The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things

One of the great challenges in life is to learn what is really most important. I remember as a child being told at Christmas that Jesus was the real reason for the season and that toys were secondary. But I was a child and although I heard what should be most important in actual fact what really was most important to me was what was under the tree. “Thanks Jesus for gettin’ born, now what did Santa leave!?”

This little childhood scenario recasts itself differently as we get older but the basic challenge is the same: learning to really accept and experience that the most important things in life aren’t things. St. Paul states well what is really most important:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Phil 3:7-9)

The psalms too express what is most valuable:

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.  The ordinances of the LORD are sure  and altogether righteous.  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:9-11).

The Lord also goes on to teach us that we should value the people in our lives above the things in our lives. Consider this example.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  (Lk 12:13-15)

Among the teachings contained here is that the brothers should be more important to each other than the wealth that divides them. But too often our desire for passing things takes precedence over the people in our lives. Both brothers sin against eachother over money, one through greed the other through injustice.

So  I want to ask you (and me) a few questions and I want you t be careful how you answer them. Often when we are asked questions of a moral nature we answer the question the way we should answer the question instead of responding with the actual truth. So as I ask these questions let’s consider supplying the truest answer rather than the “required” answer.

  1. Do you really love God above all things and above all people?
  2. Do you really love the people in your life more than the things in your life?
  3. Do you really believe that you life does not consist in an abundance of possessions?

And as you and I answer these questions consider what the evidence states. The best evidence in a question like this is not merely our feelings but even more what we spend our money and time on. Truth be told a lot of us struggle to love God most. We are told to worship God, love people and use things but too often worship things, use people and forget about God. The fact is a lot of us can still be stuck on that old childhood scene where we knew Jesus is the reason for the season but in the end we also knew he really had very little to do with the season, either in the culture or in our hearts.

The steps to making progress in this difficult are fourfold:

  1. Honesty – Honestly answering questions like the ones the Lord asks us above has go to be the starting point. Perhaps some of you who read this are way ahead of the rest and God really is first. But for the rest of us,  the first step is to honestly realize that we’re messed up and that we prefer passing things to God.
  2. Pray – The second step is to get on our knees and say, “Lord have mercy! I am messed up. My priorities are wrong. I love things more than people and people more than you. I’m surrounded by idols and I ascribe greater worth to the dust of this earth than to you or to my loved ones. Help me Lord!”
  3. Regular confession and Holy Communion –  Part of regular confession is to learn to focus on the deeper issues of our life. Too often we only look at our behaviors but not to the deeper drives of sins that lead to this bad behavior. Some of the deeper drives of sin that affect this particular matter are: greed, lust, idolatry, ego-centric attitudes, pettiness, worldliness, sloth, and ingratitude. Preparing for confession looks not only to symptoms such as outer behaviors but to causes which are the deeper drives of sin. In a future blog I will write more on the “deeper drives” of sin.
  4. Cultivate gratitude – Gratitude is a way that we discipline our mind to count our blessings and then thank the Lord for them. In particular we ought to discipline our minds to thank God for the gift that He is to us. Also the gift that others are to us. Granted some folks are gifts to us “in strange packages.” But even the difficult people in  our lives teach us things like being patient, kind and more  forgiving,  These are blessings, even though in strange packages.

Only with God’s help can we begin to realize that “The Most important things in life aren’t things” is more than a slogan. Only with God’s help and a lifetime of grace can we ever hope to really appreciate this insight and aboslutely true.

Now a little humor and laughing at ourselves doesn’t hurt either. In this very funny video some priests send out a brother priest for beer. Upon his return there is a mishap and both beer and priest are in jeopardy. Guess which gets rescued!

15 Replies to “The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things”

  1. I got cold just watching that. (18 inches of snow & 18 hours without power Saturday)

    Here’s one for you:
    Celebrating St. Patrick’s day, the Irish man left the pub with a pint of whiskey in his back pocket. On his way home, he slipped on the ice and fell on his behind. As he felt liquid trickle down the back of his leg, he quickly prayed “Dear God, let it be blood.” :0

  2. Weakness can be subtle. One might think that doing God’s Will one’s way is doing God’s Will God’s way, but God always reveals it’s not the case. For example, one might want to be married, and so grow attached to the idea of marriage. Now if God tugs that person another way, than they must face a hard truth: Do they love God above all things or do they love marriage above God? Another example, one might want to pray the whole Rosary for penance but the priest has told them to only pray a decade: Dose the person love obedience to God more than his idea of obedience to God or the other way around? Many saints had to learn that loving God above all things isn’t as simple as it sounds; it requires a daily examination of conscience to make sure your conscience is in accordance to His Will, not one’s own.

  3. My mother’s will made no specifications about who got what. She basically told my sister and me just to figure it out ourselves.

    Neither my sister nor I feel entitled to any of my mom’s stuff. We didn’t work for it, we didn’t earn it. (And also, to be honest, given that we each have households of our own, we’ve plenty of our OWN stuff.) Our conversation while going through her condo was mostly “do you mind if I take this” or “I think you should have that.”

    I think that many would save themselves a great deal of angst after a family member’s death if they keep in mind that the family member’s stuff is NOT THEIRS. It’s just STUFF and it doesn’t replace the person who no longer is part of our lives. Wrangling over STUFF can destroy the relationship not only of the wranglers themselves but of those around them. Impacting other people that way is selfish.

      1. Just to clarify, Mom DID have a will. Both my sister and I had told her long ago that we didn’t have our eyes on any particular item, so her not specifying who got what was deliberate, not an oversight. Clearly that wouldn’t work in many, if not most, situations.

        Mom planned very carefully, and in a way she still is taking care of us. She had all of her assets in a “revocable living trust” so that her stuff didn’t have to go through probate (from what I’ve heard, that truly was a wonderful gift. As it is closing out Mom’s estate is practically a part-time job.). She had all of her documents organized so that we didn’t have to figure out what was where. Both my sister and I were given copies of the trust document, the will and the medical and general powers of attorney so that we both knew what she intended. The GREATEST gift we received from Mom’s planning was her Living Will, that specified the kind of end-of-life care she wanted to receive. She had talked to us about it, but having her wishes documented made it much less heart-wrenching to have the DNR order placed in her chart.

  4. I was raised in the public education system and the big lesson was, do well in school, get good grades, go to a good college so someday you can have money and possessions and be happy. After 12 years, and 4 years in college, it tends to set in. So, I tried it. There were good times in my life BUT the bad times were so bad, the good just didn’t matter after a while. Overall, pursuing money and possessions yieIded no TRUE happiness, just temporary along with a healthy dose of suffering. Plus, the bad seemed to linger. So, I decided to turn my life over to Our Lord Jesus Christ. I returned to church, started going to confession, and praying the rosary daily. Basically, I gave up all desire to pursue material goods in favor of following the Lord. Finally, I met my wife and true soulmate, who loves me for me and who may not be the most devout but respects my devotion and, at times, teaches me a thing or two. All I have today is a house (my wife’s before we married, I always say it’s her house but our home), a car (I had it before we were married but my wife paid it off) and an outdated computer (I haven’t had the means to upgrade and my wife pays for the repairs). The only things I have that are solely mine are my rosary (you want to get me on a technicality and call it a possession fine, but it ain’t no ordinary string of beads and my wife bought it for me) and my family. And ya know what? I am happy, truely happy. I have never had so little material goods and, at the same time, have so much joy. And it is all from Our Lord and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Now, instead of pursuing goods, I raise my son (my wife is a doctor and we wanted a parent at home, it made sense, so I gave up the chance of a career outside the home too). I also try to help others get to know and find our Lord. It’s not like I go door to door, lately, many friends have opened up about their beliefs with no prompting by me. So I do my best to help. I don’t preach, I am not qualified to or worthy of even calling myself a servant of our Lord with the mistakes I have made. I simply share my experiences, encourage them to go to church on a regular basis, take part in the sacraments (especially confession and communion) and, occassionally, put a rosary in their hand if they will take it. The rest is between them and the Lord. At first I worried, what if it doesn’t work, they’ll hate me?! Then I realized, God NEVER let me down, as a matter of fact, he is the only one who hasn’t. And if they give him chance, he will not let them down either. It’s not about me and my personal standing with my friends, it’s about the Lord and praying that more people wake up and realize where true happiness really lies. The car and computer could blow for all I care, I just want my family to be safe and God to never abandon me. God Bless.

  5. Hey! That’s real Christian love, diving back into the water to try to save the beer! (grin grin). I loved today’s blog, so I will work extra hard at placing God, and my neighbor before my love of my philosophy books and the computer. I want to be in fun, with today’s message. Thanks Msgr. Pope.

  6. I don’t really understand the relation of having ‘possessions’ or ‘material advantage’ to being ‘good’. I do know from experience that living simply is really the best thing. I’m happy with my philosophy books, and this blog, to state matters simply. The quest for material gain gets you involved with the ‘ego’, while a quest for God, is a quest for the integrity (three persons in One God) of the person-hood of the individual. I do think that such a quest could be selfish however. I found this out when I was studying Buddhism over a decade ago. That it would really be ‘selfish’ on my part to want to be enlightened. Thus they have Bodhistavas (sp) who choose to remain in the world to help others. Jesus told us to leave our possessions and follow him but He choose to help, love and indeed sacrifice Himself for others as his prime purpose. What an example for the Bodi! As your blog says: God, our neighbor and our selves, before possessions. Perhaps it’s an ordering of importance, and tells us what should be ‘central’ in our lives. To be complete in our selves then requires us first to be complete in the higher purpose of loving God as well as our selves as a basis for love of our neighbor. (I think I can keep my computer and my books, although I don’t drink beer) Just found this one! Thought I had lost it and gave it up.

  7. For me, the ER, God, family, and good friends are what is central to me in my life. As for possessions, the ones I would struggle the most without would be my car, mp3, cell phone and laptop (since some of my classes are online – losing this would be a problem!). Checking this blog every day and occasionally commenting have also been a part of my daily routine.

    I’m a pretty honest person (and the worst liar ever, you could see right through me if I tried to lie, so honesty seems to be the best way to go), and honestly, faithwise, I don’t have as good of a routine as I should. Part of not having a routine is because of work – I never really know what exactly my schedule is, sometimes not until the last moment, so I miss church events and occasionally Sunday Mass. I’ve tried to have a routine, and it felt like I was trying to be someone I really wasn’t. Every once in a while, I’ll go on a “Catholic kick”, where I go to daily mass almost every day, and Confession once a month, and Catholic talks and lectures. But it gets hard for me to keep it up, because sometimes my faith isn’t very strong. I also have a huge fear of Confession, despite reading lots of resources on it, and even going to wonderful, understanding priests (I had a bad experience a few years ago regarding something rather big).

    I don’t know if my struggles with my faith are because of my age, or my experiences. But I have made reading this blog a part of my daily routine, and it’s a start to helping me keep the faith 🙂

  8. Yes. I do love God above all things…and I have at times had to remind myself God is at my house and in the people I meet at work and the parish. I am very active (as a doer) at my parish and there are times I have to step back and say God I love you so much I going home, to be with you in my kids. I learned that I am the temple of the Holy Spirit and if I am, so are others. This has been very hard for me because I only see the person in front of me and when they talk back to me or cut me off… it drives me crazy… I forget myself at times and react in a not so Christian way…but I try…and I try and I get tired…then I try some more…I have learned I can serve God in many ways… I guess my point is, it is a HARD road to travel.. with many speed bumps and or humps…
    Mary pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death…

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