What does Heaven Cost? A Meditation on the "Curse" of Affluence

Heaven costs everything. This is made plain by the parable spoken by the Lord in today’s Gospel:

The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides  again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. (Matt. 13:44-46)

The most common interpretation of this parable is that we have to be willing to forsake everything to obtain heaven. But more radically, the parable isn’t saying we have to be willing to forsake everything, but that we WILL forsake, or at least lose, everything. The question is, will we do this willingly and even with a kind of joy, or will be do so resentfully and die with a hardened heart?

The truth is, there is absolutely nothing that you now have that you will not be required at some point to give up. No thing you think you own is really yours. It is God’s and you and I will give it back. There is no person you love whom you will not have to give back to God.

It has been my experience that I spent most of the first 25 years of my life acquiring but ever since I have been giving back. I have given back my youthful energy, much of the hair on my head, my slender figure, my almost perfect health. Little by little my eyesight and hearing are diminishing. I have had to say goodbye to my grandparents, then I buried my parents. My sister too I have given back to the Lord.

Now the question for me is, do I do this resentfully or with gratitude and acceptance? We live in a time where loss and difficulty in this life is not easily accepted. Loss has never been easy to accept but I am convinced we are especially challenged by the notion of loss and decline. This is because we have obtained a level of comfort and ease unknown to even our most recent ancestors. Electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, endless labor saving devices and abundant consumer products, cheap and widely available, have all brought forth an expectation from most of us moderns that life is supposed to be pleasant and easy. When it is not we are quickly resentful and sometimes even threaten lawsuits. We live so comfortably today that it is rare to hear people in the general population speak of a longing for heaven.

The Older View – Our most recent ancestors often spoke of life as a valley of tears, as an exile. The Salve Regina says, “The thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee we do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears…..after this our exile show unto to us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”  This prayer, and others like it were written out the the experience that this life was often unpredictable, filled with sudden turns and sorrows; life could be brutal and short until very recently. In many parts of the world today it still is. This climate produces a much deeper longing for heaven and a sober understanding that this world is not all that fabulous. Even in the affluent West we have to admit, if we sober up for a moment, that life is difficult and that the party we are so “privileged” to be in will end.

Prosperity Gospel? – An old spiritual  says, “Soon I will be done with the troubles of this world, going home to live with God.” But most people today in the affluent West, even committed Christians, inebriated with the world’s comforts,  speak little of heaven. Often when we pray it is generally some prayer that God make this world a better place: Please Lord, fix my finances, fix my health, get me a better job. It is not wrong to pray for this but when that is all we pray for it is almost as if we were saying to God, “Give me enough comfort, health, and resources and I’ll just stay here forever.” We’ve all been a little infected with the “prosperity gospel.” But when in our prayer do we long for God and to be with him in heaven? When do we ask  him to make us holy and prepare us to meet him? It is natural to have a fear of death but in the end, if we are faithful, death is also to be a longed-for moment that we prepare for with both sobriety and longing,  for it is then that we go to meet God, our heart’s truest longing.

In this sense our comfort and affluence have not blessed us, they have cursed us and made us much harder to save. The Lord remarked how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven (cf Luke  18:24). And we in the affluent and modern west are very rich. Even the poorest among us live like royalty compared to the poor elsewhere. We are much harder to save for we are stubbornly attached to this world and most of us are exceedingly unwilling to sell everything we have for the Kingdom of God. We enjoy our creature comforts far too much to be willing to easily part with them. Paradoxically our losses and suffering can be blessings for us in that they can begin to loose this world’s strong attraction and restore in us a greater longing for heaven and a willingness to leave this inferior kingdom for the greater one. It is strong medicine to be sure and we are not asked to like it but we must learn to accept it.

And acceptance is the key for the medicine to work. That we accept it does not mean we have to like it. Loss is always painful, giving back is hard. But accepting that, in the end, we will one day give back everything we have to God brings a paradoxical serenity. God has something better for us, but it means we have to trust Him and leave here, having given everything back.  It is the refusal to accept this that brings a bitterness, a resentfulness that hardens our heart and makes us very hard to save.

The fact is, the Lord must root from us every attachment and vestige of the world before we can obtain heaven or even want it sufficiently. In the end we will get what we want: heaven at the price of all this, or eternal separation from the God we have grown to resent because we consider the price too high. But the choice is ours. The Kingdom of GOD is like a man who found it and out of JOY goes and sells all that he has. Pray for detachment and a serene acceptance. The price is high, but God has something far better than this valley of tears.

Here is a sermon I preached on this this morning: http://frpope.com/audio/17%20Wed.mp3

30 Replies to “What does Heaven Cost? A Meditation on the "Curse" of Affluence”

  1. Sometimes I wish it was possible to at least know what I was going to lose everything and everyone for. Its hard having to wonder if all that loss is worth it, when my only idea of heaven is some vauge joy that at times seems rather lonely, especially because I can’t even be sure those people I gave up on earth will be there when I have to finally go there myself.

    I know intellectually that it wont be so bad, but it almost doesnt seem worth getting to close to people on earth just to have to let them go here and maybe not even be there (heh, assuming I get to the Kingdom) in the here-after. But I admit, maybe i’m being negative.

    Maybe it is worth it?

    1. You have raised one of the essential problems of the modern age to wit: the image of heaven is neither compelling nor appealing to many. Both Pope Benedict and this pope (Msgr. Pope!) have ponder this probelm. I wrote a blog post some time back and wonder if you might consider referring to it. I quote Benedict XVI in that article. The essential burden of the article is to try and ponder in a more appealing way what eternal life really is. THe Blog article is here: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/what-is-eternal-life/

      1. Its worth it! Its worth it! Our compensation is the greatest secret of the universe, the greatest treasure there is. It will be so great that all eternity will not be enough to understand it. God is limitless, and a greatful God will be unlimmited in compensation for all our efforts and pains and sorrows. Nothing is going unrecorded. Not one prayer is lost. Pray for me then, please to one day give up everything for the priesthood. Its worth it!

      2. If we want to have some idea of what eternal life will be like, we can consider the life of prayer now!
        Contemplative prayer (something which is meant to be a normal part of every Christian’s life) is a foretaste of heaven.
        St. Thomas Aquinas said that the pleasure and delight of contemplative prayer exceeds every other earthly pleasure–of course, this is impossible to understand for anyone who has never reached the point of contemplation.
        Simply morning and evening prayers, as well as many little prayers (Jesus, I love you) throughout the day, and then regular 20-30 minute periods of more intense meditative prayer (a few times a week) is a good beginning for life eternal. In the midst of all that prayer, the Lord will certainly grant moments of contemplation and the delights of heaven!
        This is the firm teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori (feast is this Sunday).

  2. Msgr.,

    The other balancing act in all of this Life business is the tension between detachment and loving that those with whom you are to remain detached from. Detachment from this smartphone I write to you on is easy enough. If I saw the Lord on the horizon I’d stop typing in mid sentence and start my sprint! Easy. What is harder is letting go of those you love. I have six children and a wife who depend on me! They love me about as unconditionally as you can hope for in this life. So pardon me while I don’t make it an all out sprint to detach myself from them. If you catch my point. I think that family attachment makes Hope for heaven’s gate equal parts a burden. Your thoughts?

    1. You are right it is the hardest thing in life to say goodbye to those we love. I suppose my point is not that we should like or desire it but only that we have to accept that this too is part of life. One day you will decline and as death approaches must say goodbye to your children. God forbid that any of them might precede you in death but life does sometimes include this too. It is a true fact that, if we are faithful we will see them again in heaven but we must first lose our life here to gain it there. That is the focus of the article. Your reminder however of heaven’s reunion is most important. So agreed, do NOT make an all-out sprint to to detach from your family. Merely accept the inevitable separation to that death (at least temporarily) imposes.

      1. Matthew 19:

        16 And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? 17 Who said to him: Why do you ask me concerning good? One is good, God. But if you will enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He said to him: Which? And Jesus said: You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness. 19 Honour your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 20 The young man said to him: All these have I kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me? 21 Jesus said to him: If you will be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. 22 And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples: Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. 25 And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered much, saying: Who then can be saved? 26 And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.

        27 Then Peter answering, said to him: Behold we have left all things, and have followed you: what therefore shall we have? 28 And Jesus said to them: Amen I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And every one that has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. 30 And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first.

  3. Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

    I pray this a lot. Once in a great while, I live up to it.

  4. Dear Msgr. Pope, I am an Italian reader, and I find that some of your articles are very interesting and may be useful also for italian readers.
    Unfortunately, many italians can’t read english, so I am asking your permission to translate into italian some of your articles and publish them on http://porta-stretta.blogspot.com

    Thank you very much for your kind attention, and keep on with your good work.

  5. The Book of James says everything about affluence and the delusion of the rich, even those who think they are rich because of God, i.e. “Anyone who thinks God is about gain separate yourselves.”

  6. A truly beautiful and profound meditation on loss and self-sacrifice, one of the best I have ever read or heard. As a theologian very interested in questions of simplicity and poverty (sadly, not interested enough to act upon my conclusions), I was both enlightened and moved while reading. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for posting this.

  7. Indeed our affluence is a curse in that it attaches us to the things of this world, but also distracts us from realizing our pitiable condition.

    The following is a passage from Thérèse of Lisieux which I’ve always thought remarkable. I think it speaks of the acceptance and the “kind of joy” (not exactly joy in the conventional sense) one feels (at least if one is a saint) when contemplating the cost of Heaven (by comparison, Servus, you don’t seem so negative): “When I sing of the happiness of Heaven and the eternal possession of God, I do not feel any joy therein, for I sing only of what I wish to believe. Sometimes, I confess, a little ray of sunshine illumines my dark night, and I enjoy peace for an instant, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consoling me, makes the blackness thicker still. And yet never have I felt so deeply how sweet and merciful is the Lord. He did not send me this heavy cross when it might have discouraged me, but at a time when I was able to bear it. Now it simply takes from me all natural satisfaction I might feel in my longing for Heaven.”

  8. The other day I saw a funeral hearse headed to the cemetary, it had a full luggage rack, and a trailer hitch with a boat attached. OK, all kidding aside. In the Imitation of Christ (by: Thomas A. Kempis) in Book 2, Chapter 1, paragraph 4, it says: If you are unable to contemplate the Godhead (the glory of heaven), then let your thoughts dwell on the Passion of Christ, finding in those sacred wounds a home. If you fly to the wound in Christ’s side, you will find comfort in all your troubles. St. Augustine in one of his Confessions says: For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Maybe it is not what we cannnot take with us, but rather what we leave behind. Such as a good example for our children, and in my case, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Teach them the faith, be a trumpet (like St. Paul), and always be proud to be a Catholic everywhere.

  9. It seems the one thing we moderns do not have more of is time. Our ancestors (even recently) had for more time (and used it much more wisely) than we do. Maybe it is the capitalistic culture. Maybe it is the mad dash for possessions. But poverty of time is very real.

  10. I have a question that I would like answered.This week we completed a bible study on the Old Testament and the beginning of the Catholic Church. Something the narrator said made me think: I am full of anxieties most of the time mostly about the state of my family members who have given up the Faith readily in exchange for creature comforts and worse, and being in my 70’s, I think it is about time for these worries to stop,. I decided that I would “give God permission” to do what He wills in my life. I wrote out many “permissions” such as, “Lord, I give you permission to continue allowing my children to continue on the path to perdition, knowing you will bring them to salvation in your time.” “I give you permission to allow abortion to continue in this country.” Etc. Etc. I hope this is not blasphemous, but is has calmed my anxieties. When I get anxious now, I just remember, “Lord, I’ve already given you permission to allow this problem, difficulty or sorrow in my life, and I can stop worrying because I know you have everything under control.” This is also a way for me to give up control in any and all situations that require it.
    Thank you.

    1. I guess I would avoid the word permission. I don’t think we can give God permission. I DO think we can come to accept that God permits things that bother us. Perhaps acceptance is the word. Now note however, acceptance does not mean that we approve of everything or have to like it. It just means that we have come to accept that some things are as they are and that God will change them in his own time.

  11. Thank you Msgr. Charles, I really enjoyed this post. Living among the poor myself, I fully realize how difficult it is in bringing any one of them to the knowledge of a fuller life in Christ. Most are constantly trying to cash in on the lottery and become rich, thereby voiding the blessing of Christ, which is the inheritance of the earth.

  12. Good day Msgr. Pope, Thank you for this wonderful topic pardon me if most often i share my spiritual experience with your topic. I have experienced going up to heaven only in a dream (through vision, i guess) A very beautiful place, long stairs with beautiful songs at the background like the voice of the little angels and at the top of the stairs, i saw Mama Mary and there she talked to me giving me words of what will happen to my life and giving me Her promise that She will be with me. Going back home i encountered the things that She told me. When the time came that i have to do the “mission” on earth, i had again the privilege of going back to heaven and this time i was with Jesus, and Jesus showed me the beautiful paradise, the white room where the soul of the believers are patiently waiting and then i asked Jesus where is hell..but Jesus answered ..”it is 7 mountains away from where we are standing.” In another time, i asked Jesus to show me the “Father” and Jesus brought me to a place where there is a throne and i saw the Father ..He has no face but only the great light like the rays of sun and near Him is a Lady. It was really a great experience of visiting heaven with Mama Mary, Jesus and the Father and the cost only is by being obedient to the “will” of God, trusting Him with your whole life, body, soul and Spirit. Here on earth God has a plan..to make this earth a place like “heaven” and that is maybe the reason why God is calling for a Divine government because that is the cost of what heaven on earth is all about and the Kingdom of the Poor that the beatitudes is telling. Now, i live in the kingdom of the poor, the place where God told me to stay for His purpose that He only knows when and what to do. But even the time is not shown to others, i am sharing it to all brothers and sisters of the one catholic faith to give them hope that someday this world will be a better place to live in, when people have accepted the true meaning of God’s teaching and applying the words into action. A blessed day to all and peace remain in our hearts forever.

  13. The idea that the rich will not get into Heaven is absurd. The idea that the poor are somehow more “blessed” than the rich is absurd. This obsesive focus on poverty somehow being better than riches is a path straight into scrupulosity.

    How deprived do you have to be in order to “merit” Heaven? How poor is poor enough? In actuality, there is no answer. The discussion is ridiculous. You could argue this for the rest of your life and make no progress. Poverty for one person could be wealth to another. This is a completely intractable area. It is inarticulable. Entirely relative. “Rich” is a completely relative term. So is “poor.” The only way you can decide if you are rich or poor is by comparing youself to others. Which is precisely what Christ said that his followers should NOT do, for this very reason.

    No progress. No solution. No logic.

    There is no maximum dollar amount listed in the Bible that would qualify you for sin. There is no maximum property amount listed in the Bible that would qualify you for sin. Nor in any encyclical or Vatican publication. Quibbling about this area is a sin in itself.

    Worrying about whether you are too “rich” to enter Heaven causes untold guilt and suffering among many Catholics. Several of the comments listed here on this website confirm this. Instead of being concerned with genuine moral matters, people waste time worrying about whether they have “too much” money or property to enter Heaven.

    The person who wrote this website would do well to understand that the Catholic Church regards telling people to worry about their salvation based on their wealth is itself a serious mortal sin. It is heretical. If you have not heard of this, you have been reading the wrong material. There’s a lot of it. It causes confusion. And confusion is the realm of the devil.

    Interestingly, this argument in favor of poverty over wealth is actually quite selfish. The author of the above article, Msgr. “Pope” (if that’s his/her real name) claims that the rich will have to give up “everything” to enter Heaven. “Pope” makes Heaven sound like some kind of craven reward. To me, this sounds like just another form of greed. The author gives up “treasure” here, just to have “treasure” in Heaven. We have thus substituted one form of greed for another. The author extolls us to give up “earthly reward” so that we will have a big fat payoff in Heaven. I cannot imagine a worse reason for doing anything than thinking you are going to be rewarded for it. So much for morality. So much for charity. So much for Christian “righteousness.”

    I don’t recall Scripture or the Church ever saying that it is a sin to be rich; the only sin would be to put material possessions above God. Recall the quotation, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness, and all these things (riches, prosperity, happiness) shall be added unto you.” God comes first. And everything else comes from God. All this arguing is a vanity. The poorest person can stoke his ego, having won the day by being the “poorest.” Just another vanity.

    As a Catholic, I never cease to be offended by “Catholic” websites. Any fanatic with an axe to grind can post whatever immoral drivel they want. I strongly suspect that this website is a “Traditionalist Catholic” website, or an “Old Catholic” website. Traditionalists (like Mel Gibson) or so-called “Old Catholics” are not Catholic. They have their own church, with their own bishop, and their own narrow, strict beliefs. They are not in communion with the Pope or the Vatican, although they often make reference to such. They imprint their books with Imprimatures and Nihil Obstats in their fanatical effort to sound and look official. Their repressive, strict beliefs cause a remarkable amount of damage to ordinary Catholics who believe they are reading Catholic material, because it all sounds so authoritive and “upright.”

    1. The secondary point of the blog post is that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, not that it is impossible. The primary point of the blog post is that heaven costs everything and that we must willingly pay that price. If you liked this post 🙂 you love this one: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/you-cant-take-it-with-you-but-you-can-send-it-on-ahead/

      As for being a schismatic of some sort, I am not. I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.

      If I were to try and summarize your point of view I might call it the “prosperity gospel” point of view. Would I be right in that?

      Your observation about being authoritative and uptight is a funny one to me reading your comment given its tone. But alas we do tend to find in others what we most struggle with ourselves and I include myself in that.

      Anyway, peace be to you. I am not against the rich. First of all as an American I am one of them. Secondly I have often benefited as a priest from the generoisty of the rich toward the Church and the poor whom the Church tries to serve.

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