Monday, March 03, 2014

Are you possessed by your possessions?

In his book Happy Are You Poor(Ignatius 2003), Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. writes, 
for us wounded 
human beings, possessing imperceptibly slips into being possessed.
”  

We live in a culture of things.  The world tells us that our happiness and fulfillment exists in objects.  For
 
the most part our grooming and education is geared toward the goal of accumulating items of value.  Those of us who try to live lives that are faithful to the Gospel are not exempt. Often our religiosity can
 
lull us into believing we are detached from the desire for worldly goods when in fact we are possessed
 
by the very objects we claim to possess.

For a Christian in today’s society this detachment can be extremely difficult to achieve.  It is difficult
 
because the radical nature of Christ’s message has been diluted.  In many denominations Jesus is either
 
the friend next door that will hang with you no matter what you do or He is the social justice superhero of
 the Twenty-first century.  

The predominate Christian message today is that we should all “love” each other and we are all free to make up our own definition of “love”.  Hardly ever do we hear the message that Jesus wants us and wants us without any baggage!  I have never heard a radio evangelist call those listening to renounce all they have and follow Jesus.    I have never heard a priest call his parishioners to sell their second car and give the money to the poor.

Too often we rationalize by saying, “I give this much to the Church and I pray and I am a good person.”  
The Gospel has a blunt and difficult answer for us, if we have the ears to hear.  When the rich young man
 approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments.  The young man replies that he is doing all of that.  In short, he is a “good person.”  
Jesus replies that the next step would be for him to sell what he has, give it to the poor, and then follow
 
Him.  This disturbs the young man and he goes away.  Here, we could ask a simple question, “why
 
couldn’t the young man simply follow Jesus?  Why did he need to detach himself from his worldly
 
goods?”

To follow Christ and to follow Him closely requires a complete detachment from earthly goods.  We 
cannot serve God and mammon.  We cannot have it both ways.  This in no way means that we can
 
posses nothing but that we should not be possessed by anything.  Our soul, spirit and disposition should
 be one that could care less about any possession we claim to possess.  This sounds easy but we are, as Fr. Dubay says, “wounded human beings.”

Think of the last gift you received and the person who gave it to you as well.  Now imagine parting with 
it.  Is it hard to imagine parting with this object?  Why?  Is it because you look at it often and enjoy its
 
beauty?  Is it because the gift has deep sentimental value?  Why is it so hard for you to imagine being
 
without this item that until recently you never had in your possession?  Have you imperceptibly slipped
 
into being possessed by that object?

If you are truly honest you will admit, as will I, that when faced with the above questions you rationalized many reasons as to why you should not part with the particular item.  That is our fallen human nature at work.  With this simple self examination we find that not only are we fighting against a world that offers all that glitters, beeps, and tastes wonderful, but also against our fallen desires and a tempter who one moment is our advocate and the next our accuser.

How can we live this radical call of Jesus?  How can we detach ourselves from everything to the point
 
that we haven’t a care for anything except Jesus?  How do we get over the speed bump of being a
 
“good person” and back on the road to being a holy person?


Detachment and asceticism is something we have to choose and more importantly, we have to pray for the graces needed for those practices.  Lent is a great time to start the detachment process.  Lent gives us ample opportunity to deny ourselves and follow Jesus.  It is a season that, if taken seriously, can take us from being merely good to holy.  Let us pray during this holy season that we will no longer be possessed by our possessions.

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