I’ve told this story before. The story of sitting on the riverbank of the Mississippi at the White House in Saint Louis, Missouri. How that the sun was shinning, the birds singing, the river flowing it’s long easy strides. That I was sitting there meditating on being thankful and how awestruck we should be at the generosity of God. There I was having this beautiful moment of relaxation with the beauty of nature when the thought occurred to me: This moment would be perfect if a deer would just walk out of the woods right now. God had created a moment in which I could encounter Him on a greater level, a moment in which the temporal could touch the infinite… a perfect moment. There I was trying to be God.
Our first reading shows us that times haven’t changed much in that regards. Just like I on the riverbank that Mark Twain made famous sought to perfect a moment that was already perfect, the world tries to tell us what makes us happy. Frank Sinatra once sang a song called “I did it my way.” In that song he lauds that his life is coming to an end, and that he always did it his way. Later in his life he was known to complain about the song. His daughter said he described it as like having something on his shoe, something unpleasant that you just couldn’t get off. It was too ego centric, too self serving. It reminds me of that saying the kids have, “I’ll do me, and let you do you.” You be your own truth, and I’ll be my own truth, and we’ll be both be happy. Yet, very few of us are happy.
The Saints show us a different way. In their emulation of Christ they instead put others first. They put their egos aside and serve God and man instead. They let their own wants and needs go to the way side. They aren’t concerned with honor, or glory, or riches or fame. Recognition at the end of the day is not their concern. Mother Teresa was once told by someone that they wouldn’t do what we she did for a million dollars. She replied, “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either!” She realized that the true reward is not in the comforts of this life, but in the joy of communion with Christ. Not just in Heaven, not just in the Sacraments, but also in each other. In the faces of those distressing disguises that Christ is wont to wear: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the sinner.
Christ on the cross shows us the fulfillment of life. The Disciples were confounded when He said that it was near impossible for a rich and wealthy person to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The Jews in first century Palestine, like many of the people today, had a sort of prosperity Gospel understanding of how things worked. The more God loved you? The more you had. The less favor with God? The poorer and sicker they were. Jesus turned that on it’s head. The first, the most honored, wealthy and powerful King of all times and places? Died destitute on the cross. The first was last in the eyes of the world, but the last in the eyes of the world? Is first and foremost in Heaven. That’s true happiness… right there on the crucifix. A man with no wealth, no power, no honor, no pleasure…. But living out the will of the Father. Dying in the place of all of us as the greatest act of love in the history of everything!
That’s our challenge as well. To die to self that we might serve others. Not to make God an afterthought… not to get everything else in order first, and then.. After work, health, retirement, vacation, school, kids and all the other things we add in there, to find a moment for God… Rather to put God in their first.. And then place the rest around Him and in His arms… That is lasting joy.
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”
A reflection on the readings for daily Mass for Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 28:1-10; Deuteronomy 32; The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 19:23-30