Our theme for this week builds on the contrast between what is temporary and what is eternal. It is good for us to take some time to ponder this contrast, and to evaluate how we are living our lives in relation to it.
It is simple common sense for us to be more concerned with things that are lasting than with things that are temporary. If our doctor says that an illness is only temporary and we will certainly return to good health in a short time, then we are not very concerned. But if he tells us that our poor health is due to some permanent condition and will likely not improve, then we are much more upset. Likewise, if our business suffers a temporary downturn but we can see that things will be picking up soon, then we are not worried, but if, on the other hand, something happens which causes our business to close down permanently, we are very concerned.
One area in which we clearly see the difference between what is temporary and what is more lasting is drug addiction. The reason people become addicted to drugs like cocaine and heroin is that these drugs do make one feel much better temporarily. Most people avoid these drugs, however, because we know that the good feelings they produce do not last, and the long-term effects of taking them are very destructive. We see that the temporary good feeling is not worth the lasting damage which follows.
What the readings today are trying to help us to see is that the same logic applies to our relationships with the world and with God. The world offers us a vast array of ways to feel better in the moment, temporarily. We can turn to entertainment, or to sex, or to food and drink, or to human relationships. We can amass wealth and purchase all kinds of things to distract us. We can work to gain worldly honor and glory in sports or politics or in scholarly pursuits. We can seek success in business. We can puff ourselves up with selfish pride and deny any weakness or sin on our part.
All of these things can make us feel better for a moment, but if we pursue the good feelings they give us rather than pursue a closer relationship with God, then they are no different from harmful drugs. Their effects are only temporary, and they ultimately lead to destruction, because they lead us away from the eternal joy for which we were created. Jesus warns us in the Gospel that all the things of this world will certainly come to an end. Most likely, unless Jesus comes again very soon, this will happen for us at our own death. Pope Francis speaks about that moment in the Spiritual Reflection: “On that day, each of us will have to understand whether the Word of the Son of God has illuminated our personal existence, or whether we turned our back to it, preferring to trust in our own words.”
The Pope goes on to make clear the worthlessness of the things of the world at the moment of our death: “No one can escape this moment, none of us! Shrewdness, which we often instill in our conduct in order to validate the image we wish to offer, will no longer be useful; likewise, the power of money and of economic means with which we pretentiously presume to buy everything and everyone, will no longer be of use. We will have with us nothing more than what we have accomplished in this life by believing in his Word: the all and nothing of what we have lived or neglected to fulfill. We will take with us only what we have given.”
The contrast between what is temporary and what is eternal is particularly stark when we compare the deceptive ways of the world and the eternal word of God. The consequences of pursuing the temporary pleasures of the world compared to following the word of God could not be more different. The first reading tells us that those who follow God’s way will “live forever,” and will “shine brightly … like the stars forever,” while those who reject God’s way and follow the world “shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” This is a serious matter – the most serious!
The Psalm says of God, “You will show me the path to life.” God does not want anyone to end in destruction. He made us to be united with him for all eternity, and he gave us the way to come to him. That way is Jesus himself. He is the “path to life.” As the second reading tells us, by his offering of himself to the Father in expiation of our sins, he made the way for us to be cleansed of our sins and perfected in love.
Right now, then, as we ponder these readings, God is showing us the path to life. Follow Jesus. Walk with Jesus. Do not be deceived by the temporary allurements of the world, but cling to what is eternal: Jesus our Savior. We need not wait for the hour of our death; we can take the words of Pope Francis as our instruction for today. Let this be “the moment in which to abandon ourselves definitively to the Father’s love and to entrust ourselves to his mercy.”
Why am I more concerned about the passing things of this world than those that will lead me to eternal life? What are the temporal allurements of the world that swallow me up, making me forget about God? How have I turned my back on the Word of God, preferring to trust in my own words?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.