WORLDLY LIFE BLINDS US TO WHAT IS REALLY ESSENTIAL IN LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 17:5-10; LK 16:19-31 ]
During the season of Lent, the Church invites everyone to a deeper prayer life complemented by fasting and almsgiving. Why is that so? This is because during this annual retreat of the whole Church culminating in the celebration of New Life at Easter, we are called to go back to the essentials of life. Lent is a celebration of spring and during this season; we recall the beginning of life. If this life were to grow and blossom, we must then ask the most fundamental question of how life is to be lived fully and fruitfully.
But even before we can attempt to do this, we must ask ourselves what is the main obstacle that is preventing us from looking at life in a holistic manner. The truth is that when we look at life merely from the sensual and material world, we reduce ourselves to material beings. We are on the same level of animals, fishes and insects where they eat, sleep and work for their food. Beyond that, they have no purpose in life. But we are human beings. We look for more than just physical needs or material satisfaction; we look for meaning, purpose and love. In seeking these non-material things, it proves that we are more than mere animals. We have a spirit or a soul or a mind that seeks truth, meaning and love.
This explains why Jeremiah warns us, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of the flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord. He is like dry scrub in the wastelands: if good comes, he has no eyes for it, he settles in the parched places of the wilderness, a salt land, uninhabited.” If we have eyes only on the material world and the things of this world, we cannot go far. When we rely on sensual enjoyment, we will reach saturation and then find life so meaningless. How much can a person really eat and drink? Even if he or she could, is meaning found in eating and drinking and merrymaking? Does he or she not need to feel useful, contributive to society and grow in understanding, knowledge and love? As Jeremiah says, that man who seeks only for the things of this world will feel empty, always like a desert and always living in wilderness.
This was the case of the rich man in today’s gospel. He was indifferent to the plight of the poor man, Lazarus. He was not an evil man. He did nothing wrong. He was just enjoying himself, dressed in luxury and enjoying life. But because of his attachment to the world and living such a sensual life, he was oblivious to the suffering of the poor man. Even the dogs knew that Lazarus was sick, hungry and lonely. Only the dogs came to console him in his abandonment, gave him love, company and licked his wounds to heal him. And there are many of such people like the rich man today. They are busy with their careers, with their social life, entertainment, fine dining, holidaying, etc but forget that their loved ones are lonely at home, the poor, the hungry and the sick are at their backyard,.
It is basically a sin of indifference and omission. Indifference comes from the lack of touch with human reality. When people live in their castles, they are sheltered from the realities of life. They take for granted what they have and what they are enjoying. They do not know what it means to be hungry, what it is to be without food or water; or be without a job. They do not know what it means to be sick without medical care because of the lack of no money to see a doctor. They do not understand why for the lower income earners, every dollar is a big deal, especially when it means nothing for the rich. They do not know the inconvenience of the poor having to make end meets, paying for education and health care. They do not know the worries of the elderly and the loneliness they go through. Indeed, when we live in our own world, we end up not feeling with them and therefore we have no pity except condemnation and disgust for them. We look down on them and despise them. Instead of showing compassion, we blame them for the situations they are in. We do nothing to lift up their lives.
If we think that by reaching out to the poor and the needy we can be contented, then again we are wrong. Even having an authentic human relationship is not sufficient to give us true meaning in life. The Lord said, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man.” In other words, even if we go beyond the “things of the flesh” but our “hearts turn from the Lord”, we have no fulfillment or joy. A day will come when we realize that our health will fail regardless how health conscious we are. Tragedy will come without preparation. Our loved ones will meet a tragic accident or we will suffer the death of our dear ones. The business that we built over the years could collapse in a matter of months. Our wealth could be taken away in an instant. Life is unpredictable. So nothing in this world will stay. Our friends and spouse will have to leave us when the time comes.
The teaching from Gaudium et Spes captures what the scripture readings want to say. “Very many people, infected as they are with a materialistic way of life, cannot see this dramatic state of affairs in all its clarity, or at least are prevented from giving thought to it because of the unhappiness that they themselves experience. Many think that they can find peace in the different philosophies that are proposed. Some look for complete and genuine liberation for man from man’s efforts alone. They are convinced that the coming kingdom of man on earth will satisfy all the desires of his heart. There are those who despair of finding any meaning in life: they commend the boldness of those who deny all significance to human existence in itself, and seek to impose a total meaning on it only from within themselves. But in the face of the way the world is developing today, there is an ever increasing number of people who are asking the most fundamental questions or are seeing them with a keener awareness: What is man? What is the meaning of pain, of evil, of death which still persist in spite of such great progress? What is the use of those successes achieved at such a cost? What can man contribute to society, what can he expect from society? What will come after this life on earth?”
What we need is a relationship with God as the basis before everything else. This is what the prophet Jeremiah says, “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord. With the Lord for his hope, he is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit.” Our life is more than this world. We are destined for eternal life. Only Christ can give us the answer to the fullness of life. Only Christ by His life, passion, death and resurrection can reveal to us our true identity and our goal in life. Only He as the Way, the Truth and the Life can show us how to live that fullness of life in love and service of God and man.
The question is, whether we are ready to stop and reflect on how we are living our life. Are we still too absorbed by the world that we never learn our lesson till it is too late? If so, then we suffer the tragedy of the rich man. It is so significant that the rich man is not even named in the gospel because he is that man the world can be identified with. He is that man who does not even know himself, and even less of others and God. Only the poor man was named. He was given a name because he knew God and God knew him. In his sufferings, he did not complain and he did not curse. He accepted his sufferings humbly and with fortitude. Hence, God rewarded him with the fullness of life by embracing him. Life is fulfilled in God alone. So we are warned not to be like the rich man who regretted, albeit too late. Abraham made it clear to him when he asked for a favour to warn his five brothers. He said, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” How true! If you do not repent and begin to take stock of your life, it will be too late. You would have lived your life in vain. We can enjoy our lives right now but at our death bed, we cannot face God, our fellowmen and even ourselves, because our life has been lived only for ourselves and for this world. How can we have the dignity and courage to face God after death when we had nothing to do with Him and the saints when we were on earth? “Not so are the wicked, not so! For they like winnowed chaff shall be driven away by the wind for the Lord guards the way of the just but the way of the wicked leads to doom.”
So let us during this season of Lent make time for prayer, a prayerful meditation on the Word of God. We must ask those things that are really essential for happiness in life. Let us not pursue the transient and the passing things of this world. What will last? Love, relationships, goodness, compassion and charity are the things that will last. When we are convicted that life is more than eating and enjoying, then we begin to reach out to the poor in almsgiving. As we reach out to them, we begin to see God and appreciate life more, especially those things that we have taken for granted. We begin to feel with our brothers and sisters in their sufferings, in their joy and we become more human and therefore godly.
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.