Treasures We Collect

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

People like to collect things. Whatever it is we collect, we must consider to be of some value. It doesn’t have to be weird. In fact, many forms of collecting are actually encouraged by society, and therefore, considered normal behavior. People will spend their hard earned wealth, and truly believe the treasures they collect to be accurate expressions of their deepest convictions and values. And if you like to collect anything, there’s likely a community of collectors out there with a FaceBook page, a fan magazine, an annual gathering devoted to the trade of used and mint condition collectible merchandise. Now that everyone is on the internet and sharing with the world everything about themselves, you can rest knowing there are people out there who like to collect what you collect. So what do you collect? … baseball cards, postage stamps, foreign coins and currencies, super hero action figures, music CDs, DVDs, vinyl 45s and LPs, costume jewelry, designer shoes, rare first edition books and manuscripts, limited edition artwork, vintage photographs and postcards, comic books, porcelain dolls, cigarette lighters, decorative dishes, antique furniture, movie props, celebrity autographs, sports memorabilia, military honors, certificates, badges and medals, firearms, trophies, vintage cars, real estate. Some people collect things they think will be worth something some day, like beanie babies, baseball caps, Pokemon cards, bobble heads, Disney novelties, love letters, poetry. And some people collect things simply so they have a lot of something, whether or not they’re actually worth anything, like smart phone apps, FaceBook friends, wall plaques, license plates, hubcaps, fridge magnets, souvenir shot glasses, cook books, snow globes, coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments.

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In the gospel Jesus clearly warns against greed. And the church has long identified greed as one of the capital sins—a serious, grave, deadly sin. Now we know there is nothing inherently wrong with having money or owning material things. What all three scripture readings try to bring to our attention today is that we sometimes limit our focus to this earthly existence, forgetting that we all come into this world with nothing, and we all leave with nothing. Absolutely no exceptions. The Book of Ecclesiastes sums it up in a rather negative image: All things are vanity! We might work hard to amass a great fortune with wisdom and knowledge and skill, but still end up leaving it all behind, most likely to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. “What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? … This is vanity … and a great misfortune.” Then Jesus tells us a parable of a man who had a bountiful harvest, and made plans for a comfortable retirement, or at least a comfortable next few years. But what he forgot was that he should have been preparing for eternity, getting rich instead with what matters to God, because in the life to come, if that’s something you buy into, none of our earthly wealth will mean anything. And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul sums it up quite neatly. “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. … Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.”

Paul considers greed to be a form of idolatry, the worship of false gods. When we devote greater focus and attention, and more of our energy and care to material things … collecting them, storing them, stacking them, polishing them, counting them, guarding them, admiring them, … we are giving to these false and empty gods the focus, attention, energy and care that rightfully belong to the living and true God. None of these things will work to our favor beyond this present existence. We all come into this world with nothing, we all leave with nothing. (You don’t see hearses pulling U-haul trailers.) So “put to death the parts of you that are earthly … the old self,” he tells us. Instead, “put on the new self.” And in the gospel, “store up treasures for yourselves,” and be “rich in what matters to God.” And elsewhere throughout sacred scriptures and the lives of the saints, we are instructed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, welcome the stranger, release those bound unjustly, announce the good news. It is no big secret what we are all about and what we are to do. There is nothing secret or mysterious about Christian discipleship. Yet in this enlightened age we still prefer the worship of false and empty gods, no longer based in myth and superstition, now with the full support of sound economic theory.

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I finally took a peek at a TV documentary series on A&E called “Hoarders.” The Learning Channel has its own version, much the same premise. I watched one episode, and I don’t think I will ever want to watch another. I was appalled, which is probably what the producers intended. This psychological disorder called compulsive hoarding, so afflicts a person that they would have difficulty discarding things that most others would regard of little or no value, which “leads to the accumulation of clutter … [and] can result in serious threats to [their own or others’] health and safety.” It is painful to watch, and would demand great patience and care to bring about healing. And as it is a physical disorder, so there is also a similar spiritual affliction. One who suffers from the spiritual version would have difficulty discarding what is of little or no value to the spiritual life, which leads to spiritual cluttering, and the stifling and suffocating of the soul. Sometimes this disorder is visible to others, sometimes it is not. But it is just as destructive, debilitating, and deadly. Sometimes it is an attitude—indifference, mistrust, arrogance, anger, jealousy, infidelity. Sometimes it is a bad habit—dishonesty, stealing, gluttony, laziness, violence, pornography. However it manifests itself, it is idolatry, the worship of false gods. It takes over the healthy functioning of the spiritual life, causing closed-mindedness, decreased mobility, shortness of breath, illness and death.

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Be rich in what matters to God, Jesus tells us. And here’s an easy rule of thumb. If what you’re into is healthy for your soul, you won’t find ways to hide it. You won’t be ashamed or feel guilty about it. Instead, you would be willing to speak of it, and show others where it can be found and nurtured. Spiritual wealth is often of little or no value to people whose primary focus is purely material and earthly. And the pursuit of spiritual wealth brings you great joy, a deep sense of freedom and renewal, and immense peace of mind and heart.

So what sort of treasures do you collect?

Rolo B. Castillo © 2013