Learn like Scrooge and St Thomas Becket
Some thoughts based on the Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; St John 6:24–35.
Christians work for a life, not just for a living.
Last Sunday we read that Jesus peformed the multiplication of the loaves, and heard that all the people who witnessed the amazing miracled wanted to make Jesus king.
Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking Him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period did not have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. The massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, after He snuck away in the middle of the night. They finally caught up with Him, gathered around Him, and acclaimed hime once more. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow Him if only He will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.
But, Jesus did not come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. No. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,St John 6:27
True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfilment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.
Many of Our Lord’s most famous sayings taught the same lesson:
Blessed are the poor in spiritSt Matthew 5:4
seek first the Kingdom of GodSt Matthew 6:33
What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?St Matthew 16:26
Our life on earth is preparation for something greater: our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).
Scrooge and St Thomas Becket
Scrooge learned this lesson in the nick of time. We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. As the richest man in the city, he achieved that goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one’s neighbour, and that is where true, everlasting happiness comes from. As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile.
Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.
One of them is St Thomas Becket. He lived in England in the twelfth century. He was best friends with Henry II of England. Both of them were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, they debauched together, and they plotted together. Then King Henry got the ida of appointing his friend Thomas Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that haaving his best friend occupy the highest Church posititon in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it.
But, when Thomas Becket was ordained, God’s grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, he stopped his loose living, and he dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King was not pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral.
Thomas Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr’s eternal crown — you can be sure that he has no regrets.
Getting a handle on entertainment
It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations.
Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfilment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.
All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a university application, or on a CV — these are passing things.
We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven.
All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these thing disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI
It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: from the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ?
One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of entertainment.
People banking on perfect happiness in this passwing world often give top priority to entertainment. They tend to live from the weekend, to live for the holidays. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favourite hobby. They tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the game, or seeing their favourite television programme.
But, people who are truly working for “food that endures” are more balanced in their use of entertainment. They more easily recognise that the purpose of entertainment is to help us to relax, and re-create, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfil our life mission. They do not live for the weekends, they use the weekends to help them live life more fully.
As Jesus renews His commitment to us in the Eucharist, let us ask Him to help us to renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we do not lose sight of what it is really all about.