STAGES TO ETERNAL LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ SIR 17:20-28; 31:1-2,5-7; MK 10:17-27 ]
Are you living in Sheol, a life of darkness and emptiness? You are in Sheol if you cannot praise God for the life that you have. This is what Sirach says, “Who will praise the Most High in Sheol, if the living does not do so by giving glory to him? To the dead, as to those who do not exist, praise is unknown, only those with life and health can praise the Lord.” Those who find life meaningless and a chore are indeed living in Sheol. They are not happy with their life and they are not happy with others as well. They are always lamenting about their situation, unable to see any good in their life to give thanks to God. Such people are pessimistic about life.
What is blocking us from seeing the light and our life in perspective? It is our sins of selfishness and our pursuit of comfort and an easy life. When we seek our self-interest, we only focus on what others have and what we do not. We fall into the sin of envy. Before that, we were quite happy and contented with our life, until we see that others have more or that we have less. We become competitive and greed enters into our life. We feel that we also need to have what others have. So we need to repent of our sins to see the light. “To those who repent God permits return, and he encourages those who were losing hope. Return to the Lord and leave sin behind, plead before his face and lessen your offence. Come back to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hold in abhorrence all that is foul.” When we remove greed and selfishness from our life, then we will be able to see what we do clearly. In truth, there are many things we do not really need in life. We can be very happy if we learn the meaning of contentment and to enjoy what we already have. We must not think that those who live in luxury, or are holding important positions in life are happy and fulfilled. These only add more stress, anxiety and responsibilities to life.
That is why we must accept the fact that life is never easy. God has never promised us an easy life either. To His disciples who were ambitious, He said, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father. You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (cf Mt 20:23-28) To His would-be followers, Jesus in no uncertain terms said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34f) And to those would-be disciples of His, He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (cf Lk 9:57-62)
To find happiness in life, the Word of God asks us to obey the Commandments. When the rich man asked the Lord, “‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; you must not commit adultery; you must not steal; you must not bring false witness; you must not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him.” Observing the commandments, therefore, is the way to walk the path of truth and love. It is the way to find peace in our heart and mind. When we go against our conscience, we cannot live in peace, knowing that we have not been faithful to God’s voice in us.
Observing the commandments alone might keep us at peace but it lacks the power to give us the drive to do things. There are many Catholics, including priests and religious, who are obedient to the laws of God. But they do not seem to have life in them. They are rigid, self-righteous, lacking compassion and judgmental. They become more like the Pharisees and the rich man in the gospel. They have done all that the laws require, and they have peace of mind, but they experience emptiness. When legalism takes over our lives, we behave as if we are robots. Things run efficiently according to the rules, but it can kill creativity and initiative for fear that we will break the laws.
For this reason, keeping the commandments is not sufficient to give us life. We must seek detachment. Jesus told the rich man, “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own.” True joy comes when we are not attached to our money, power and status in life. When Jesus told the rich man to sell everything, it does not mean that there and then he was to get rid of his property. What is important is that we are no longer attached to them so that we can have the freedom to decide and use them for love and service. Most of us lack the freedom to do what we know should be done, or even to express our convictions in life, because we are curtailed by our desire to remain in power, office, position, and be in the favour of the majority. That is why those who are apparently powerful are the weakest because they cannot always speak their mind or do things that they are truly convinced of, for fear of losing their power, wealth and position. They are prisoners of the world. Like the rich man, we read that “his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.” He was not able to let go of his ambition, his reliance on worldly goods, and his love for recognition, power and support. This explains why the Lord said, “‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'”
Next, we must focus on the poor. Jesus said, “give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The great joy in life is to know that we have lifted up the life of someone else. Giving hope to those who are hopeless, joy to the joyless, love to the loveless make us truly human and therefore more like God. If God is so full of joy and life, it is because God is love. To reach out to the poor means to care for the weak and those who need our encouragement, sometimes in words, sometimes through a service, sometimes even material and financial help. When our life is focused on helping others, we will live a most fulfilling life, knowing that we have expended our life for them. That is why Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” (Jn 15:12-14, 16f) This explains why people find social work so empowering and enriching in spite of the challenges in helping the poor and making a difference in their lives. At least at the end of the day, we feel that we have done our part for humanity and we can leave this world with a clear conscience. Emptying ourselves as Jesus did for the world so that God can fill us.
But this is not the end of the journey. The path of love and service and detachment are the means to enter more fully into the life of God. That is why Jesus told the man that after selling everything and giving to the poor, he was to “follow me!” We do not give up the world for nothing, but for everything. To have Jesus in our life is what will give us true meaning in life. Being with Jesus, living with Him and in Him is what will lead us to the fullness of life. What we need is a relationship with the Lord so that we are in relationship with our fellowmen. Only relationships that are sincere, life-giving, faith-filled and positive can bring us true happiness and joy. With Jesus, we can overcome all the challenges in giving ourselves to others. For Jesus said, “For men, it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.” Truly with the psalmist, we can declare, “Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord, exult, you just!”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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