In 1929 in the financial district of New York city, several wealthy business men committed suicide all at the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘The Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly they killed themselves. Money had become everything for them. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for. It seems that many of them despaired.
Several years ago two good friends of mine by the names of Maura Grealish and Marina Hayden took their final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. They took four vows, of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. They will never own anything of her own, they will not get married, and they will spend the rest of her lives enclosed in a convent, dedicating their time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some people consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Their lives lived in this way—as with any Religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time. Jesus says to us: ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)
These two situations are the complete opposite of each other. Sometimes people in the financial world put everything into their money. Money becomes the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. That is certainly not true of everyone. There are also many who are extremely generous. But in contrast, Sisters Maura and Marina and many others have given up everything for God and are depending totally on God for everything.
Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. as I’m sure you know.
Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people quite often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Who would we turn to, to make some sense of our life? Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is there with us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him if we have made the right choices.
In the Gospel Jesus says ‘You cannot serve God and money’. We must choose who is going to be our master. That doesn’t mean that we can not enjoy our money or the things we have, but we must be careful to use it wisely. At the end of the day it is only a tool and if it was suddenly taken away from us, we would still survive.
When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by that. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. God has made us much deeper than just flesh and blood. We also have a spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone. We are called to something greater.
I just want to finish with a few verses from Psalm 49.
No one can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
In his riches man lacks wisdom,
he is like the beasts that are destroyed.