A natural consequence of living anywhere for a long time is the accumulation of stuff. Now it is always easier to accumulate stuff than it is to get rid of stuff. We live in a land of plenty. We like to acquire nice things, useful things, things that can enhance our quality of life, things that make us feel good about ourselves, things other people may want, things that make them wish they were us. But a time comes whether we like it or not when we have to seriously consider the stuff we have and determine what we keep and what we get rid of. In the end we actually get to keep none of it because none of it will be of any use to us beyond this present existence. Spoiler alert. All is vanity indeed.
I have never considered myself wealthy in the way most people measure wealth. But I never considered myself poor either. Perhaps it was because growing up I was never really aware of my family’s fortunes good or bad. We were middle class, I think. We owned our home. Both my parents were gainfully employed. We had live-in help. All my siblings went to Catholic school at some point. We didn’t own a car, but we didn’t go hungry. We couldn’t afford many luxuries. But looking back, I’d say we were rich beyond measure in the things that really mattered.
St. Paul tells us to put to death what is earthly in us. It sounds drastic. But what he says needs to be put to death is exactly that which causes mistrust and hostility and alienation and death. Instead, Jesus wants us to be rich in what heals, what reconciles, what nourishes, and what raises to life, those things that matter to God. An easy rule of thumb—if what you desire or possess is healthy for body and soul, you won’t look for ways to hide it. You won’t feel shame or guilt about it. Instead, you would feel free to speak of it, and help others find it, so they discover a similar joy and fulfillment for themselves. Spiritual wealth is often of little or no value to those whose primary focus is purely material and earthly. And the pursuit of spiritual wealth brings great joy, a deep sense of freedom and renewal, and immense peace of mind and heart.
Looking at the stuff I’ve had to pack in boxes to take with me to my new parish assignment and the stuff I’ve had to discard, I am forced to decide what has value and what has little or none. I wish I was only taking things of value, but I know I will have to discard a few more when I get where I’m going. The value of things doesn’t often change. But our willingness to let go always will, just like the weather.
I offer you a short list of what has enriched me in my time among you, none of which can be bought or sold or added to my net worth, but which I believe makes me a better human being, a better Christian, and a better priest. So, I invite you to consider what enriches you. You’ll discover you’re richer still than you’ve ever thought.
- God is near even when we don’t feel it. God delights in us, never tires of reaching out to us, of sending signs of his care for us, of calling us to himself, of giving us the life that nourishes us. God is not petty. God doesn’t keep score just because we do. And it won’t be God who rejects us in the end, not after everything he has done.
- God invites us to experience his mercy personally and intimately, so that we can proclaim with conviction what we have come to know, and perhaps lead others to experience God’s mercy themselves. God is always at work. Sometimes we are great help when we proclaim good news. And when we get in the way, God will not be deterred. Instead, God will find someone else.
- People are flawed and struggling and can be thoroughly draining sometimes. But they can also be awesome and breath-taking and inspiring. It matters greatly who you hang with and waste time with. Jesus went out of his way to find people in the margins, but he also spent quality time in quiet prayer with his Father, with family, and with close friends. You need to know what feeds your soul, so you don’t starve.
- It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get along with most people, to find common ground, and workable solutions to challenges we share. But it helps immensely to build connections through welcoming and friendly social interaction. A positive connection is likely to pave the way for a more favorable reception down the road.
- Don’t think too highly of yourself. You’re really not as special as you think. Learn to live with your flaws and struggles. They make you more relatable, and we all have them. True wisdom and insight are extremely rare. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it original. You probably stole it from someone else somewhere anyway. And when the lightbulb came on, it wasn’t you who flicked the switch.
- Take time to pause and reflect on your day, your experiences, your friendships, and not just rush through life. Grand gestures will always turn heads, but it’s the small kindnesses that leave a lasting impression. It’s what comes to you when you’re on a long, boring drive, or laid up in bed, or watching a sunset.
- I remember a quote attributed to the street artist Banksy that I find both deeply profound and disturbing. “They say we die twice. The first is when we breathe our last. The second happens a little later, when our name is spoken for the last time.” We will never really know who remembers us or why, and for how long, or whether that memory affects them in some positive way. We will all move on after today and keep living our lives as we’ve always done. If you ever remember me, I ask you to mention my name, and whisper a prayer. And I hope to do the same for you.
I believe if I racked my brain I can find so much more that has enriched me in my time among you. Putting it down on paper just isn’t as easy. But taking my own advice, I will be pausing and reflecting on life and friendship at the end of each day and giving thanks for pursuing and possessing and being rich in those things that matter to God.
Rolo B Castillo © 2022