18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
All of us seek to be known, to be loved and to love. Yet far too often our journey takes us far from this core of who we are. We are brought face-to-face with the death of a loved one, a disease, some tragedy, and suddenly all our values are upside down. Who am I? Where am I? Is this all that there is? What is really important to me?
Billionaire Virgin boss, Richard Branson is well aware that these were not Jobs’ final words, but he still managed to find inspiration in the; ‘last words of Steve Jobs’. Perhaps this is a reflection of the words of another Job who also comes face to face with mortality and his own limitation. In fact, Branson found the passage so inspirational that he decided to share it on his blog despite the fact that it’s a fabrication. Branson has dared to look in that mirror and see the abyss staring back at him.
“I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success. However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed. At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realise that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death. In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me. Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth. It should be something more important: For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood. No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me.”
At the time of his death in 2011, Steve Jobs’ net worth was estimated at $10.2 billion. His estate was estimated to be worth roughly $19 billion in 2015. From his early days at Apple, Jobs had been rich. He had a net worth of more than a million dollars by 1978 when he was 23 years old.
Elvis Presley died at forty-two from drug abuse. In his stardom was already the pickled seed of seclusion and loneliness. Valued at a measly $20 mill in today’s money, he owned eight cars, six motorbikes, two planes, sixteen television sets, a vast mansion, and several large bank accounts.
Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet during the Late Middle Ages. As a poet and moral philosopher, he is best known for the epic poem ‘The Divine Comedy’, which comprises sections representing the three tiers of the afterlife: purgatory, heaven, and hell. As middle age shock therapy, the Divine Comedy presents us with the same choice, holding up a mirror of destination that our choice represents. Dante places his vision of hell, the abyss next to the doorway of faith. To live without faith is to live without hope; this is hell; this is damnation.
Do we have the courage to look in that mirror at the terrible consequences of the choices we are making today? Can we take the possibility of damnation seriously today?
A certain amount of material possessions are necessary. Jesus’ parable today is not about needs but about greed. Greed is like a fire; the more wood you pile on it, the hungrier it gets. One of the chief problems of our times; we have bought into the blingy image that more is always better. To have a lot is to be something. To have nothing is to be nothing, to be no-one.
Here we find the nerve control centre that is the lure into the abyss; the more you achieve, the more you possess, the greater your prestige and self-worth, the more worthy you are of love. But this is a mirage of that true love that each of us desires because death is already in the kernel as much in the felling of the mighty oak. It is said that true love is only to be found in beginnings and in endings; in the original innocence of a new-born baby and the fading moments of friends’ death. The source of love is always self-emptying, shifting the centre of my being to another. This is our roadmap to truth, the pathway leading us out of illusion; our blueprint in the Trinity of God’s being.
This is the Path of Conscious Love, the Transformation of the Heart to see, using the energy of eros through emptying process, mirroring midwifing. In this way, we give the icon of the soul into the hands of another. There can be no holding back, no clinging, no demand for a return or reward; we disclose our naked face to the other in the complete vulnerability of emptiness. It is the beloved who holds the key to my soul cage. This bond of unity transcends time and space, beyond sacrificial death that transforms and expands to encompass everything, even to the heart of the universe.
As the light of faith and spirituality decreases, we are ever more in the grips of a terrible pandemic! A creeping epidemic with worldwide roots. The author Oliver James gives it a name…and its name is ‘affluenza’. This virus-like condition spreading through our societies, in which people define themselves by how much money they make; how attractive they look, how famous they are, how much they are able to show off, becoming obsessed with what other people think of us, losing touch with our own feelings; losing touch with reality and with truth itself.
James asserts that advanced capitalism makes money out of misery and dissatisfaction as if it were encouraging us to fill up the psychic and spiritual void with material goods. How has this happened? The thesis behind the cause of this pandemic is the creation of false needs where each successive generation is more anxious and depressed than the last, feeling fearful, bored, ugly and alone.
Shopping malls have now become the new centres of many communities. Children, as well as adults, see a shopping centre as the natural destination to fill the hours of their bored lives. Add overwork, personal stress, the erosion of family and community, and the growing gap between rich and poor, and it’s easy to understand why there is this disconnect between the world out there and our inner reality.
Affluenza is clearly recognisable in our way of life. It spreads because it feeds on itself; when you try to make yourself feel better by buying a new car, or bulking up in the gym, or spraying on a fake tan, or having a facelift, you actually make yourself feel worse, which, of course, makes you want to buy more things.
In his travels around the world, James interviews many rich, unhappy people. There is Sam, a New York billionaire who lives alone in a vast apartment. Sam was addicted to heroin and now seems to be addicted to casual sex with young girls. He has pursued the goals of affluenza to their ultimate point. He can now have anything he wants, but now nothing can satisfy him.
Here is the hell that Dante describes at the great feast set before the hungry guests; their spoons will only allow each one to feed another, but in their grasping, clingy greed, they cannot bring themselves to give away what they crave for themselves, and the hunger cannot be satisfied.
James also meets the trophy wife of another fabulously rich man, she is addicted to shopping, with the husband often away from home. Their relationship is based on mutual contempt: she spends his money with vengeful spite; he pays her back with coldness and abuse.
The call to live simply, so that others may simply live may sound trite and naïve but many are opting out of the consumer chase and making ‘voluntary simplicity’ an alternative way of life. These are the young men and women who are working and shopping less, spending more time with friends and family, volunteering in their communities, and enjoying their lives more. The only riches that are worth accumulating are the riches of the heart. This is our destiny so as to be known, to be loved and to love.
A grateful, generous heart is the greatest treasure.
To have a generous heart is to be rich in the sight of God. Fear and greed are the real enemies. The dread of hunger when the granary is full is the hunger which can never be satisfied.