A BLESSED LIFE IS A HOLISTIC LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 COR 7:25-31; LUKE 6:20-26 ]
We all seek a blessed life, regardless whether we are believers or not. No one wants to suffer or be miserable in life. We all seek joy and happiness. The problem is that happiness is so elusive and many of us seek it in the wrong places and are left frustrated. What is the key to happiness? Jesus provides us the blueprint for happiness in the Beatitudes and St Paul helps us to see these beatitudes in perspective.
Against the common understanding of the means to happiness, Jesus in the Beatitudes forces us to change our mindset with regard to the values that the world presumes as the keys to happiness. Indeed, the beatitudes are too difficult for us to accept because they are against our cultural values. Specifically, Jesus highlighted four values that the world seeks, but which are in contrast to the gospel values.
Firstly, the value of riches. He said, “How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.” This is followed by a warning, “But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.” This advocacy to poverty was totally against the whole spirit and aspiration of the Jewish people and not in line with the Old Testament. The Jewish people associated God’s blessings, especially of prosperity, wealth and health, as indicators of having lived a godly life. Poverty was seen as an indictment of sinners. That is why the disciples were shocked to hear Jesus’ appraisal of riches and poverty.
Yet the truth remains that those who are rich can fall into many pits because they live in the illusion that they are self-sufficient. They rely on themselves and often cannot feel with the poor and the suffering. Riches can make a person arrogant and proud, living for himself, thinking that he has everything. Riches are often used to manipulate people and control others so that we can make use of them. Riches make us susceptible to the temptations of the flesh and of the world. We can over-indulge and be possessed by things and pleasures. We lack real friends and authentic relationships because we do not know who our true friends are.
Being poor is not a blessing in itself of course. Consciousness of our poverty helps us to depend on God alone and never become too proud of ourselves, or think that we are self-sufficient. Poverty makes us totally dependent on God and live under divine providence. Being poor helps us to feel with others who are deprived. We become more compassionate and understanding. We learn how to share whatever little we have with others who suffer even more than we do. Poverty teaches us to be grateful for whatever we have and thankful for whatever we are given. So a poor person lives in gratitude and in hope. He remains humble and compassionate.
Secondly, Jesus taught us the value of hunger. “Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.” This is contrasted with those who are filled. “Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.” This hunger is a hunger for justice and for love. It is more than just a physical hunger. The real hunger of humanity is more than the need for food. That is why those who have plenty of food to eat and drink, in spite of their self-indulgence remain hungry for true love and friendship. They get themselves sick and find life empty. No matter how much they indulge, they cannot be filled. Those who hunger for love and justice on the other hand, will find lasting peace and joy because they live a just and honest life. They are at peace and their hearts remain contented. They are full of love.
Thirdly, with respect to joys and sorrows, Jesus said, “Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.” Life is not all sorrow and not all joy. There will be times when we are sad. Nevertheless, sadness always gives way to joy. Those who are happy now will eventually be sad. To cling to happiness on this earth is an illusion. So long as we are in this life, there will be days of prosperity and adversity. Therefore, we must take them as they come and accept when they go. Clinging to them will cause even more sorrows. This explains why those who are happy will soon suffer tragedy, or their riches and blessings will lead them to abuse what they have, and cause them to suffer. As for those who suffer, their sufferings too will end. Nothing remains the same. As the book of Ecclesiastes says, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.” (Eccl 7:14) So too the book of Sirach says, “In the day of prosperity, adversity is forgotten, and in the day of adversity, prosperity is not remembered.” (Sir 11:25)
Finally, Jesus warns us about authenticity and fortitude in leadership. “Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way the ancestors treated the false prophets.” This is the greatest temptation of the world today. Leaders are no longer leading their people to the truth and to real happiness. Leaders are being led by the people’s whims and fancies. Today, leaders provide false hope and illusive happiness to their peoples. This life is full of compromises. Leaders seek to do the popular thing because that is what the people want and like.
However, look at the world today. There is an increasing promiscuity, resulting in a growing number of divorces, broken families, same sex union and cohabitation. In place of self-sacrifice for the greater good of others, the emphasis is on individualism, self-fulfillment, materialism and consumerism. There is a lack of respect for life, whether at birth or in old age. Indeed, there are few great and authentic leaders who dare to lead people to seek what is truly good for them. They are unpopular, condemned and may even lose their lives, but at least they will save humanity.
In the light of the exposition of the fallacies of the world with regard to such values, the Lord presents to us the contrasting values. It is not that the Lord condemns riches, plenty, happiness or having a good name. Rather, He was presenting to us the serious dangers of being too attached to such pursuits in life. In themselves, they cannot bring happiness. In fact, if not handled properly, the riches, plenty and positions the Lord gives us can even lead us to greater disaster. It is for this reason that the preference is to be poor and hungry so that we will not stray too far. Of course, poverty can also drive one to be greedy and ambitious.
The ultimate key to looking at riches and poverty, plenty and privations, joys and sorrows, popularity and fidelity is to look at all these with equanimity. This is the advice of St Paul when he spoke about marriage and virginity. He says it does not matter whether you are married or single. “It is good for a man to stay as he is. If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom; if you are free of a wife, then do not look for one. But if you marry, it is no sin, and it is not a sin for a young girl to get married. They will have their troubles, though, in their married life, and I should like to spare you that.” Whichever vocation we choose in life, single or married, we will have our challenges. There is no guarantee that married people will not be lonely, have no sexual temptations and find life. Whether married or single, we will have to be purified in an authentic love of self and others.
So St Paul urges us to learn to live in a detached manner in light of the truth that all things are passing. “I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.” Only God remains and we must give our focus on the kingdom that is to come whilst making use of both riches and poverty to arrive at it. Enjoy what we have and be contented, accepting whatever comes from the Lord and use them well for love and for service of the kingdom. “Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it.”
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.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.