Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
Through Scripture, the Spirit has been clear and unambiguous in relation to earthly possessions, power and prestige, and the fate that always awaits it. Whether earned from scratch through sheer hard work “in all wisdom, knowledge and skill,” or inherited from family fortunes, such treasures are “not that which gives you life.” They are “meaningless,” bringing us no real happiness and peace, not only because they are destined to be left “to someone who has not worked for it,” but because they are merely centered on the satiation of the self.
Self-centeredness surely leads to a death, soon to be forgotten.
On the other hand, “meaningful” riches are treasures centered on both being graciously received and graciously given away, on an uncompromising responsibility of the self towards the other in need, hence on the spiritual intention to seek “the things that are above … not on earthly things.” They are centered on the exemplar of the Christ, who is revealed in us through the selflessness which he inspires, a life-orientation willfully rejecting “immorality, impurity, inordinate passions, wicked desires and greed,” but which first entails the difficult conversion “from the old self to the new self.” Such riches are what makes attachment to earthly treasures “meaningless;” and detachment from them through evangelical simple living “meaningful.”
Selflessness surely leads to a passing that will never be forgotten “in the eyes of God.”
However, in embracing evangelical simple living, which is meant to detach us from the allurement of earthly treasures so that we can freely love God and others, we must not be similarly detached from the reality of real poverty. Evangelical simple living though self-liberating, must become the direct means for us to free others from the oppression of real poverty.
It must always be recalled that real poverty is the consequence primarily of our human instinct towards a self-contained, self-sustained self-centeredness, and of the social structures we create and maintain to support it. In other words, real poverty is caused precisely by the desire of one to hoard “meaningless” earthly advantages, at the expense and to the disadvantage of another. It must also be recalled that the pursuit of one’s interests for self-preservation though morally acceptable, can become morally questionable when one’s pursuit already becomes a hindrance to another’s right to their own growth and development. Therefore, it is imperative for the sake of social harmony to strive for a social equality in which those who have more than what they need, must be exhorted to give from that excess to those who have less, so that all will have what they need.
Evangelical simple living – or “meaningful” poverty – consists of an active decreasing of what “one needs” in order to increase “how much can be given for others.” It is a praxis of “living simply so that others can simply live,” a way of “everyday life” with which anyone can without difficulty respond to our Lord’s invitation to care for and protect his creation in love. It is an understanding and witnessing which firmly refuses to appropriate earthly goods in an inordinate surplus typically fueled by the desire to “have more,” and which actively redistributes these surpluses for those who have no voice and who are without influence or authority. It is a mindset mirroring the true intent of the Spirit that earthly life is and was never meant to be such a burden, that if we can only justly share the gifts of divine providence with one another, then there will be much less worries about “not having enough,” or about “having too much.” It is truly a subtle tool which anyone can enact to combat real poverty, and it may perhaps be the most powerful means for the true followers of the Christ to help achieve the kingdom of God.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.