In the Gospel of Mark, there is a funny story about Peter that speaks to the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it more abundantly:
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:27-31).
Every priest knows well the paradox of these verses. Each of us gave up being a father (of children) and yet thousands call us “Father.” We gave up the bride of our dreams and yet have the most beautiful and perfect bride: the Church. She is beautiful indeed, but has a long “honey do” list! And as for buildings and land? We do not have our own home out in the suburbs on a quarter acre of land. Instead, we oversee multimillion dollar buildings, quite often occupying an entire city block or a country acre. Talk about receiving a hundredfold! Every priest knows the richness of his life in terms of buildings and land, but above all in people, in family.
And such is the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it even more richly.
I think that God has a certain sense of humor about this as well and must have Himself a good laugh as we begin to realize the paradox.
I remember once, back when I was considering the priesthood, that it occurred to me with some relief that at least I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job or keeping a roof over the head of my family. Hah! God must have had a good laugh at that thought of mine. I, too, had to laugh as I signed checks this summer in excess of $300,000 to replace the roof on our school. Somehow we will manage to recover financially, but it’s going to be a difficult year. I just cannot avoid a smirk and an eye roll when I think back on my once naïve notion of the financial ease of being a priest. What was I thinking?
But God has been good to me, so very good. In losing “my own family” I gained God’s family. In setting aside something less, I obtained something greater, far greater than I could ever have imagined. I forsook the rich blessing of marriage and family only to be astonished at the even larger family that would be mine.
Somehow for all of us the paradox rings true. When we lose our life to this world in some way, God has even greater things waiting. My mother set aside the more lucrative salary of a public school teacher in order to teach in a Catholic School, but by her own testimony she got back more than she ever gave up. I know another woman who left a six-figure salary to be a full-time mother. The beautiful and holy title of “Mom” meant so much more to her than her former executive title (Ma’am).
In losing our life we find it. Yes, while the full impact of this will only be seen in Heaven, many of us do learn and experience this truth even here, as a kind of foretaste. St. Paul expressed the rich tapestry of the paradox best of all. Looking to his own life and the lives of those who accompanied him, he could only marvel as he said,
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:8-10).
Yes, all is lost, yet all is gained. Some is gained even right here in this world, as a kind of foretaste, but one day all will gained beyond measure. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:39). Yes, Lord, and we will find it in abundance! Thank you, Lord.
What is your story of losing your life to this world only to find it more abundantly in the Lord?