Posts Tagged With: Poverty

Don’t I Just Feel Like a Camel?

Last weekend, I went to a baby shower for my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since kindergarten, and it’s so wonderful that she’s having a baby girl next month! We don’t get to see each other very often, and I hadn’t seen the house she and her husband bought before.

It was nice.

I loved how the kitchen had two entries, one from the hall and the other from the dining room, which was roomy and cozy all at the same time. I loved the bathroom with the big jet tub. And the walk-in closet that was bigger than my bathroom, and had room enough for a vanity. I wasn’t fond of the tile in the bathroom, but whatever. I like color and no one else does. That kitchen was just perfect, though.

I immediately started looking at houses online, and thinking about how horrible our house is. Granted, if I would just take a few days to do the touch-up painting, it would be much improved, but why settle for improved when we could buy something nicer.

Covet, covet, covet. And what’s worse, I thought nothing of it. “It’s just what people my age do,” I told myself. What? It’s what people my age do? What does that even mean?!?!?!? Despite the nonsensical nature of my quest, I continued exploring more expensive houses

My reality call came a few days later as I was reading Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthot on my lunch break. The first few chapters have gone by at a break-neck pace, running down the societal conditions, the philosophers, the publications,  everything that created American-style Christianity. As we move into the rise of the prosperity theology, Douthot points to (naturally) the story of the rich young man we also read about in Sunday’s gospel this week. I suppose God knew I needed a double dose of this story this week.

And when he was gone forth into the way, a certain man running up and kneeling before him, asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may receive life everlasting? And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, bear not false witness, do no fraud, honour thy father and mother. But he answering, said to him: Master, all these things I have observed from my youth. And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  Mark 10:17-22

It’s one of the pillars of Christ’s message here on earth. Sell what you have to benefit the poor. When the disciples don’t get the picture, Jesus gives one of His most famous (and famously misinterpreted) analogies:

Picture courtesy of my mother-in-law. No seriously.

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again answering, saith to them: Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches, to enter into the kingdom of God? It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. –Mark 10:24-25

I read a few years ago, that Jesus most likely actually said “rope” instead of “camel” just then. Makes a heck of a lot more sense. In Bad Religion, however, Douthot points something out about this story that I hadn’t thought of before..

 Who wondered the more, saying among themselves: Who then can be saved? –Mark 10:26

This message wasn’t something they smugly accepted, given their lack of riches. These guys walked away from what little fortunes they had. They walked away from comfort to follow Christ in poverty and yet when they heard this, they got worried. Whether it was a rope or a camel or a piano, they heard Jesus talking about them, not some rich guy. Why were they worried about it? Because they understood the message. It’s not about having money, it’s about desiring it.

For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows. –1Timothy 6:10

Once again, it is not having wealth that stains our souls, it is seeking it. I could be doing something worthwhile. Reading a book, watching a mass, cleaning the house–Scott would love that! Instead, I’m sitting at the computer, looking at houses, slowly increasing our maximum price range, because I want what everyone else has. What I have isn’t poisoning me, it’s what I’m chasing after.

I keep banging my head up against this wall. One minute I’m not concerned with material things, the next, I want to burn every possession I have and replace it with something “nicer.” For every time I push these desires aside, they rise up again 100 times. Sometimes I think I just can’t get my head straight.

And Jesus looking on them, saith: With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God. –Mark 10:27

Here I am, big clumsy camel, trying to work my way through the eye of the needle. Not because of what I have but because of what I want. God’s love is stronger than that. We forget that. We may say it and say we believe it, but at the end of the day, we let ourselves believe that our weaknesses are stronger than God. Every time we say, “I can’t help it. There’s no getting around it,” we are disbelieving the promises of grace.

Pope Benedict reminds us that God’s love is stronger. 

Jesus, however, understands the deep desire that exists in this person and, the Evangelist notes, turns a loving gaze on him: the gaze of God (cf. v. 21). However, Jesus also realizes what the weak point of that man is: his very attachment to his many possessions; and so he proposes that the man give it all to the poor in order that his treasure — and hence his heart — will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and he adds: “Come, follow me” (v. 21). But, instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation joyfully, the man went away sorrowfully (cf. v. 22) because he can not break away from his riches, that will never give him happiness and eternal life….. The history of the Church is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, even attaining holiness. Let us only think of St Francis, St Elizabeth of Hungary or St Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to accept Jesus’ invitation joyfully, in order to enter the fullness of life. –Pope Benedict XVI

Aren’t we fortunate, that despite our many temptations, we are given, not only the fullness of grace, the very spirit of God to guide us, but also such a multitude of examples, of people who lived the gospel. They walked in the footsteps of Jesus to make it easier for us to see those footsteps and follow after.

With the election approaching and everyone talking about the economy and what’s in it for their checking account, let’s all pray that we may be invested in what really matters and not distracted by material wealth. Once again, I’m renewing my commitment to love and share what I have, and to truly be thankful for what God has given me, rather than being envious of what God has given someone else.

And I will try to remember that too many accessories clutter a camel.

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Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else, Meditations, What the Catholic Church Teaches | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meditating on the Beatitudes: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

This is the first in a series of meditations on each of the Beatitudes. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty and extravagance. Sts Clare and Francis seem to be helping me along in my journey. I hear a lot of churches preaching the gospel of “health and wealth” but I find it difficult to believe that God would have us so consumed with something as uninspired as money.

In the rosary meditation, The Rosary is a PlaceFr. Groschel reminds us during the 3rd Joyful Mystery that God chose for His Son to be born poor, and to remain poor for His entire life. Jesus was born with the barest of necessities on hand. Throughout His ministry, He carried nothing with Him. He had no great home or carriage. Jesus lived in the lowest poverty. When Jesus preformed great miracles to feed the multitudes, did He provide an extravagant feast? No, simple fish and loaves. The example we were given is a simple life without extravagance.

Most of us remember the parable of the sower:

The sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And other some fell upon a rock: and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. And other some fell upon good ground; and being sprung up, yielded fruit a hundredfold. –Luke 8:5-8a

Something remarkable about this passage is that there is no judgement made about the seed itself. There is no good seed, no bad seed. All of the seed is the same stock, out of the same bag. It’s where the seed lands that determines its fruitfulness. Bad seed? No such thing. The problem is bad soil.

The meaning of this parable isn’t left up to interpretation. Jesus spells out exactly what each fate represents. I want to draw your attention in particular to the seed that fell among thorns:

And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. –Luke 8:14

The seed that fell among thorns is not merely distracted by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, they are choked. This is why we fast, to distance ourselves from excess and overindulgence so to we might breathe. It is not evil to be comfortable or to have money, but to make this the cornerstone of one’s life is, to use the words of our Savior, to plant yourself among thorns.

For they that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.   –1 Timothy 6:9-10

I don’t know how so many of our flock have the notion that God wants nothing more than to stuff our checking accounts. Don’t get me wrong, God will provide for our every need, to be sure. However, it is the idea that God’s will for us is wealth that I take issue with. This idea is treacherous. It creates an idea that we should seek money instead of the Kingdom of God. This is a very grave lie. If our lives are caught up in seeking wealth, we are not seeking after God.

Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.  –St. Anthony of Padua  

Letting go of the things that seem to give us comfort, gives us no choice to to fly into the arms of Christ for our comfort. Giving up the things of this world reminds us of the things our souls truly long for. It’s so easy, so dreadfully easy to get caught up in chasing after things that pass away. Oh, I wish I had a nicer car, I wish I had a nicer house, I wish I had a newer wardrobe, I must have new shoes, I’ve got to get a bigger diamond, I want, I wish, I need, I must! These are the things that feed “self” but starve the soul.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.   –Luke 9:23

Today, rather than going to God with a list of what I must have here on earth, perhaps I can ask God to give me what I need for Heaven and nothing more. Today, rather than tying myself to the earth chasing after things that will rot and choke, I will spend time just being with God and not asking for anything but the grace to live with less.

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Back to Business: The Eat Better Project

It took me a little longer to recover from vacation than I had expected, but I’m back! Arrival back at the real world has been rough, but it’s actually a relief to get back on budget. Hawaii is incredibly expensive. When you’re used to pinching pennies, spending $50 on cheeseburgers for lunch or $20 for hotdogs, plus the constant purchasing of souvenirs…let’s just say, I felt like my checking account was hemorrhaging all week! When we got back home on Saturday, we still had some frozen and pantry items, so I didn’t have to go grocery shopping until Tuesday. However, as soon as we got home, I remembered a pledge I had made a few days before our trip: No more throwing away food.

Poor Stewardship

It all started when I read that Americans throw out an average of 40% of our food. I was appalled. This is very poor stewardship. So many people go hungry, while those of us who have enough to eat throw out almost half of it. At this point in our lives, we certainly don’t throw out nearly 40% of our food, but there was a time when we probably got close to that. We worked long hours and planned to eat at home, but ended up eating out almost every day instead. So a lot of the groceries we bought ended up in the trash. Currently, I would say maybe about 15-20% of our food goes in the trash. The jar of queso we opened but never finished, that last helping of spaghetti neither of us wanted, the last tomato out of a pack of 4 that went moldy, etc. It’s just a little bit here and there but it adds up quickly!

Poor Eating Habits

I lost about 30 pounds from January to June. However, with quitting smoking and vacation, I’ve managed to rediscover 10 of those pounds. But it’s not just about losing weight. I want to feel better. I’m tired of being tired, of dragging through the days. Just a few months ago, I was eating fresh salads, fresh fruit and veggies, and grilled meats. Now what are we eating? Boxed dinners, canned soups, frozen lasagnas, and it’s all stuffed with sodium, sodium, sodium! Why did we deviate from eating fresh? Oh, right. Things didn’t get eaten. Veggies went in the trash by the bagful. Ugh.

Gluttony

It’s a big problem in America. We don’t like to think of it as a sin, but it is. It’s an excess, a deadly excess, and it’s something else I’m putting between myself and God. We need to be better stewards of what is given to us: our bodies, our money, our food. We need to exercise the virtue of temperance:

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.

CCC 1809

When I first converted to Catholicism, one of the things that really stood out to me was temperance. To know when to stop. For me, gluttony seems to touch everything I do. When I smoked, I would smoke 2 or 3 cigarettes in a row. Sometimes, I’d have 4 or 5 just getting around in the morning while I drank coffee. If I like a show on Netflix, I’ll watch 4 episodes in a row, every night until I’ve gone through the entire series. More, more, more. But the most stunning excess is what I’m willing to waste. How many times have I thrown food away just to make room in the refrigerator, when it wasn’t even bad? How many times have I lit a cigarette, knowing I could only have a few puffs on it before I had to throw it out?

According to our annual income, we’re middle class, but according to our excesses, we’re flipping filthy rich. It has to stop.

Eat Better Project

No, this blog isn’t going to be all about eating right and under budget. But I’ll probably check in about once per week with an update about my Eat Better Project. The rules are thus:

  1. Avoid throwing food away as much as possible. This can be difficult, because sometimes things just end up going bad before we get to them. Proper preparation and planning… I’m not hoping to drop our food waste to 0% by any means, but I’d like to bring it down to a minimum. I think I’ll keep track, even.
  2. Reduce canned meals, frozen meals, and boxed meals (veggies and fruits are okay canned). One exception on the frozen meals: if I prepare the food myself and freeze it, it’s okay.
  3. Eat breakfast!
  4. Reduce our grocery bill by at least $20/week (it’s currently around…$80-$100/week). Give at least half of that saved money to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Ideally, I’d like to get our grocery shopping down to once every 2-3 weeks. Depending on the expiration date on the milk, I suppose.
  5. Reduce eating out to twice per month.

Lofty goals? It can be done. It can certainly be done. Not on my own, of course, but God gives us grace to overcome every sin.

Categories: Chasing After God, Eat Better, Everything Else | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Invocation of Wealth: Dear Reader, yes you DID come to the right place!

 

 

WordPress is ever so helpful. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the traffic stats, I get all sorts of information about what people are reading on my site and what search terms bring them here. After seeing a spike in traffic, I decided to check out the search terms. As usual, prayers were the top searches, but there was one that baffled me.

“the invocation of wealth.”

Now that’s something you don’t see every day. Something I don’t see every day, anyway. I googled it.

“for all those people who want to be rich and live a luxurious life”

“This invocation invokes the angel of wealth. You become his master. He will bring to you money, wealth and richness in an instant”

“You will role on the bed of wealth, gold and riches. I cannot even explain to you how powerful this one invocation is. “

How in the world would someone who typed in such a thing end up here?

Do NOT by any means feel that your search for riches has gone off track or that you’ve somehow ended up in the wrong place. Oh, no. Have I got news for you.

I’m filthy stinking rich.

I live in a 1400 square foot palace. This equates to about 130 meters, which is above average for most of the developed world.  I eat. Every day. Whatever I want. I have a deep freezer full of food, plus a refrigerator. Beef? Chicken? Turkey? Tomatoes and corn? Fresh onions and peppers? Even if it’s not in season, I can find any old fruit or vegetable that I want. As I gaze around my cornucopia of food, food, food, if I decide, for example, that I want cheddar cheese on my sandwich and all I have is pepper jack, well, by golly, I can go down to the grocery store and every food I could ever want is available to me.

Open until midnight, no less.

I can complain about how expensive clothes are, but I can go down to Walmart or Target or Dollar General and get a complete outfit or two for less than a day’s wages. Ready to buy and in my size.

When I want to get more information on a particular topic, I can flip open my computer, type in my query and within seconds, I get results. If I want to go all out and read a book by an expert on the topic, I can grab my kindle and start reading within 30 seconds.

I have electric lights, so I can work all night if I so choose. My house is secure, with locks on the doors, so I’m safe at night. I have central heat and air, so even the weather can’t hurt me.

I have shelves full of little baubles, any pretty, shiny thing I want, I have. My closet is bursting with clothes for work, for play. Shoes for comfort, for sport, for work.

I have a car. It also has a heater and air conditioner. It’s very reliable and rarely has any problems. When I do have a problem, I take it to the mechanic and have it taken care of immediately by a professional who knows what he’s doing.

Sometimes people look at my car, my house, my ratty purse, and they sneer at me. What I have doesn’t meet their standard. What I have is poor. Well, I’ve got news for you, I’m not poor! I am wealthy! But so much of what I have I don’t need. I have so much I ought to get rid of because it’s just a distraction.

I have everything. But I want less!

If things were the secret to happiness, Americans would be falling in the streets, delirious for joy! But there is nothing material that will give you lasting joy. Chasing after riches is fruitless and void. If you’re a middle class American such as myself, despite what others may have told you, you already have an abundance, beyond what is common in this world. Beyond what the wealthiest citizens had 100 years ago. You already have it all. More isn’t going to make you happy.

Don’t believe what the health and wealth preachers tell you. Jesus had NOTHING. He told us not to lay up earthly treasures for ourselves, but to seek the Kingdom. St. Clare and St. Francis are two wonderful examples of real people who turned away from riches, took in lepers, and turned to God. In sickness and poverty, they had unspeakable joy because they knew God and lived the Gospels. Their lives forever point to Jesus.

Well, I’ll stop rambling and let you have it. Without further ado, the Invocation of Wealth:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Farewell Aunt Sarah Pt 2: What She Left Behind

Sunday, my husband Scott and I were called upon to help out with the sorting of his Great-Aunt Sarah’s things. We laid out her worn jewelry, her little ceramic birds and angels, her collectibles from the states she’d traveled to, the afghans she made, her salt and pepper shaker collection, and her blue cornflower CorningWare. Over the years, her possessions were trimmed down; when she moved from her house in Carnegie to the independent living apartments in Norman, and again when she moved to assisted living. By the time she passed, she had only the things she loved the most. Every chipped ceramic bird, every tattered string of beads had a story. After spending so much time lately clearing clutter out of our house, I was loathe to drag anything back in, but I told Scott he could have any keepsakes he wanted. In the end, we didn’t take much. A salt and pepper set in the shape of a toaster with two slices of bread, a few pieces of jewelry, a book, and some other things that reminded Scott of the happy days when the family would load up the car and go see Great-Aunt Sarah.

At some point when we were sitting with Aunt Sarah on her final day, someone started asking about her will. Naturally, this caused a little tension, as it would in any situation. There was an additional bit of frustration because her will was of absolutely no consequence. Aunt Sarah had nothing. She was a widow and a retired beautician, not exactly a position of prosperity. What’s more is that she didn’t care about such things. Every Christmas and every birthday, Scott and I were very deliberate in our gift buying because we didn’t want to burden her with useless things. She would always insist that we not get her anything, but we would press her until she told us something she needed. A new lamp to crochet by, a bottle of perfume, some money to have her hair permed. We were always searching for some thing to give her, but when the time came, all she really wanted was to see the family, to hug and kiss the children, and to know everyone was healthy and happy and loved.

At the service, no one talked about how hard she worked to increase her personal wealth or what a big, beautiful house she lived in (she did have a wonderful home!). Everyone spoke of her faith, how much she loved and longed for God, how much she loved her family and friends, and how she found joy in caring for others. Aunt Sarah left a mark on everyone she met and it wasn’t because of her fine jewelry (she had none), her priceless artwork (none), her luxurious car (again, none), or any other treasures of this world. She was an inspiration because she filled herself with God’s love and passed that love on to others.

The message hit home for me. Hard. We’ve been longing to buy a house of our own, and as I look at houses online, my tastes have slowly become pricier. At some point, I added $50,000 onto our price range and I’ve started disqualifying homes that would be wonderfully suitable for us based on their lack of luster. Yes, yes, this house is very homey and would work very well for us, but I want something that looks a little nicer. So, the focus has somehow shifted to pleasing whomever is looking at the house, rather than the people living in the house. I’ve felt the same shift in other areas. When I’m looking at purses, I focus on finding one that looks nicer and pricier, rather than one that meets my needs and has the appropriate pockets. When I look at my little sensible car, I wish I’d gotten a little SUV instead. Even the gold-plated crucifix I wear on my neck should be replaced with one of solid gold. This is clearly not the way of life God intended for us.

And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. –Luke 8:14

Aunt Sarah’s funeral really struck a nerve in me because she was a childless Aunt, and so am I. When I die, what will my nieces and nephews say and feel about me? Will they say, “Aunt Rebecca showed us God’s love” or muse over my obsession with putting on appearances? Aunt Sarah’s life was full of good fruit. There were so many people there who saw Jesus in her and there wasn’t a soul present who would crave any other sentiment at their passing. So why do we all spend so much time and energy chasing after the material things that don’t matter?

So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God. And he said to his disciples: Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat; nor for your body, what you shall put on. The life is more than the meat, and the body is more than the raiment. Consider the ravens, for they sow not, neither do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them. How much are you more valuable than they? And which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? –Luke 12:21-25

For some time now, God has been telling me to embrace a life of greater poverty. Reduce my standard of living and increase my spiritual walk. Over the ages, we have been given so many examples. Jesus Himself was poor and had no earthly possessions beyond the clothes He wore. We can also look to the example of St. Francis, St. Clare, Mother Theresa, and others who chased after God instead of chasing riches. And now, we can also look to the simple life of love Aunt Sarah lived.

Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else, On a personal note... | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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