Sunday, October 12, 2014

Will I Get To Heaven?

I notice that many of these reflections begin/are titled with a question.  I guess that’s what triggers my thoughts, an anxiety or question about something.  Often God then leads me to some conclusion, easing my anxiety --- but not this time.
I’ve reflected in the past on the question of “Am I doing enough with the blessings God has given me” --- re the parable of the talents.  I’ve reflected on my actions, my priorities, and my prayer life --- am I doing enough in the eyes of God?  I don’t think, however, I’ve reflected that often on how my actions are judged in the eyes of men --- and what I should think about their judgments or opinions, or their needs.
I think, whether I judge it wise or not, that I do highly value the opinions of men, and I want to justify myself to them when they voice their opinions on my actions.  I greatly value God’s opinion also.  I wish, however, that He would speak a bit more loudly of His opinion of my actions, because often when I try to discern His opinion I am confused.
In my Scripture readings this week, I reflected on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I think if you searched this blog, you’d see a number of reflections on this subject.  I’ve considered the Prodigal Son’s viewpoint, the eldest son’s, the father’s, and even God’s viewpoint in this parable.  This week, however, I was led to consider “The Rest of the Story” --- what might have happened next in this parable.
The Prodigal Son received an inheritance of money, and he blew it.  I’ve discovered that many people are not good money managers in our society, which encourages borrowing and spending NOW, because: “You deserve it.”  (No, you don’t, but let’s not travel that path right now.)  The fact is that the Prodigal Son’s spend-it-now behavior was not that unusual.  His father’s forgiveness of the son’s sin, however, was unusual, and a key lesson of the parable.  We need to forgive, as God does, with love.  But, I wondered, what happened in the parable after the now poor son returned home, and life went on?
If the sinner son were like most sinners, he fell again into the same sin.  If his father later gave him an allowance, would the son have gambled it away, asked forgiveness --- again, and then asked the father for even more money?  If the father titled half his land to the son, would someday someone knock on the father’s door and say: “You’re being evicted for non-payment of the mortgage your son took out on this property?”  And if this son again begged forgiveness, would the father have let him live with him in an apartment, until one day the father returned home and discovered all the furniture gone, sold to cover the son’s debts?  And when the son returns yet again and says “Father, forgive me,” what does the father do then?
I thought of the admonition to “forgive seventy times seven.”  It has no qualifiers.  I thought of confession, and how many times I have sinned and been forgiven.  I thought of the punishment due my sins and perhaps the long stint in Purgatory which awaits me --- is that also the ultimate justice for the Prodigal Son?  But what of the father?  What are his appropriate actions, in the eyes of God?
If a beggar constantly knocks on your door begging money which he likely will blow on drugs, do you give him because he says he will use it for food --- which he needs?  If you are a wife, bloodied and beaten, do you forgive your abusing husband who says “I’m sorry; it’ll never happen again.”?   Do you give until you are broke, or forgive the beatings until you are dead?
This morning a friend looked at the tip I left on the table after breakfast.  “The waitress must be happy the rich guy is leaving the tip today, so she doesn’t have to deal with the cheap couple of bucks I leave.”  I tried to explain to him --- again --- why I think my action was just, but I don’t know if he is really criticizing me out of envy or guilt, or even compassion.  And I know I’ll hear his comments again, as I’ve heard others.
The one who can’t manage money says I should give him more.  The one who tries to manage his own money tightly tries to manage mine also, and says I should give less.  And God says it’s hard for a rich man to get into heaven.  Certainly, whether reading Scripture or listening to the advice of men, the pathway to heaven does not seem clear.  Perhaps that is the definition of its narrowness.   
I read in the book Divine Intimacy a meditation titled: “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”  It says the peaceful man is guided by the Holy Spirit in his actions.  I do pray for guidance ---- and perhaps that is the only clear thing to do in matters related to money, and finding the way to heaven.  Pray and listen.
And relative to the men who constantly ask me for more, and those who ask me to give less --- I pray for them also, in the words Our Savior taught us:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Do I?
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The radio noted, this morning, the spread of Ebola in this country, and I reflected on this also.  I may see my neighbor (and perhaps soon many of my neighbors!) dying, in dire need.  How would I love him?
St. Peter Damien moved to live and care for those with leprosy --- for which there was no cure; he died for them.  In early Church history, to admit being a Christian meant death, but if all Christians moved forward to admit being Christians and were killed, would there be Christianity today?  How much do we love?  How much do we give?  Are those questions ones at the heart of the matter, asked at the fork in the road, to heaven or to hell?  Obeying the letter of the law was what the people did who knocked on the door to heaven, and to whom Jesus said: “I do not know you.”  The lesson of His life moved us beyond the letter of the law.
People who ask us for money who we know will waste it; people who make us angry; people who don’t seem to love us --- dealing with all these people triggers worries:  worrying about our money, our righteousness, and our aloneness.  It may be that the answer to these anxieties will be put into a proper perspective when Christians again face death.  Will Ebola force us into facing right priorities, or at least into prayer?  Maybe this terror is indeed an answer to our prayers.
We don’t seem to hear or consider other answers given to us by a God who loves us, and wants us to get to heaven.  We so often only hear the answers we want to hear, and make the simple clear-cut decisions.
Will that get us there?

1 comment:

  1. Jesus said 'it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.' I imagine he said this because people who are rich, who have many material possessions, have the difficulties you describe. It's a trap. It causes great consternation. And much evil, though good is intended, is often done with money. How about those parents who give their child everything, and the child ends up dead of an overdose?
    St. Francis, recognizing the evils of riches, threw everything away. Every. Little. Thing. You know the story, I'm sure. Detachment. But not everyone is called to such radical poverty. God also needs people to help his little ones out, to provide for the needs of those living radical poverty. But even those who have money, riches, should practice detachment. It shouldn't matter to you. If you give money, let it go. Once it leaves your hands, it is no longer yours. But be careful where you give it, and why.
    Hopefully what happened to the prodigal son is he learned his lesson: he began to act responsibly as his father had taught him. Maybe once he came home, he never owned anything ever again. Maybe he was wholly dependent on the beneficence of his father. Maybe he was grateful for whatever he was given. Maybe he was humble and took the last place. Maybe he was true to his intentions, he acted as a servant. In a post last time you mentioned A Simple House. Maybe the prodigal lived the evangelical virtues, as the people at A Simple House try to do.
    The reason I say this is because we must believe redemption is possible. In your situation, you reflect on the true fallen human nature, and wonder if you should give to someone who takes advantage, or not be surprisingly generous to one who does not expect it, like a waitress.
    To answer your question directly: no, you do not give money or anything that can be hocked or bartered for money to a drug addict. You take them to a rehab facility. You suffer with them, give them a sandwich and coffee, don't abandon them, but get them the help they need. If they refuse that, you allow them to have their free will, just as God does, allowing them even to destroy themselves, if they will not help themselves.
    No, a woman who is beaten by her husband should not stay. That is not charity. She should leave, but not be bitter. She should protect herself and her mental health, all the while never abandoning the marriage, again, seeking help for her spouse.
    St. Francis of Assisi once said, when many townspeople and others were praising him as a saint, 'I am no more or no less than what I am in the eyes of God.' He did not value the fickle opinions of men, regardless if they praised or condemned him. Detachment. Only God's opinion matters. So if you are made to suffer because some comments on a generous tip, privately and mentally thank God you are being humbled. After all, if you expect praise, that is like the Pharisees who already got their reward. (Don't you want God to reward you, not a person who thinks you're so great, and admires you? A human gives a cheap reward, nowhere near the level your good deed actually deserves. You're getting gypped if you exchange your good deeds for worldly praise!)
    And if you are being betrayed by someone who says they need food but uses the money to buy drugs, beg God's forgiveness for someone using your generosity for evil. Be wise. And be simple. Very hard to do.
    Will you get to heaven? Who knows? We all deserve hell. If we are shown mercy, because we loved, because we showed mercy, then maybe many years in purgatory will be ours, to remove the dross we would not remove here. Only God's opinion matters. Poverty. Chastity. Obedience. Humility.
    We do what we think is best. We pray. We hope. We stay faithful to the Church. We let God judge, even ourselves.