Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Rich Man's Reward

I believe my meditations of this past week, and the Lord’s response or input to those meditations, have led me to new, deeper understandings of my life and purpose, and given me some peace.  And so I believe that this will be the second of three postings on those thoughts (the first was titled: Does God Love Me?).
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.  Eccl 5:10
It was an interesting week.  I had a number of conversations with friends and strangers about my first posting, which presented my thoughts on money, and in particular on my money situation.  My meditations led me to a conclusion that if I have sufficient money for my needs --- my REAL needs --- I should not worry about money.  Most who I spoke with this week disagreed with that conclusion.
I think I can summarize other’s thoughts into three groupings.  There were those who were poor (or thought themselves poor), those who had sufficient money and felt they knew what to do with it, and those who had sufficient money and didn’t know what to do with it --- and all three had views which were not only alien from mine, they couldn’t understand or agree with mine.  And they were very confident that they were right.
I had run into the thoughts of the first group, those who considered themselves poor, at times in the past, and have even written about them here.  They look at my situation with what I can only perceive as a combination of envy and bewilderment.  Many of them started out life as I did, but are ending much differently.  A key difference was in a little thing, I think, which I was taught in my youth: to save, always.  And even further, “If you want something you can have it; just save for it.”  The last allowance I received from my parents ended when I was twelve.  From then on if I wanted something I had to work and save for it, and I did.  I didn’t drive (nor date much) until I was 20, when I had saved enough to buy a car --- and insurance.  I worked full time nights, and paid for my college, finishing in 4 years like everyone else.  And I always saved for my retirement.  And those times when I just “had to” have something I couldn’t afford, I took a second job, at one point working 100 hours/week on two jobs.  But my saving never stopped.  But people in this group just stare with mouth agape when I explain this.  Either they try to explain why their situation was different and they couldn’t possibly have saved, or they just call me stupid, but they just don’t understand how I could have saved all my life. 
And now they look at me with envy, and perhaps it is true that in earlier years when they were buying everything they wanted I might have looked on THEM with envy but still, I saved and did without what I didn’t need.  And they can’t just understand how or why I did that.
The second group focused on not what they have or don’t have, but they wanted to focus the conversation on what I have --- and they don’t think it is enough.  “If you have sufficient money, you should buy yourself more things, travel, get a newer car.  You saved that money, it is yours to use, and you should,” about summarizes their thoughts.  I don’t know if they envy me or not; their words make me think they pity me, like I have some warped value system, or some deficiency in my perception of self-worth.  “Money is meant to be spent,” they seem to say.  And I guess I don’t disagree with their viewpoint, but I question on what it is to be spent.  And since I view my needs as being met, and have a trust that my future needs will be met by God, I think a focus of my spending should be on others.  And so I often consider, ponder, and pray about: Which others?
And the third group with which I have had discussions this past week is one which I also have had discussions with in the past, and have sometimes written about here.  These may have savings, but they don’t really consider what to do with them.  They do put themselves first, in a way, as does the second group: “Maybe I’ll need that money for some disaster at some point, perhaps for my medical care.  Or maybe my children or parents will undergo some disaster, and then I’ll be able to help them.”  And their final point almost always is: “Well, when I die I can just leave any remaining money to my heirs.  They’ll probably need it.”  But as with my mother’s bequest to me, most children don’t need the money ---- or at least they shouldn’t.  They should be making their way in this world on their own, not at age 40 or 50 or 60 still depending on their parents.  Mind you, I am not saying that when people are in real need their families should not be there for them, I am just saying that the general assumption that the vast majority of children WILL be in need is a false one.  And I have seen many, many examples of how when heirs ARE in need, most often they got to their situation because they never learned how to handle money, and giving them a pile of money will not teach them.  I saw this many times in the poor, who struggled to keep their home or car or job or have food, yet if they received a sum of money they would likely use it to buy a big screen TV or some such thing, and one month later be needing food again.  Or I know of the well-to-do, who used sudden money to buy a third car, or a second home.  I personally know of many examples of this type. 
I do not claim I am perfect in my use of money, but I know of many examples of  poor use, from my point of view.  And so it was in light of these conversations and thoughts that I sat in the adoration chapel on Saturday night, and at one point read a book of which St. Therese of Lisieux said: “Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life.”
The End of the Present World --- and the mysteries of the future life, by Fr. Charles Arminjon is a summary of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the end times.  It talks about the Anti-Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, Judgment, Heaven, Eternal Punishment, and the Means of Redemption.  And almost as an afterthought, it talks about the Mystery of Suffering.
This is not a book review of Fr. Arminjon;s book, because I usually only review books which I would recommend, which I had found some unique insights within.  Most of this book was not news to me, and in truth I skimmed many of the words.  St. Therese was young when she read the words of this book, and perhaps in my youth the words may have been “news” to me, but not now.  This book did not help me grow in faith or wisdom, although depending on where you are in your spiritual journey, it may help you.  It is not a bad book, nor badly written.  Just not of great value to me at this point in my life.
However, I think I read it this past week for a reason, because at the very end, in the last chapter, I saw something which caught my eye, and was applicable to all that I had been experiencing and thinking about this week.  It was an explanation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus by St. John Chrysostom, an explanation which I had not heard nor considered seriously before.
What I remembered about the parable was how the rich man went to hell, while the poor Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man begged for a little water from Lazarus, but Lazarus could give him none.  The general moral I got from the parable was the reminder that what we do on earth has eternal implications, big ones.  But St. John takes a more expanded view on the parable.  No man is totally evil, St. John explains.  “There are rare and exceptional circumstances when (even evil people) consent to be just, merciful and impartial.”  And St. John explains, God does not forget these little good acts.  “Now God, … desires, for the honor of His justice, pleasures and temporal goods upon the wicked and ungodly.  He grants them, as to the bad rich man, a dazzling, sumptuous life.  Thus, the bad rich man had received (as reward) his good things.
“Lazarus, by contrast, endowed with all the heavenly gifts and having attained the height of perfection by his heroic patience, had probably fallen through weakness into some slight faults.  Now God, … Who, on the other hand will take the just to Himself only when they have been completely purified of every fault, desired in His hidden designs that Lazarus should undergo long and difficult trials during his earthly career.  Thus, when Lazarus reached the end of his life, he had paid his debt to justice; he had received his woes.
I liked this explanation of the parable, its focusing on the good of the bad man, and the bad of the good man.  Even those will be rewarded, but in this life.  It demonstrates that the summary of our life, of who we were in the total of our being, determines our eternal reward.  Regarding these discussions and meditations about money I have been having, this parable shows the rich man receiving reward for his good works, in this life.  He spent his money even as the second group of my friends above would have me do, and perhaps even the third, on his own pleasures.  In the parable, God never said that money is evil, but rather looked at how it was used.  When the rich man used the money for only his own desires, God viewed this as a poor use of his money.  This is like the parable of the talents, which says you must use your talents/gifts wisely.
I’m sure, relatively speaking I am like the rich man in the parable, but I pray that I am not ignoring the Lazarus’s of this world, nor focusing on my pleasures.  And I am equally sure I am Lazarus, missing out on things I might want, and perhaps even some things I might need, but I will try to be content with the sufferings and sadness of this life ---- and look forward to the next.
These are the lessons I perceived from my meditations on how I am leading my life, and how I might improve it.  I do not want to be the man described in the quote from Ecclesiastes above.  And yet I remain troubled that to some degree I am, as witnessed by all the many people who don’t understand my thoughts.

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