|18th Sunday in Ordinary time, 31 July 2016|
From the Dean’s desk
During the time when I was teaching, one of the simulation games that I included in our staff in-service days was called: ‘Survival’. It was a game that challenged you to make choices. You were one of several survivors of a plane that crashed on a deserted island. About ten items survived the crash, but you could only take five things from those items. The focus of the games was to prioritise the items, so that your group only took the five most important items needed for the group’s survival. I was glad that it was only a game and not a real life experience, because I always managed to select the items which were of little value for the group’s long term survival. It was an eye opener to see the list of ‘essential’ items that other members of staff chose.
Today’s reading [Ecclesiastes 1:2.21-23; Colossians 3:5.9-11 and Luke 12:13-21] all speak to us of the need to be able to prioritise the important elements of life and to not get caught up in the amassing of many material goods which eventually mean very little when compared with eternal life. The issue at stake here is greed or what the Gospel calls, avarice. Paul refers to it in the second reading as ‘worshipping a false god’ [Colossians 3:5]. Our modern world encourages us in many subtle ways that we need to have as many possessions as possible, so that we can live comfortable and carefree lives. The world presents us with so many ‘must have, must see, must buy’ elements that it can become quite difficult to resist their attraction. One has only to consider the ways in which products are advertised. No sooner do we become accustomed to one type of phone, then we have a completely new model presented. And of course we cannot do without the new model.
The point, however being made in these readings is that there is nothing wrong with the material elements themselves. What becomes a problem is the value we give them. During one clergy retreat the preacher whose presentation was on the theme of ‘Poverty’ said that the best way for us as clergy to live out this vow was to ask ourselves two questions when we felt the need to acquire material goods: firstly, ‘do I need that item’? And secondly, ‘can I live without it’? Discerning these two questions frequently stopped me from acquiring items that eventually served no real purpose to me at all. I simply had to admit that I was being duped by all the publicity hype surrounding certain products.
Today’s first reading [Ecclesiastes 1:2.2:21-23] and Gospel [Luke 12:13-21] speak of the futility of placing too much importance on material goods and on the futile pursuit of goods that is driven by avarice. Greed or avarice is usually present as a driving force which allows us to compare our material goods with the goods obtained by others. Some people are driven by the temptation to amass bigger and better goods than their neighbours, in order to simply say that they possess these items and others don’t. The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians [3:1-5.9-11] speaks to us of the attitude that can help us to discern the value of what we possess. Paul states that because of our Baptism we need to live a life worthy of that vocation – a life that is based on Christ, and our thoughts need to be on heavenly values rather than earthly items. This does not mean that we shun material possessions. It means that we utilise and prioritise them for the betterment of our lives and those of others: we possess them: they do not possess us. In this way we certainly are making ourselves rich in the sight of God.
Fr Robert Bossini