Any time there is a natural or human disaster, such as the killings in Nice or Munich recently, it makes me think. One minute those people were just enjoying fireworks on the beach, the next minute they are before God knowing what their whole life was about. That could be there for any of us.
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 have I lived my life so far.
At the moment many people in our society, many people—including Christians—are living as though there is no after-life, as though our life on earth is everything. At funerals I often hear people talking about the dead person as though that were it. Their existence is over; they are extinguished forever. 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. We are all the time being told that if we have enough of everything we will be happy. But that is not what the Lord teaches us. That’s not where our happiness comes from.
There was a priest called Benedict Groeschel who founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Bronx in New York. He died in 2014. He was a great preacher and he tells the story of a man he knew who was extremely wealthy. At a particular function this man spoke to Fr. Groeschel, and he said, ‘Father, I have more money than I could ever spend or use and I would really like to be able to put it to good use.’ Fr. Groeschel suggested that he could make a donation to one of the orphanages they run, or something similar. But by the end of the evening the man had not agreed to part with one cent. It’s as if he was possessed by his wealth. He knew he had way more than he could use, but he was still unable to part with it.
In confession I have heard so many heart-breaking stories of families divided over inheritance. It is so sad, because it is not important. Of course it is not good when someone in a family is left out of their fair share of what is coming to them, but sooner or later we will have to leave it all behind anyway. ‘There is no hitch on the hearse,’ as they say! We will take nothing with us when we die. 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 very nice to have these things, but these things won’t bring happiness because we are much deeper than this. Our spirit can never be content with just material things and that is why there is always this deeper longing in us for ‘something’ although we’re often not quite sure what that something is.
God has made us in such a way that we can only be fulfilled in him. It’s interesting that up to recently at least, one of the most popular areas of sales in book stores was the occult, which is another kind of search for the spiritual. Everyone is searching, even if we are searching in the wrong place.
Our time here on earth is a time of love and service; 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.
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’