Greed or Gratitude in the Family of God?
Last week, we reflected on the family as a symbol of the great family of God. In the intimacy of the family, we first learn (if the family is a safe and healthy setting) love, generosity, faith, forgiveness, and service. Christian life is nurtured. Vocations are fostered. Instead of an insular understanding that turns our devotion to our own family into a “cult of the family,” Christians recognize healthy family life as naturally turning our attention outwards for the common good. This theme continues in this weekend’s readings and in the readings for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God:
“Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’
So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.”
Few things can destroy a family as much as money. Poverty certainly puts enormous stress on a family. In dire poverty combined with lack of real opportunity, we know that sometimes people turn to unlawful ways of making money, such as theft, selling drugs, or prostitution. This creates new problems for the family, of course, as addiction, violence, and incarceration often follow. Disease and death regularly tear at the fabric of family life. Hope itself, whose sanctuary the home ought to be, suffers deep wounds. Even when there is so-called “opportunity,” these legal methods of supporting a family can become highly problematic. When parents are forced to work two or more jobs to make ends meet, the cohesion of the family may be at risk. Often, parents feel terrible internal conflict and guilt about being away from their children so much. In some places, children are forced to work, and they quickly assume adult responsibilities and worries. Of course, there are many stories of people who heroically hold a family together despite the terrible odds that poverty throws their way. Nonetheless, economic justice remains a pro-life, pro-family issue.
Money threatens families in other ways, too. Financial disagreements are often cited as the reason for divorce. Short of divorce, financial problems are one of the biggest causes of couples fighting with one another. Consumerism has deceived many of us into a way of life we cannot afford, either financially or ecologically. In these days after Christmas, we may already be worrying about the bills that will come in and the credit card debt we have run up. This is especially troubling to our consciences as Christians because we know that there are those who have nothing, neither home nor food nor family. We rightly worry that we might be like the rich man in Jesus’ story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The saying, attributed to Gandhi, “Live simply so that others may simply live” rings true to us, doesn’t it?—and doesn’t it also seem so incredibly challenging in this culture? Modern prophets like St. Teresa of Calcutta force us to confront the challenge, and to trust in God’s grace. “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
From greed, we come back to the readings, which focus on inheritance and heirs. How many times have we heard about, or experienced, division in families after the death of the parents as children squabbled and litigated over the inheritance? We are so afraid of being cheated. We demand our fair share. We deserve more. We need more. Our security depends on it. And besides, that lazy brother did nothing to deserve a share! And that absentee sister dares to show up now?! It becomes a matter of justice to deny them any inheritance. Money and resources are scarce, after all. This is the thinking, right?
Against this human understanding of justice and scarcity, the Biblical message proclaims God’s justice and liberality. “He, the LORD, is our God; throughout the earth his judgments prevail.” God has made each of us a child of God, one with His Son, “and if a [child] then also an heir.” God has fulfilled the promise to Abraham: “He remembers forever his covenant.” “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so… shall your descendants be.”
St. Paul tells us that the proper spiritual stance to this justice and liberality of God is to “be thankful,” to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,” and “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Mary models this for us perfectly. From the beginning, she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Her prayer is every Christian’s prayer, and is the antidote to worldly, greedy thinking. Perhaps we can reflect on it often as we begin a new year with new resolutions:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever”
Happy and Blessed New Year, everyone!