to help … hyprocrisy pure and simple!!
Avoid all of nothing thinking Harry. The article is very clear to say it is not wrong to pray for these things. I’ve had it tough too. You are not the only one.
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