Over the last few days I was thinking about the people in Pakistan: one minute just getting on with their daily business, the next minute drowned in a flood. Think of any one of those people who died. One moment they are just getting on with their lives, then suddenly they are before God knowing what their whole life was about. It is the same with the tsunami and other disasters. Here on earth one minute and the next, suddenly in the spiritual world, which is hidden from us now, but is just as real.
If I was suddenly told, like in the Gospel, ‘This very night the demand will be made for your soul,’ I wonder what would I focus on for the rest of the day? Would I be worried about paying off bills, or loans? I doubt it. I’d imagine my focus would turn to the people I love and also to wondering how I have lived my life so far.
At the moment many people in our society—including many who consider themselves Christians—are living as though there were no after-life, as though our life on earth were everything. If that were so, then we might as well grab all we can and make our life as comfortable as possible, because we only have one chance. But our faith tells us something completely different. Perhaps the most important thing it tells us is that we will not find full happiness in this life, but in the next, if we choose God. Complete happiness is not to be found in this life. We will have moments of great happiness, and hopefully we will find overall contentment, but that’s about as good as it gets.
When Our Lady appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes 150 years ago, one of the things she said to her was, ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.’ The point of that message and of the teachings of Christ is to remind us not to ‘miss the bus’, so to speak. It’s important that we don’t forget what our life is really about. We are only on this earth for a short time.
In Jesus’ time the problem of greed for money was just as much of a problem as it is now, and it will probably always be this way. When this man said to Jesus, ‘Tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance,’ straight away Jesus pointed out to the disciples the danger of this desire. He said, ‘Watch out for this.’ ‘A person’s life is not made secure by what he owns.’ The problem is that our society tells us the opposite.
I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of families split in half over inheritance. It is so sad, because it is not important. Of course it is not right when someone in a family is done out of their fair share of what is coming to them, but sooner or later we will leave it all behind anyway. ‘There is no tow-bar on the hearse,’ as they say! Is it really worth causing such division in a family for this? I suppose it is a sign again that we believe we will find happiness if we have enough of everything materially. If we get the right car, house, job, furniture, etc, then we will be happy. The reality is, we won’t. It is nice to have these things, and don’t get me wrong, I am all for people being able to have a good standard of living, but these things won’t bring us happiness because we are much deeper than this.
God has made us in such a way that we will only be fulfilled in him. Our time here on earth is a time for learning to love and serve; to choose for God or not; and this is a choice that each one of us has to make individually. That is why each week we come to listen to the Word of God and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, so that we remember what our life is about. The key is in making sure that God is at the centre. Otherwise we will forget what we are here for.
‘This very night the demand will be made for your soul;
and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’